Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, was heralded as the great disruptor that would completely revolutionise the telephone industry. There was a vision that we would abandon our old, rusted on telcos and embrace the internet as the infrastructure that phones rely on.
Since the 1870s, when the telephone system was simultaneously invented by Alexander Graham Bell and Antonio Meucci, poles strung with copper wires have been the bedrock of our telecommunications.
Almost a decade ago, things started to slowly change because of two factors. The internet became more ubiquitous and performance increased significantly. As a result it became possible to communicate in real time over the internet.
VoIP telephone systems use a data network in place of the poles and wires provided by telecommunications providers. For businesses, this means the investment you’ve made in Ethernet and fiber optic in the office can be used for your phone system.
While this might not sound like a big deal, it’s significant. Because everything is carried digitally as data, expensive equipment like PBXs can be replaced with commodity hardware running specialised software. The only piece of special hardware that’s needed is a device that bridges your office’s VoIP system with the outside telephone system.
For some businesses, this isn’t even needed. There are companies such as MyNetFone and Neural that offer cloud-based PBX systems. All you need is a data point for each handset in the office that connects to the internet and you have a business phone system.
VoIP relies on a stable internet connection. If the internet connection becomes slow through heavy traffic then call quality can suffer with crackly lines, dropouts and poor sound the result. However, it is possible to prioritise VoIP traffic on your company LAN so that phone call quality doesn’t suffer if internet traffic increases unexpectedly.
In many cases, VoIP services can be cheaper than traditional phone systems but it is important to look at costs carefully. There are monthly service charges and call costs that need to be checked. There is a perception that VoIP services are free, such as the popular Skype service and Apple’s FaceTime Voice, but these are limited. For example, Skype calls between Skype users are free but using the Skype Out feature, to use Skype to call people on the traditional phone system incurs a fee.
Many VoIP solutions in the market are part of a broader communications offering called Unified Communications, or UC. UC pulls together telephony, instant messaging, video conferencing, collaboration and other business applications so that all of your office communications are centralised and integrated.
VoLTE, or Voice over LTE, is the new kid on the block.
LTE stands for Long Term Evolution. It’s the wireless data communication network used in cellular communications. VoLTE uses this data network for voice, as well as data communications.
With VoIP, the data transmission uses the IP, or Internet Protocol. VoLTE is similar but uses the LTE protocol for the data network. In order for a mobile handset to use VoLTE, it needs the appropriate hardware. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus both support VoLTE on networks that have this enabled.
All of the major carriers in Australia have announced that they are either trialling or introducing VoLTE in the near future.