Cloud IP Phone Systems 101
You’ve probably heard at least one or more of these telecommunications industry buzzwords lately: Hosted VoIP, Virtual PBX, Cloud-Hosted Phone System, or Business VoIP. Business communication providers seem to be using these terms interchangeably to refer to the same thing. In an effort to simplify, we’ll just call it a cloud IP phone system. So, what exactly is a cloud IP phone system?
A cloud IP phone system is a business phone system that uses Voice over IP (VoIP) technology, whose processor or “brain” resides on the provider’s server “in the cloud” rather than in your office’s phone and data room. A picture is worth 1,000 words, so before we go any further, let’s take a quick look at a simple illustration of how a cloud IP phone system differs from a traditional on-site/premise PBX:
As the map indicates, the big difference with a cloud IP phone system is that the brain of the phone system resides on the cloud, rather than in your office. This subtle but important difference is driving cloud IP phone systems to be increasingly popular for several reasons:
- Mobility: Since the brain of a cloud IP phone system lives in the cloud, any reliable internet connection can be used to connect to the system, allowing users to work anywhere.
- Managed: With a cloud IP phone system, the service provider is responsible for server maintenance and upgrades. This means the need for specialized knowledge and IT resources are greatly reduced, while at the same time the system is kept up to date, and new features are automatically added by the provider.
- Scalability: Users may be added or removed one by one as business needs change.
- Accessible: The cost of implementation is typically low, since there is no equipment to purchase upfront.
- Budgetable: Monthly fees are typically all-inclusive and packaged as a subscription service. Also, the lack of on-site servers eliminates surprise costs from hardware failures.
- Image: Remote workers maintain a professional image by using recognizable business telephone numbers rather than personal cellular numbers.
- Security: By using company numbers instead of personal numbers, clients are less likely to follow a sales rep to another business if they change companies.
- Continuity: Cloud IP phone systems are an important part of a business continuity plan, in that reputable providers maintain redundant servers and can forward phone calls to alternate destinations in the event of an emergency.
Selecting a Supplier
Before selecting a cloud IP phone system supplier, it’s important to know that there are a range of common implementation practices, with providers generally falling into one of two categories:
- Self-service providers, who are often web-based, may simply ship your new phones to you with the expectation that you will be able to hook them up and figure out how to use them on your own. This approach might work if you have your own IT staff, but phone system administration and expertise is commonly a low priority for busy IT departments. One must also consider what happens to the knowledge of your phone system should your internal IT staff experience turnover, or if you move to a different outsourced IT partner.
- Full-service providers, with a location in your area, may offer a turn-key system that is thoughtfully planned out by project managers and professionally installed by certified technicians. They’ll ensure that your Local Area Network (LAN) and Wide Area Network (WAN) are ready for a successful deployment of the solution, and are a resource for your IT staff or partner (if you have one) in this highly-specialized work.
The level of support you can expect after the installation is typically in line with the level of support you receive during the installation, so be sure to ask lots of questions during your discovery process regarding how the provider’s implementation process works, and what sort of support the provider will offer afterwards.
If you would like information on how a cloud IP phone system can lower your business communications costs while increasing productivity, give us a call at 763-797-7900!