Due to the rise of Skype and other similar services, the public is now much more aware of Internet based telephony.
But whilst home users are now comfortable with the concept, some parts of the business community (SMEs in particular) have lagged behind. This is probably due to a lack of awareness, coupled with the reluctance to move away from what is proven to work.
There is also the (false) perception that Internet telephony can be unreliable with variable quality – indeed, many calls made today are already routed over IP by the carrier without the end user noticing any difference. Business grade IP telephony typically routes calls at an uncompressed 100k concurrent upload/download speed. Compare this with free services, which sometimes compress speeds down to as little as 15k.
A business with a reasonable broadband Internet connection should have no problem using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services for their calls. Even businesses with a really poor connection can still benefit by using their existing phone line to reach the main network, then using hosted phone services to route calls from that point.
What are hosted phone services?
Hosted phone services are just like regular phone services, except they reside in the cloud, rather than being tied to a particular location via a telephone line and physical switchboard.
Hosted phone numbers and any attached services are run from within the cloud but managed via a virtual PBX switchboard. VoIP uses hosted services and numbers but differs in that it requires an Internet connection to function, whereas hosted services just need to be connected to any device able to receive calls, such as a landline, a mobile, VoIP-capable devices or a computer/smartphone.
There are five good reasons to upgrade to a hosted telephone solution:
- Location independent
- Business continuity
- Cost effective
Let's look at each in turn to discover why hosted telephony has a clear advantage over traditional telephony:
Hosted services can be as simple or as sophisticated as required. At one end of the spectrum is a straightforward call divert to a landline or mobile anywhere in the world. Alternatively, calls could be diverted straight to a voicemail service, with any messages received being emailed as an audio file attachment to the account holder.
At the other end of the scale, a hosted phone service might be comprised of a virtual switchboard linking multiple call centres around the world, with a time of day service diverting incoming calls to whichever centre is open at that hour. Each call centre may have multiple hunt groups and individual extensions, all optimised and instantly customisable according to the needs of the business. Such a solution would suit a global business offering 24 hour customer support lines.
A hosted phone service is built around a hosted number, or numbers, with services attached. All services integrate seamlessly together and can be instantly added, amended or removed as required. This gives the user the opportunity to create the perfect phone system for their requirements and then easily change it whenever they need to.
Example hosted services are voicemail, fax to email, call divert, group divert, time of day, information lines and many more. New numbers can also be added as required (for example, one could be set up for a specific campaign) and easily connected to new or existing services.
What this means is that cloud hosted phone services are very scalable. New numbers, services and extensions can be added or removed at any time. This is ideal for startup businesses where rapid expansion is expected, and also for organisations that take on seasonal staff or have occasional surges in demand.
With a hosted phone service, all numbers and utilities reside in the cloud, so users are not tied to any one physical location. In the past, this functionality has been entirely the domain of large corporate companies who can afford their own private networks.
Being location independent makes it easy to distribute calls to staff working across multiple premises if required. With more and more companies making use of flexible working arrangements, such as home working, calls can be received on one central number, held in the cloud and then automatically transferred to key members of staff wherever they are, without having to try different numbers or leave messages.
When combined with VoIP services, hosted phone solutions provide the ultimate in communications flexibility, with people being able to make and receive calls from the same number no matter where they happen to be in the world.
Another huge advantage of being location independent is that it makes the user's phone system very robust, coming with business continuity features built in. Should a company's premises be affected by a disaster - such as a fire, flood or anything else - its telephone system will not be greatly affected. Instead of diverting calls to extensions at the existing location, they can be instantly diverted to another number, such as to a temporary office or even to staff mobiles if required. When the crisis has passed and the situation returns to normal, they can simply be diverted back to their original destinations.
The addition of a staff emergency line service and bulk SMS messaging to send out notifications can effectively minimise disruption to an organisation, its staff and clients. Some forward-thinking organisations who have a more traditional PSTN setup even keep a mirror of their existing phone system lying dormant in the cloud. This is ready to be switched on at a moment's notice should anything ever disrupt their regular phone system.
With a hosted system there is no need to buy a physical PBX switchboard, as the virtual switchboard provided manages all numbers and extensions and links them with the services selected.
There are, therefore, no maintenance costs or expensive repair and replacement fees when the unit malfunctions or breaks down. Instead, the virtual PBX is hosted in the cloud and can be continuously monitored and updated as required.
For some large corporations with existing phone systems, it can still make sense to run some services from the cloud. For example, a big organisation wanting to set up toll free international numbers in their top overseas markets would find it easier and more cost-effective to do this through the cloud than through their existing setup. The hosted numbers could still divert calls into their existing system, but would instead be managed through a virtual PBX.
Hosted services can also be combined with a business class VoIP service to create a reliable all in one package, with outgoing landline, mobile and international calls provided as part of an inclusive package at a competitive fixed monthly rate.
With the future of telephony set to be dominated by IP based services, it makes sense to future proof your business communications by choosing a hosted solution over the traditional, hard-wired, switch-based system of the last few decades.
In the near future, we are likely to see systems where smartphones with VoIP apps installed are able to access available Wi-Fi networks to make and receive low-cost calls through hosted services.
These apps will be smart enough to recognise when networks are available and automatically route calls over VoIP rather than their regular network. This opens up the possibility of somebody working from their local Wi-Fi enabled coffee shop, making free or low-cost VoIP calls to anywhere in the world. When they leave the café and Wi-Fi is no longer available they would automatically switch back to their regular provider.
Matthew Guise is a digital marketing expert for Callagenix Ltd, a UK-based hosted telephony services provider that specialises in enterprise calibre VoIP solutions.