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VoIP for Small Business to Home Office -
it’s ready, but are you?

Written by the Tech Edge E-zine staff,
Edited by Keith Benicek and Chuck Brown
May 1st, 2007

Introduction -
This will be a multi-segment article series that explores the who, what and where of the various VoIP services, some good hardware solutions and whether VoIP can make sense for you in your small business (10 to 50 employees), Small Office / Home Office (So/Ho, 1 to 10 employees) or the outside business person. If you’re the curious home consumer, or you work from home, what works good for So/Ho, could also work for you too.

While we are taking the approach of tailoring this article towards the moderately to advanced tech savvy business person, manager or IT staff; we are going to try to not leave the average individual business owner or consumer out in “it’s Greek to me” left field. In fact, many of the VoIP services and hardware we will be testing, explaining its advantages or drawbacks, are actually meant for the small offices or individual business people.

We will be using and testing some of the major VoIP services for a full year to report on the “Quality of Service” (QoS), a measure that is of primary importance to any business and IT department. The same will be done with some selected brands and application specific types of VoIP hardware. All the testing will be conducted by our own Tech Lab™ staff, as well as our usual “peer group” panel of reviewers drawn from people just like you in business and IT.

Two of the reference subjects that we will be using as a review example is our own office and a small real estate office which switched to VoIP over a year ago. A lot of research was done before we chose the service vendor and the hardware based upon our needs and budget. As part of the story we will reveal specifics, but we also will give you some other choices that may be equal or better choices for your business type.

While we may make some comments on our test results and comparisons between VoIP services, and the various similar hardware used in the services, we won’t be picking the best or raking them. We’d rather rate them individually, review them and let you choose what fits your needs and price points best.

We have to tell you that we were utterly amazed at the maturity of the many VoIP services available, from the individual user to small businesses and the huge number of very cool hardware available to support the various services.

As part of this opening segment, we will briefly explain where VoIP came from, it’s current state as two different standards, a few variations and what you should be considering to make the jump to VoIP. For those looking for a more in-depth explanation of VoIP, we can suggest a few links for you to do more research.

Links
For the newbee: How VoIP Works
and Cisco’s VoIP Overview presentation
For the Telephony IT staffer - VoIP News,
How Not to Engineer Your Networks for VoIP,
Guide to Understanding the VoIP Security Threat


Some VoIP Services to start with -
AT&T business VoIP Services, Vonage, Skype
Packet8, SIPnumber, BroadVoice SIP Remember there are hundreds, so do your research well, before you sign up.

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What is VoIP and how’s it work? (Briefly) –
I
f you didn’t know, VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol and it was started, like a lot of things involved with the web, by some very talented computer hobbyists in early 1995. In the beginning, the fledgling VoIP was not “duplex”, meaning that simultaneous conversations were not possible as with the telephone. It was much more like, well think of it like those walkie-talkies you had when you were a kid. Later in1995 Vocaltec Inc. released the first commercial Internet Phone Software and VoIP became duplex, simultaneous 2-way conversations like a telephone.
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"...that’s right, your Comcast or Cox Digital Phone service at home is really VoIP and not PSTN (analog phone service) ...."
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Other than the hardware, a business VoIP network is the same as one in a small office or your home office.

In VoIP now, your voice data is compressed with advanced algorithms into “packets” that are transmitted from your “client” (software or hardware server) via the Internet or Intranet to the recipient where the voice data packets are reassembled and decompressed into the intelligible sound of your voice. Data files of all types are sent much the same way, but aren’t compressed.

If you want more details on how VoIP technically works, take a look at those links we supplied, or do some Google research.

There are two primary standards for VoIP, these are Session Initiated Protocol and H.323. Most VoIP systems for business and home users are designed to be interoperable with PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network), that’s your wired telephone system.

H.323 is an ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector that defines the protocols to provide audio-visual communication sessions (video phones) on any packet network. It is currently implemented by various Internet real-time applications such as NetMeeting. It is also a part of the H.32x series of protocols, which addresses communications over Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), and PSTN. H.323 is commonly used in Voice over IP (VoIP, Internet Telephony, or IP Telephony) and Internet Protocol (IP)-based videoconferencing. It is similar to that of the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) but with video capabilities.

The vast majority of VoIP services are based on the SIP standard. AT&T®, Bell Canada®, Verizon®, Cox “Digital Phone®” among many others, are all based on SIP. Yes, that’s right, your Comcast® or Cox Digital Phone service at home is really VoIP and not PSTN. Most of these and other big providers are suited for medium to large company phone services. The big VoIP providers can be expensive for small businesses and offices.

Other SIP based providers that were purely Internet companies from former big name ISP’s like Earthlink®, to pure IP phone servers that operate internationally like Net2Phone®, Packet8® and Vonage® offer pretty competitive services. These are in many cases the service suppliers that go for small offices and home offices.


© 2007 Tech Edge E-zine




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