To VoIP or not to VoIP

POTS Network

That is the question. Telephones are changing, especially in the United States. The traditional copper-wired network is not being innovated, and POTS (plain old telephone service) networks are being phased out. Even if you still have a wired phone service into your building, at some place along the line the call ends up digitized and transmitted, then turned back to analog at the other end. It seems like VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is the obvious choice. No so fast. There are reasons why either might work best. It is an even more difficult choice for a business that already has an investment in an analog PBX system.

POTS Networks Have Their Advantages

To this day wired phones are the measure for call clarity. When a VoIP call is working right, it is said to be as clear as a wired call. In addition, aside from an occasional squirrel chewing through a wire, legacy phones almost never go down. In power outages, POTS systems still work because their power comes through the phone lines themselves. It is exceedingly rare for a power failure or major weather disaster to take down the entire telephone system. These are sometimes huge benefits, but a pretty short list.

The problems list for legacy telephone systems is more significant. The initial reason VoIP systems gained traction was their significantly lower costs. Classic Telecom systems are expensive, both initially, and in ongoing costs. There are Telecom fees for every line, every service, and even charges for timed use. In general, Copper-wired monthly phone charges were running about double of equivalent VoIP fees. As fewer end users choose legacy wired systems, the costs of maintaining the aging infrastructure are shared by fewer customers, so the Telecom costs are about as low as they are ever going to be. It the early days of VoIP, when nearly all calls were like an echo chamber, VoIP prices were low, very low. From those bygone days, we still have the mythology that VoIP will save buckets of money, but it is not so true anymore.

Is VoIP the Pot of Gold?

The VoIP providers have adopted the ways of Big Telecom (that ironically enough are what opened the door for the competition). While you can get a Vonage VoIP line at home for $9.99, if you are a business the same line starts at $30. And the entry Vonage Business line at $30 is still pretty low for the market where $45 monthly per “user” (read: number) is not uncommon. In the wild however, the savings range only hits 40% if your office manager has been going to lunch with the Telecom sales rep every week and ignoring the upcharges. If your business has shopped wired phone service well the monthly savings may be 10%. Still, there are reasons beyond cost to consider switching to a VoIP system.

POTS systems are not flexible like VoIP. Just moving a person from one office to another may require new wiring, or if lines exist, that their legacy extension number be remapped inside the PBX system, yet another ticket for the IT Department. Adding additional lines means running more wires. With a VoIP system, a phone number can be moved down the hall or across town, and new lines and numbers can be added in minutes through existing Ethernet or even WiFi connections.

It is widely accepted that the wired networks will sunset, either through market atrophy or because the FCC will phase out PSTN (Publicly Switched Telephone Service). People still using legacy wired phones are roaming the deck of a ship filled with tiny leaks. It is sinking slowly, but eventually passengers are going to have to abandon ship. The question is how, when, and what they will need for the trip.

Is It Time to Jump?

For any new business setting up their first telephone system, the choice is simple. Do not get on the sinking ship. A new analog PBX system is expensive, and will be obsolete long before the significant capital investment is depreciated. Even the analog phones required will become obsolete. As an alternative, VoIP has low initial start-up costs; A small office needing 10 lines could buy all the high quality IP phones they would need for about $600. There are range of VoIP providers, so competitive shopping is easy. Oddly enough, many of the VoIP providers are turning their backs on the ease of Internet shopping and will force you to talk to a human for the big push and upsell. Brace yourself.

For an existing business currently using an analog PBX and POTS, with the upfront costs of an analog system already on the books, the switch to VoIP is less clear. Most VoIP Systems offer features just not available for wired service. Mobile phone integration is better, and the portability for remote employees is far superior. Things like conferencing, voicemail to email or text, advanced features, and even call recording are often included. In addition, with cloud based VoIP systems, the IT department is free of maintaining the in-house phone system. Most VoIP systems can be monitored and adjusted from a desktop or mobile app. Are those things enough to leave behind reliability and easy clarity of POTS?

Eventually we will all need to get off the leaky boat. However, can we ride it for another year, or even five without getting our feet wet? There is no imminent threat, and while the sinking ship analogy makes for clever writing, it is not quite so dire. We will be making calls on POTS lines for a good ten years or more.

There are ways for those switching from POTS to VoIP to keep the benefits of a wired network. By maintaining a few wired lines for emergency fallback and building the right network with bandwidth bonding and QoS VoIP priority, a Voice over Internet Protocol system can completely replace Plain Old Telephone Service. The switch to VoIP becomes more of a WHEN question than an IF question. Your business or organization will switch to a VoIP system, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for . . .

Next Time: Build your VoIP network with all the POTS advantages and none of the leaks.

Frontier Computer is now a full line distributor of Grandstream IP Telephony products and continues to be the World’s largest Peplink distributor. The two technologies combined can assure that your jump to VoIP will be easy, clear, and reliable.

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