Telephone Equipment and Systems: This is a really broad category. There are “Hosted Systems” and “In-House Systems”. Both provide VoIP features and services, just each system does it in a slightly different way. Current trends and statistics indicate that “In-House Systems” are becoming the system of choice over the “Hosted” versions due to the increased feature capabilities which we will cover in one of our later postings.
There are two ways of installing these systems. The first way is by connecting the new IP telephone sets to the existing data cables within the building and, the preferred method is by setting up a completely separate network for the IP phones. I’ll go into detail a little later.
The In-House systems can either be pure IP systems or Hybrid systems. The hybrid systems allow you to use a combination of digital telephone sets, IP telephone sets, traditional analog telephone lines, IP lines, and digital or PRI lines. It is a cost effective way to venture into the IP world without having to re-cable your building and still take advantage of some of the more popular IP features.
The other type of In-House system is the pure IP version. This system consists of a telephone server that is normally installed in your server room and the IP telephone sets. Some systems, like the Allworx IP PBX, allow customers to use any combination of analog, SIP, or PRI line services. The Allworx also allows you to connect some basic analog telephone sets to the system for areas where only basic functionality is required.
Hosted systems are a little different. The actual server for the system is located and controlled by the company who sells you the system. It can be located almost anywhere in North America. Most, at least in this area, are located in or near the Toronto area or in the U.S. The customer normally has to purchase the IP sets from the provider, which are usually of a generic version, either Cisco, Polycom, Grandstream, or Yealink.
System Installations: As previously mentioned, there are 2 ways of setting up an IP system. The first method is by using the existing data cabling within the building. This method is definitely the least expensive, however, can often cause the most grief. By using this method it helps keep the cost down, but unless your current LAN (local area network) is in stellar condition, you will undoubtedly have some issues.
First of all, you IP sets require power regardless of how they are installed. This is usually provided by a network switch. So if you don’t already have PoE (Power over Ethernet) switches, and a lot of companies don’t, you now have the expense of upgrading all of your network switches, which can prove to be fairly costly. Now, some of the IP phones available (Allworx, for example) can be powered by individual transformers, but most of the generic sets require PoE from a switch. Also, If you are going to try using your existing switches, remember, there are a lot of switches on the market that were never designed to handle “Voice Packets”. Yes…. there is a difference between voice and data packets and some switches are just not capable of handling this type of information very well so don’t forget to check this out.
Secondly, I know you don’t want to admit it, but there are some networks out there that aren’t in very good shape. You have small switches all over the place, your network will often slow down, some computers regularly lose their connection, instead of having the proper data jacks installed your IT guy has simply crimped on the network ends, and your server room looks like a spaghetti factory. So if you try to keep the costs down by using your existing data cabling, all of these items must be fixed prior to the installation of the system, or your network will slow down to a crawl. This is due to the fact that each IP phone will plug into the existing network cable that your PC was using, and then your PC now plugs into the back of the telephone. You are essentially adding an additional device at each location which will increase the load put on your network and, if it isn’t up to snuff, it will slow down and create multiple disasters for you and your staff.
The second and recommended method of installation is by using a separate network. This means there has to be an actual separate data cable for each IP telephone set. These data cables are connected to a separate PoE switch in the server room and this new switch is connected to your existing network to allow remote access for maintenance and to allow the on-site “System Administrator” to make changes to the system if required. This obviously is the most expensive method but creates a an environment free from IP conflicts, or headaches from slow PC’s, allows for easier troubleshooting, and less down time for your data network when issues arise. This method is definitely worth considering and makes a lot of sense over the long term.
Just a quick note….as far as the Hybrid systems are concerned, a hybrid system like Panasonic or NEC, allow you to reuse the existing voice cabling that your old Key System was using and provide the traditional features your staff have become accustom to while still allowing you to add some of the more usable IP features. It’s almost like having the best of both worlds. The IP features are added with system cards and user licenses. The most common and favorite feature is voice mail to email notification. You can also link these systems together, just like the IP systems, to allow interaction between locations and facilities. Hybrid systems are a definite contender in the new market and still very popular. It really depends on the features you want and what your budget is.
I don’t want you to go into information overload, so I think I’ll stop here and continue this in the next posting.