The convergence of telephony with television, video and IT networking has enabled a digital revolution in communications. At the core of this revolution is Voice over IP, (“VoIP”), a digital voice distribution protocol. All sizes of business are replacing their existing telephone systems with VoIP systems from a specialised VoIP provider operating over the company network.
Most businesses will need the assistance of a VoIP provider to help them navigate through the various options available in tariff plan, equipment, and feature selection. There are several websites that compare and contrast the best UK VoIP providers. It will also be useful to ask other business owners their experiences.
The first introduction of a VoIP phone system to an organisation is a lot more than just changing the handset on the desk. The features and functions offered by a VoIP system to the end user are a world apart from those of the traditional telephone system.
For example, Executive and Departmental Secretaries will need advanced call screening, forwarding, and group functions. Other users, less so. Call Centres and Help Desks will need hunting groups and automated attendants. Some will be inherent functions of the handset, some will need to be implemented or programmed at the VoIP exchange. There are a variety of handset types that can be provided with the central VoIP system, from the most basic to the highly advanced, from the rugged shop-floor resilient unit to the elegant executive unit. Having said that, there is a basic set of features that must be supplied and supplementary features to support a user’s particular work environment.
In addition, there is a growing convergence between smartphones and VoIP phones. Users now expect many of the features and functions that are available for smartphones to be available on their desktop VoIP phones.
- Able to make and receive calls
The first must-have feature is obviously the ability to make and receive voice calls. Some application areas may also require video call support.Call types can be internal VoIP calls over the VoIP enabled corporate network, traditional PSTN calls sent and received using the local PTT service provider, and internet phone calls sent and received using VoIP applications such as Skype.Depending on whether your VoIP provider and local PTT service provider can provide the necessary information and on the configuration of the VoIP system, caller-id may only work for internal calls. There will also be differences between incoming calls over landline and those over VoIP. Some businesses may want all outgoing calls to be private calls. The VoiP provider will be able to discuss the options during installation planning. The opposite question is to ask if your organisation wants to send caller-id information. Outgoing caller-id should be able to be disabled globally or at the handset.
- Opportunity to use desktop handsets
A second handset must-have in relation to calls is the opportunity to use desktop handsets for conference calls, both voice and video, either by linking to the corporate videoconferencing system or with applications such as Skype over internet phone calls. While not essential for all users, it will be a cost-saving boon for senior executives and long-distance callers. If it is a video call, then the handset will need a video screen, or support connection to an attached screen.
- Pre-programmed buttons
An extremely useful feature is to able to programme buttons, physical or via an access screen for specific features and functions. Speed-dial, call transfer to a predefined number and a Redial function are such. Others include the ability to switch between attended and unattended mode. It can also be very useful to have dedicated facilities to invoke and carry out voicemail operations.
The desktop handset must have the capability of working with a hands-free standard headset. This is necessary for receptionists and call centre/help desk users, in fact for anyone who needs both hands-free while using the handset.
- Microphone and microphone muting.
If the handset is to operate in a hands-free mode, for example during a conference call, then it must be possible to switch the microphone on and off. Similarly, there must be a facility to disable video during conference calls.
- Hunting Groups.
The handset should allow users to pick up incoming calls that are made to their caller group or hunting group. The is particularly useful in the evening when there is usually only limited staff available.
Above and beyond the basic functions outlined above, the typical VoIP system offers other benefits. Some handsets have an interactive touch-screen. Some support a PC screen to provide the large screen view needed for video-conferencing. Some are waterproof, some have large buttons for use with gloves, some are designed for hostile environments. It is important to assess the environment in which the handset is to be used when assessing the type of phone to be supplied.