We have covered, in brief, how a traditional PBX system could lack some of the features of a Voice over Internet Protocol system and discovered some of the basics of the PSTN. We can now take a look at VoIP in a little bit more detail to get an idea of what the benefits are.
Firstly, it's important to realize that VoIP doesn't entirely replace the PSTN (although it could). VoIP is yet another, cheaper, and easier way to connect to the PSTN. You can make and receive calls that are initiated and terminated entirely across VoIP and you can call a standard PSTN number from VoIP and vice-versa, as long as your ITSP (Internet Telephony Service Provider) supports it or if you link your VoIP system to the PSTN yourself. Both of these are options to consider with TrixBox.
A VoIP system can use a variety of protocols and we will cover each of those protocols relevant to TrixBox as we come across them. VoIP is a catch-all term for these protocols and refers to transferring voice data over the Internet.
As the Internet grew and became a more flexible system than the PSTN, it became apparent that it was possible and, in many cases, preferable to use the Internet for carrying voice as well as data. There were a few limitations that had to be overcome before this could be feasible. For example, data connections can tolerate some latency in communication but latency in voice can be very annoying as it leads to gaps in conversation and constant repetition. Watching a news broadcast from a reporter using a satellite phone is a very good example of how frustrating and error prone this form of communication can be. As Internet connection latency decreased and speeds increased, voice communication has become more viable.
There is a tendency to think of VoIP as a new technology. However, it is almost two decades old and has only recently become so popular because there are now a few good pieces of software that use this technology. There are also many companies investing in VoIP, since the data lines that provide Internet services are now at a level where they are usually reliable enough to be used for voice communication. Customers and employees expect these data lines to be low-latency, clear, and always available. While many Internet services still have problems, the situation is certainly much better than it was in the late 80s and early 90s when VoIP was first touted as the killer technology. It wasn't quite there then, but is certainly getting there now.
The most important facet of VoIP is that it is "over Internet Protocol". This means that it benefits from the layered design of Internet communication and can be a very flexible communication mechanism. A VoIP implementation can generally be shifted from one service provider to another with little or no effect on the systems in use. Anyone that has gone through the nightmare of moving just a single telephone number between providers will realize the benefit VoIP brings in this area. Flexibility in communication is an important aspect for businesses as it helps to control the business process.
VoIP is also many times cheaper than traditional telephone services as it can be routed over a variety of cheap lines. The most important aspect here is usually the long distance rates. Calls can traverse the Internet until they get to the same country, state, or city as the recipient before touching the PSTN and in some cases bypass the PSTN entirely, meaning that we are no longer shackled to our telecommunications provider. We can pick and choose from the many Internet Providers and/or Internet Telephone Service Providers. The one downside to VoIP is that Internet connections are often less stable than the PSTN and therefore we can have occasional downtime in our telephony service. This can be mitigated by having multiple providers with failover, something which is near to impossible or prohibitively expensive with a PSTN service!
Before choosing VoIP, we should carefully examine the available service plans and options of the available PSTN providers as well as the ISP/ITSPs in our area. It's important to determine our current costs, our current needs, and the features we require in our telephone system as well as what we expect these needs to grow to in the foreseeable future. Armed with this information, we can make a valid choice as to which communication medium is the most appropriate and cost effective for our business.