VoIP for business continues to develop

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Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is nowadays the normal way of doing business when it comes to telephony. Time for Techzine to take another look at what VoIP exactly is, what it delivers for companies, and what developments are taking place.

Concretely, VoIP means that voice and data, such as video and other functionality, are digitized with special audio and data codecs in data packets using the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). The data packets are then transported via special connections, SIP trunks, to the company network or the Internet and sent to the receiver. At the receiver, these data packets are converted back into voice and/or data. Actually, an IP address calls to an IP address.

In order to work with VoIP, a broadband connection is required. Special devices can be purchased.

Virtual PBX

VoIP still depends on a switchboard, but it is no longer physical. Instead, it is virtual. The virtual PBX (telephone exchange) consists of software or even code and is nothing more than an automated answering service to handle and control incoming calls. It forwards incoming calls on a single telephone number to fixed IP telephones, mobile phones or VoIP extensions such as softphones. This is done via an automated attendant or interactive voice response (IVR) system. A standard virtual PBX has no call control functions and no outgoing calls. Free calls among themselves or between branch offices are not possible.

To make this possible, companies need to purchase a complete platform. The platform supports routing, call handling and all necessary SIP trunks, connections with operators and carriers and call subscriptions. Initially, they often host and manage the platform themselves.

Hosted PBX or cloud-based telephony

Such a platform has become the norm. The connections, the hosting and the management of the VoIP system are increasingly purchased as a service from a supplier. This is also called hosted PBX or cloud telephony. The supplier delivers and manages the complete infrastructure in a data centre or in a (multi)cloud environment. In addition to the necessary hardware and software at locations, they also provide the necessary connections to operators and carriers. Customers pay on the basis of usage or in a subscription form.

Advantages for companies

VoIP has a number of important advantages. First of all, it allows companies to save costs. VoIP calling rates and the usage costs of the SIP trunks are usually low. Companies also save on the costs normally associated with infrastructure.

Another important advantage is scalability. With hosted voice/cloud telephony it is possible to scale up or down end-users ‘on the fly’. New data possibilities are easy and quick to implement.

VoIP or IP telephony also offers users the possibility to call anywhere and use linked data services. Other benefits include highly reliable service through SLAs and improved fixed-mobile integration.

What do you need/whom do you deliver it?

For VoIP, you don’t only need IP phones but also routers, virtual PBX solutions and connections or complete platforms. Well-known suppliers of VoIP hardware and software include Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE), Mitel and Avaya. Other emerging providers of cloud-based enterprise systems include 3CX and NFON. Well-known suppliers of hardware such as IP phones and related solutions include Poly and Yealink.

Naturally, the major operators also provide hosted and cloud-based VoIP services. Distributors and/or resellers provide the VoIP services of larger suppliers under their brand (white label). These are complete packages of hosted hardware and software, the platform, connections, installation and management.

Development towards UCaaS

VoIP has evolved significantly in recent years from a stand-alone service to a collection of communication and collaboration services. It is thus moving more in the direction of Unified Communications (UC). Telephony, conferencing and other collaboration tools are increasingly integrated with each other and now form a single platform. These one-stop-shop platforms are ideal for companies. The purchase of separate tools for conferencing, messaging and of course telephony is now a thing of the past.

Further integration into SaaS landscape

Developments show that the integration of VoIP with other applications is becoming increasingly important. This also applies to integrations with SaaS solutions that do not have a pure UC purpose. Think CRM and ERP tools like Salesforce and SAP, so employees can communicate with any device from a single platform.

Mobile VoIP is becoming increasingly important

In addition to UCaaS, fixed-mobile integration is also becoming increasingly important in VoIP. This trend is so important that mobile VoIP will probably soon become the standard. Since employees are increasingly making business calls via smartphones, it is important to link them directly to the fixed VoIP environment. With fixed-mobile integration, the VoIP PBX sees both fixed and mobile devices as identical endpoints.

This connection can be established in two ways. Firstly, VoIP vendors and providers provide special applications for smartphones. Via these applications, employees can often make calls via their business number. They then determine whether to call their business or their own number.

In addition, it is possible to completely integrate a phone with a fixed VoIP environment. SIM cards with an integrated SIP client are available for this purpose. The business number can be called directly from the smartphone. All functionality of the VoIP environment is immediately available.

Both options are expected to be further expanded by suppliers and providers. Soon, users will also be able to benefit from more UCaaS features and other possibilities via apps or special SIM cards. Think, for example, of call recording and integration with SaaS applications.

Introduction of 5G

5G also plays a role in the further development of mobile VoIP. This technology offers functionalities that were previously unavailable, such as lower latency. Many mobile VoIP solutions are still experiencing delays on the line. This causes, for example, poorly connected calls or ‘dropped calls’. Because 5G latency is extremely limited, bad connections and dropped calls must become a thing of the past.

5G will soon also offer better Quality of Service (QoS). Advantages include full network availability, faster data throughput and more bandwidth for data sharing.

Other future trends for VoIP

A number of other trends are expected in the coming years. The number of fixed lines is decreasing. On the other hand, there will be more cloud-based solutions that unite all forms of communication. Companies are switching to these types of solutions.

CPaaS

As an extension of UCaaS, the number of companies using Communication Platforms as a Service (CPaaS) is also increasing. These solutions make it possible for companies to give up their separate VoIP environments and switch to these integrated solutions.

CPaaS platforms integrate all enterprise communications services into a single cloud application. These include VoIP, UC, CRM, ERP and call center applications. Companies can integrate all communications in their own environment without being dependent on other applications and vendors.

Deployment of artificial intelligence

Another trend is that artificial intelligence (AI) in VoIP is on the rise. AI can improve the advanced call routing and automated answering of incoming calls.

In addition, this technology can also help to develop better digital voice assistants. These voice assistants can be used within VoIP environments for real-time monitoring of callers’ feelings. This allows call center workers to respond better to these people in their calls. Advanced voice assistants can also be deployed for intelligent skills-based call routing or real-time translation of voice and/or video calls using Neural Language Processing (NLP).

A final trend is the growing competition from video chat services such as Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp. These free services are popular among employees in the private sphere and are also used for business purposes.

VoIP remains interesting

VoIP is nowadays the most common way for companies to communicate. This technology is rapidly evolving into new solutions and applications. In particular, the rise of UCaaS and CPaaS shows that all communications are being integrated even more with each other and taken from the cloud.

In addition, it is clear that VoIP and related services are shifting more to the mobile field. Mobile VoIP solutions are more and more an extension of cloud-based solutions and are gradually gaining in quality. The advent of 5G as a new connectivity technology with less latency and better QoS is only going to influence this mobile trend even more. With this, VoIP technology is entering an interesting period.