Which Telecoms Alternative: Fixed Line, VoIP or Office 365 with Skype?
Most businesses intensively use electronic, text-based platforms such as e-mail and team chat for communications, but under many circumstances, a voice call still carries more weight than words on a screen. For this reason, telephony remains an important part of organisational communications, and picking the right infrastructure is equally important.
Your choice of telephone system will depend on many factors: is your company upgrading, or are you procuring a new system? The quality of your internet connection and the distribution of staff are also key influencing factors. Each choice of system has unique benefits and drawbacks, there really is no one size fits all solution but some options may be a better fit for your business.
Outlining the options
Voice communications have progressed hugely since the dawn of the internet era with a large proportion of audio now transmitted over the internet. In fact, even if your phone system still relies on the classic copper-wire PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) service for many calls the actual audio is carried via voice over IP at some stage.
Yet one of the most common telephony implementations remains an old-style telephone network via copper wires, with many businesses preferring the perceived reliability and audio quality of a PSTN system. However, there is a universe of alternatives in the shape of Business VoIP, including on-premise VoIP solutions , hosted VoIP solutions and unified communications suites such as Skype for Business via Microsoft Office 365. There is one final option too: ignoring office-based phones systems altogether by issuing mobile phones to employees, but this is a niche choice. Here is a closer look at your main options.
Public Switched Telephone Network
Despite the popularity and profusion of VoIP alternatives, many businesses are still opting for PSTN or fixed line networks. The draw of PSTN lies in the fact that PSTN is a discreet system which does not rely on any other moving parts to operate reliably. A PSTN system is also a feasible choice where internet connections are not reliable, including in rural locations.
There are however drawbacks to PSTN implementations. R&D has effectively ceased around PSTN as Business VoIP becomes more popular. Therefore, don’t expect to see the introduction of new telephony features to your PSTN system. Second, parts availability and skills availability are becoming a problem – compounded by the proprietary nature of many systems. Most importantly, BT has announced that it plans to cease offering voice services over PSTN by 2025. You may simply no longer be able to run a PSTN voice system in the near future.
Voice over IP
VoIP as a term is used both in its technical context, describing the transfer of audio packets over the internet, as well as in the context of telephone systems, with VoIP more broadly describing any telephony network which is implemented over the internet. VoIP is almost infinitely flexible, especially in the guise of hosted Business VoIP, and often bring along ground-breaking features and benefits – not to mention cost savings.
Your business can retain more control and avoid any questions about privacy by hosting your own VoIP equipment on-premise or opt for the flexibility of a cloud-hosted VoIP - removing any local responsibilities for maintaining equipment.
The biggest concern around Business VoIP implementations rests on reliability and audio quality. Both these factors are tied to the quality of your internet connection and your internal network management. Simply put, you cannot take an indifferent attitude to mixing voice and general data traffic on an internal network, network management is essential. That strong proviso aside, VoIP is a flexible solution that is increasingly widely adopted.
Unified communications, including Microsoft Office 365
Skype for Business, available through a Microsoft Office 365 subscription, is also a VoIP implementation but is worth considering separately as it falls under the category of unified communications (UC) services - the next level for VoIP. Instead of procuring a separate phone system makes sense to simply bundle telephony capabilities with your broader IT requirements, and to benefit from the associated integration and synergies. You could get one bill for all communications and productivity requirements.
There are many UC options, of which Skype for Business is just one. UC commonly combines email, chat, group chat, voice and video into one platform. UC voice functionality is linked to the public phone system and functions as a normal phone would – with phones that are accessible by dialling a number. On the downside, voice quality on UC applications depends on network quality just as it does with any other VoIP solution.
Examine your circumstances before you choose
Upgrading, or installing a new system?
Whether your business has an existing, working telephone system is probably the biggest determinant when it comes to picking between PSTN and VoIP. A business with an existing, extensive PSTN system could conceivably stick to what they know and upgrade their PSTN capabilities in the short term, but they will miss out on the benefits and lower costs. However, switching to Business VoIP is almost certainly inevitable in the long run.
For most business, the choice lies between on-premise VoIP, hosted VoIP or unified communications via, for example, Microsoft Office 365. Hosted VoIP and Unified Communications including Microsoft Office 365 and Skype are good solutions when your business does not have particularly complex telephony needs, and if regulatory concerns are not out of the ordinary. In other words, customisation requirements are low. Organisations with complex telephony needs, including call centres and teams who are covered by very tight regulation, may need a customisable on-premise system.
Location and team distribution
Teams located in rural areas may simply be stuck with fixed line services, relying on PSTN, over the short term. Outside this rare scenario, your business should give a higher priority to hosted solutions if teams are distributed. If your staff mostly work from home a UC solution is even more attractive as this presents the lowest overhead costs and the highest flexibility: Microsoft Office 365 voice communications is simply tied to a user account.
Mind the technology curve
PSTN is clearly going the way of the rotary dial phone, and technological developments are also affecting discrete Business VoIP solutions. When you consider which VoIP solution your business should adopt keep in mind the benefits of using a broader, unified solution which reaches further and wider. A discrete, locally hosted VoIP solution is suitable for many businesses but you should always keep an eye on current and future developments in case a unified communications platform offers better outcomes for your business. As with any technology acquisition, make sure you are picking a solution that will serve your business well in the long run.