Most businesses with more than a handful of employees use ISDN telephone lines. After 2020 BT will stop training ISDN engineers – and in 2025 it will switch off the ISDN network. Businesses will need an alternative in place well before then so it is prudent to find out when your current telephone contract ends and start considering your options many months in advance.
“Old fashioned” telephone handsets send an analogue signal along analogue phone lines. Modern telephone equipment can convert analogue voice signals into digital data “packets” which can then travel via the internet rather than telephone lines. This technology is called “Voice over IP” (“VoIP”). Because VoIP signals use the internet, anyone wishing to use a VoIP telephone needs a reliable and fast data connection. A leased line or fibre connection is best – ADSL can sometimes cope with a couple of additional voice signals but this often results in poor call quality (upload speed is generally the limiting factor).
VoIP systems offer two main alternatives, with many permutations underneath. Some companies might wish to retain their existing telephone system or switchboard (PBX). If the system is not too ancient it can have additional circuit boards fitted to allow VoIP channels (called “SIP trunks”) to replace ISDN lines. It is not necessary to have one SIP trunk per staff member, i.e. a company of 50 employees might have 20 SIP trunks as not every employee will use the telephone simultaneously.
The other alternative is to replace the physical PBX/ telephone system with a “virtual PBX” in the cloud. This is called “Hosted VoIP”. Employees access a web portal to configure the system which allows a huge range of functions (hunt groups, failovers etc). Each user needs a VoIP handset which plugs into a data socket identical to that used by their pc. In contrast to SIP trunks, each handset needs its own VoIP channel. In most cases VoIP handsets arrive pre-configured and are “plug and play”.
There are many variations to the above and migrating to a new technology is an opportunity to consider how (and where) your staff will work in the future – do they need a fixed handset on a desk, or a mobile handset or headset ? Will they work from home ? What about video calls and conferencing ? Integration with CRMs ?
For impartial advice on the above please contact me – even if your existing contract does not expire for some considerable time. We can then diarise the project for a future date and plan accordingly.