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VoIP Overview

Lines, Numbers and Channels

A major key to understanding VoIP is divorcing yourself from the concept of phone number. In the traditional analog telephone line, a basic phone line has one phone number and can handle one channel (call) at a time (in the layman's mind).

The enhanced analog line will normally have one phone line, one phone number, and call waiting. Call waiting can be thought of as providing two channels (but not simultaneous). In the traditional analog realm, a channel is usually tied to a line, which in turn is usually tied to a phone number.

This concept of channels, phone numbers, and 'lines' also applies to VoIP. The major exception here is that channels, phone numbers and lines can be unlimited (in the sense of your business). Your business can have as many phone numbers as you need (typically around $1.50/month, by the minute), and optionally include e911 service (usually around $2.00/month/number). Because of this, it's very cost effective to have a main business line that would usually ring an auto-attendant or receptionist, and direct lines for every employee (or employee group like sales or billing) that rings through to them directly.

The number of channels determines how many people can use the system simultaneously. Let's examine the case of a 10 person company (that's not a call center). If each employee was on the phone at the same time taking an inbound call from a different person (versus an internal conference), you would need 10 channels of VoIP on your inbound line. If a potential customer were to call in, and all of the lines were full, they would hear a busy tone. In practice only 25% of your employees are ever on the phone at a time; however, we still recommend having at least 100% coverage on inbound channels for small businesses, since those calls are particularly important and it is more likely that everyone could be on the telephone at the same time. Outbound channels are usually not limited (depending on the provider), or the number is so high it becomes irrelevant (150 for one provider we use).

How Billing Works

Another key feature to understanding why having a phone switch is so cost effective is we can use different providers for different reasons (to maintain quality, or cost). For example, we can use provider A for inbound calls because they offer us fabulous quality at reasonable rates. We want to use a good provider for inbound calling, because if your business is anything like ours, our company policy does not allow us to miss an inbound call. Conversely, we can use Provider B for outbound calling for the contiguous USA. This way we can get the most cost effective route for outbound (around 0.7 cents per minute on average), and provide a fail-over back to Provider C, who may be a little more expensive but has better quality. Additionally, we may wish to utilize Provider D who has fantastic international routes. Of course, all that is required is one provider, but utilizing more than one can both maximize savings and quality.

Billing is by provider, and each provider may have different rates for an inbound call versus an outbound call. One of our providers charges up to 1.2 cents per minute for inbound calls, and 1.0 cents per minute for outbound calls. When we add other providers, you'll pay different outbound rates (to maximize savings). Of course, Coltarus Halo will be there to help you choose providers (we don't mark up the rates), or you are welcome to find your own. We'll be happy to set up whatever works best for your business.

How Lines Work

In this sense, we're going to define lines as extensions. You've heard of these before, and likely seen them on your competitors' business cards. Your business can have one or multiple inbound telephone numbers, and every single employee can have their own extension. To keep things simple, let's assume a 2 person company consisting of John (sales) and Julia (billing). John's extension is defined at 1000, and Julia's at 1001. To call Julia, John only needs to dial 1001 from an internal phone. In this case, the company probably only has one inbound telephone number. Through the use of an auto-attendant, their clients will hear the system answer, and prompt “For Sales, Press 1, For Billing, Press 2.” If the caller presses one, the system dials extension 1000 (John), and if they press 2, the system dials extension 1001 (Julia). You could also have the auto-attendant say common phrases like, “If you know your party's extension, please enter it now,” allowing a caller to enter 1000 to reach John. This also allows you to host your own conference calls effectively by setting up a conference extension (say 2350), and telling your clients you need to speak with to call your number at 3:00 PM on Tuesday, enter extension 2350, and (for security) PIN number 4253. Then many people can conference together. This is limited by the number of inbound channels you have for your telephone number. John and Julia will both dial extension 2350 directly from their VoIP telephone, and this will not use any of the inbound channels.

As far as your company is concerned the only limiting factors to the number of extensions is number of people, number of network drops, and number of VoIP telephones you are willing to purchase. Each extension gets its own voicemail (accessible through the telephone or as a .wav attachment to an email [or both]), with absolutely no recurring fees!

Individual extensions (with most modern VoIP phones) will also allow company paging. A receptionist (or employer) can dial *8 plus the extension number to automatically turn on the speakerphone at their desk to tell them something important, or ask a question.

The feature list for VoIP is very extensive. If you have any questions, please give us a call, and we'll be happy to explain it further.

Practically VoIP switches allow us to route calls in just about any way we need, which provides much more flexibility for your business. VoIP transitions in a new paradigm for communications, and although different from analog telephone lines, it is relatively easy to understand the basics, and to let your mind wander and imagine what it can do for you and your business.