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Move from PBX to VoIP

Business organizations often consider moving from their Private Branch Exchange (PBX) to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to decrease their telephone and data transmission costs.

VoIP does reduce communication and infrastructure costs as it routes phone calls over existing data networks and avoids duplicating network systems. You can program a call to ring on a cell phone, office desk or phone line using your laptop or desktop computer as a phone. The number can be dialed by simply clicking on a web page. VoIP can also help to maintain virtual call centers with employees working from remote locations.

However an organization should not jump to VoIP suddenly, especially when more and more vendors are competing in the marketplace, which makes the comparison of their offerings even more confusing. Skype and Vonage may have achieved considerable success in the market but there are hundreds of other new vendors who are entering the domain.

Any organization moving from PBX to VoIP has to first ensure that it has a sound infrastructure for the move. A stable LAN that can support both voice and data is the most basic requirement for VoIP.  Virtual LAN switches or managed switches that separate voice from data at the workstation level can be used for VoIP.
The network resiliency and availability also need to be considered. An Ethernet switch that prioritizes voice or video above data traffic can be helpful.

The Delivery Method
While deciding to opt for a VoIP configuration, the organization must take into consideration the number of its employees, the mobile workforce, any call center requirements or the capability to queue calls.

Bringing in VoIP does not imply that the organization will have to completely give up its existing PBX system. If the PBX system is not very old, it may not need replacement. Certain PBX vendors support VoIP without the need to reform their PBX hardware architecture. These vendors can offer VoIP interface cards to make an IP network look like a T1 line. Few other vendors make hub like devices for the PBX that can use VoIP for inter switch communication. These devices also support a combination of VoIP or conventional telephone handsets off each hub.

MegaPath is a vendor that provides the flexibility to bundle voice and data on a private, vendor-operated network and you can conveniently use it with the existing PBX network. Another vendor, Telesphere offers hosted PBX that takes PBX offsite and includes VoIP on the centrally hosted platform.

When the organization chooses to do away with the PBX system completely and replace it with VoIP network, one option is to use a software based softphone that lets you make and receive calls using the computer on which the software is installed. The caller is however limited to a single point of calling when he/she uses the softphone.

It should be remembered that in terms of cost, most of the VoIP vendors charge on a per seat basis for both telephone and data services.

Using compatible phones
While moving from PBX to VoIP based system, the IT executives need to analyze the existing hardware properly. This includes the phone and any video equipment that will be required for data transmission. An analog phone line cannot be directly used for VoIP. An organization can lease specialized VoIP phones from a vendor or purchase them outright. The proprietary issues must be kept in mind when you are planning to buy a VoIP phone because some phones work with only specific switches.

If it is not feasible to purchase VoIP phones for every employee in the organization, a hardware-based VoIP adapter that connects traditional analog phones can be used. The signals of converted analog phones can then be connected to multiple house phones or extensions.

Backup for VoIP Phones
Unlike the analog phones, the VoIP based phones can go down if there is a problem with the network. The organizations switching to VoIP must therefore have sufficient and effective back up to avoid down time.

Several VoIP networks and the supporting routers and servers run on relatively inexpensive UPS systems to maintain electricity supply during a power outage for a predetermined length of time. Some also have battery backup. The amount of time typically ranges from as little as an hour to unlimited time as per the quality of the UPS unit, the power draw and other characteristics.

Also, to save electricity when the phones are not in use, the organization may consider an automated method of powering down phones.

Working with Fax
Fax was devised for analog networks and does not travel well over a VoIP based network. This is because Fax communication uses the signal in a different way as against regular voice communication. When VoIP technologies digitize and compress analog voice communication it is optimized for Voice but not for Fax. Therefore, when you also need your fax machine to keep working, there are certain things that need to be taken care of while moving to VoIP.

If the old fax machine has to be used with the VoIP phone system, it is best to employ a VoIP Gateway and an ATA that supports T38 – the protocol designed to allow fax to 'travel' over a VoIP network.

Another option is to convert to computer based fax and use a VoIP phone system that supports fax. 3CX Phone System for Windows has a full featured fax server that is able to receive faxes and forward them in PDF format to e-mail. Faxes can be sent from anywhere in the network using the Microsoft Fax client & Fax server. This comes free with Windows Server 2003 and 2008.

Alternatively, you can connect your fax machine directly to an existing analog phone line and bypass the phone system.

More about the Benefits:
When you compare PBX with the VoIP technology for business phone system, there are prominent advantages. The power of technology and the reach of Internet make VoIP really effective. Beyond the cost efficiencies, it also helps you to coordinate office phones, mobiles and pagers and you can unify voice and email to make voice messages a storable data. Business organizations with multiple branch offices, international calling and employee telecommunicating enjoy great flexibility with VoIP platforms. Devices can be interconnected and office extensions can be used via a laptop from anywhere without any extra cost.

Moving from the conventional PBX system to Voice over Internet Protocol will surely bring in the power of data network and computer software applications to voice communication – just ensure that you do it the right way and make the most of your existing PBX infrastructure instead to starting from the scratch.

About the Author:
Frank Johnson is a regular editorial contributor on technology products and services that help small to mid size businesses.  To know more about the upgrades to VoIP technology and for queries pertaining to latest technological strategies, you can interact with him by clicking here

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