Since the invention of human language, the speed and efficiency of communication has constantly been improving. From smoke signals to messenger pigeons and eventually the telephone, messages have been transmitted faster, farther and with greater clarity as technology has incrementally improved. However, after Motorola invented the first handheld cellular phone in 1973, innovation has somewhat stagnated. While subsequent generations of handheld devices continued to evolve and included more features, the basic operating system involving cell towers, radio waves and occasionally satellites remained.
The progress of these devices is limited because most of the existing infrastructure relies on hardline copper wire connections, which significantly restricts long distance calling and the amount of calls that a single wire can carry. These limitations stem from how traditional copper wires use varying electrical signals transmit messages. When using this method, only one phone call or message can exist on each transmission wire and the line is active for the entirety of the call, even when no signals are being exchanged. These electrical signals were great for transmitting the simple dots and dashes of the telegraph, but the more complex signals of voice messaging tend to degrade, especially over longer distances. These traditional copper wires also require their own power source to operate, which are costly to setup and maintain, resulting in elevated end costs to businesses and consumers alike. It may seem like we have reached our full communication potential, but we now find ourselves in the digital age and the winds of change are blowing.
Enter Voice over Internet Protocol, commonly referred to as VoIP, and the fiber-optic cable. This system uses the internet and fiber-optic cables to transmit complex voice messages using light through glass, as opposed to electricity through copper wires. This allows messages to be transmitted faster and over longer distances without an auxiliary power source. Although these light messages do weaken with distance, they do not degrade in the same way that electrical signals do. This means that the light signals are easily strengthened by means of an optical repeater which exactly copies the lower strength light signals and sends them out with exacting precision. This process greatly extends the range of messages transmitted with fiber-optics while ensuring the messages are crisp and clear on the receiving end.
There are many advantages to using light and the internet to transmit messages, but one of the most substantial is the increased flexibility that VoIP provides. Because VoIP is hosted over the internet there is no need for a hardline connection or handset, which means that you can use your VoIP service wherever you have access to an internet connection. This allows VoIP to offer a service known as “Find Me Follow Me” which reroutes calls through multiple lines before going to voicemail. For example, if you have a business phone system that uses VoIP and a client calls while you are out of the office, the find me follow me feature can reroute the call to your VoIP enabled cellphone, your VoIP home phone, or to someone else in your office without the callers knowledge. If the call does end up going to voicemail then many VoIP suppliers offer a service that translates the voice messages to text, so you can avoid replaying voicemails to frantically write down information.
Another advantage VoIP phone system have over traditional hardline phone systems is the ability to have multiple conversations take place over one line. This is called “line optimization” which is possible because VoIP phone systems only transmit information when something is being said. This is accomplished by sending information in what are called “Packets” when speech is detected, when there is silence the line is freed for other data to flow through. Think of packets like emails, voice information is encoded, sent as light, then decoded for the person on the other end each time there is audio information available. Because this method does not occupy the line for the entirety of the conversation it greatly reduces the cost to the end user. A final cost saving measure to consider that is exclusive to VoIP is the ability to operate without a traditional handset. Because VoIP phone systems are hosted over the internet you could operate solely with your computer and a microphone or headset. This clears room your desk as well as eliminates an additional hardware cost from the equation. Overall, VoIP phone systems are much more cost effective, user friendly and efficient than a traditional hardline phone system all while providing better overall call quality.
However, there are some aspects of VoIP that may not work for every situation. Because VoIP phone systems are hosted over the internet, they require a strong connection and depending on how many users are on your network it could tie up a considerable amount of bandwidth. Something else to consider when looking at VoIP business phone systems involves their power supply. Because these phone systems do not have an auxiliary power supply, like a traditional hardline phone system, if the power in your building goes out the phones will also be down. A final point of note surrounding VoIP phone systems involves its lack of location services. Because VoIP phones are identified by an IP address there is no way to determine a caller’s physical location and this can be problematic when contacting emergency services. With current technology if the caller is unable to tell the emergency dispatcher their exact location it can be difficult or impossible for the dispatcher to find the caller. However, there are programs in development that will include a predetermined location for VoIP phone systems which will help remediate this issue.
It is impossible to see exactly what the future holds, but as internet speeds become faster and more reliable and more cities are developing public access Wi-Fi, it appears that the days of the hardline phone are numbered. As with any new system there are bound to be growing pains and challenges to overcome but even as these systems stand now the cost savings and growing usage numbers are irrefutable evidence that VoIP phone systems are here to stay. Visit our website to learn more about our Cytracom® hosted VoIP business phone systems and see if VoIP is right for you.
Remember to save often and backup daily.
Karl Volkman CTO, SRV Network.