My previous post explored my very positive experience with public VoIP. My views haven’t diminished since then, but I was left wondering how far, realistically, public VoIP could penetrate a business. My use to date of public VoIP has been case-by-case, based on significant savings on international calls. But I elected to stick with my existing phone provider for national calls which worked out much cheaper for me, hence my pick and mix approach to date. The issue of quality, by the way, didn’t enter into the equation, as the quality of the public VoIP service was on par with my traditional phone line, and perfectly acceptable for business communications.
My experience aside, however, I do think there is an increasing case to at least carry out a more thorough evaluation of a public VoIP solution for small and medium businesses for which enterprise-class VoIP systems based on private IP networks are off-the-scale, cost-wise. A number of VoIP providers are increasingly offering a business solution as part of their portfolio, and businesses are starting to test the waters. One example I stumbled upon via ‘networking’ (www.networkingplus.co.uk) was that of Firmdale Hotels – a chain of London-based boutique hotels. Firmdale has recently installed a PBX-to-Skype gateway, which has delivered a number of benefits to the chain and its customers, including free hotel-to-hotel calling (within the chain), as well as the ability for Firmdale to maintain contact with overseas business partners cheaply. Firmdale’s experience to date seems very encouraging.
The essence of this implementation is that Firmdale has integrated public VoIP into its existing infrastructure, to reap the add-on benefits of public VoIP, rather than moving to a full dependence on public VoIP, which seems like a very sound approach.
Over the net, there is no guaranteed quality of service, and priority isn’t given to any type of traffic, and as the technology is particularly sensitive to latency, voice quality or dropped calls could result from late-arriving packets. It is risky for a business to rely fully on VoIP over the public internet (but the same could be said of relying on any one single method of communication). Whilst some public VoIP providers market their solutions as replacements to traditional phone systems, my view would be to proceed with caution, but at least begin the walk. SMBs need to invest some time to understanding the technology, and weighing up the pros and cons of the solutions they can afford before deciding just how far to ‘walk’. Whilst public VoIP may not offer a full replacement to traditional phone just yet, it is potentially a very useful complement that SMBs should consider.