Since its conception in the early 1900’s the telephone has quickly become the most essential tool in our arsenal as a society for real-time and near real-time communication with one another. It literally changed the speed and the way in which all business was done in the world. No small thing! But as important as real-time communication was to everything we do, it has never been enough. And video, streaming media, and the Internet also continue to grow as an essential part of business and personal communication.

VOIP Word Cloud Concept angled with great terms such as voice, internet, protocol and more.

The goal of technology has always been to make it faster, more affordable, and more secure; sometimes pushing infrastructure to its limits. Phone, TV, the World-Wide-Web, all these methods of communication have been merging for a while now and ultimately will become indistinguishable from each other. This includes an almost guaranteed movement from traditional PSTN and PBX systems to VoIP and SIP based systems as the viability of managing them separately becomes cost prohibitive and unnecessary.

Know Your Telephony Terms

* SDN – Software-defined networking is an approach to computer networking that allows network administrators to mark normally unspecified traffic with indicators such as DSCP tags that allow it to be more easily managed.

* PBX – Private branch exchange is a telephone system within an enterprise that switches calls between enterprise users on local lines while allowing all users to share a certain number of external phone lines.

* PTSN – Public Switched Telephone Network, are phone lines and infrastructure maintained by national, regional, or local telephony operators.

* SIP – Session Initiation Protocol, a communications protocol for signaling and controlling multimedia communication sessions. The most common applications of SIP are in Internet telephony for voice and video calls

Why traditional PBX are not an alternative to VoIP, but a predecessor.

The earliest method to build secure business phone systems came with the invention of the PBX (or Public Branch Exchange). The PBX was owned and operated by the enterprise rather than the telephone company and these devices became essential to businesses seeking to do massive amounts of telecommunication securely while still taking advantage of the large existing PSTN phone networks already in place. PBX were a pre-Internet technology that mimicked the standards used by the phone companies and offered a method to have lots of internal extensions without having to buy external numbers while still allowing internal communication inclusive of the larger phone network.

But things have changed. As early as the late 80’s the Internet began to grow exponentially as modems and fax lines were being replaced with always-on Internet connections and email servers. Growing much faster than the phone system in less time. The Internet has created other viable forms of communication. While early on voice over IP services may not have been as good as traditional phones, other methods also served as near real-time replacements for letters, written memos, phone calls, and paper communication. Even while the use of PBX systems boomed, the Internet was growing in its own right and these other systems grew with it across multiple networks including cellular, cable, satellite, and wired systems. While voice is a critical function, other digital communications became equally important while standard protocols like SIP augmented the traditional Internet to allow for better sound quality and reliability of service with voice. For nearly a decade or more companies have tried to find reliable ways to move voice to an IP-based system.

How does this tie into the Cloud?

There are a lot of clichés around the term cloud. But it’s the cloud concept that finally allowed VoIP to become a viable technology. In the old days of the telephone there were party lines where just anyone could listen in on the conversation. Voice over IP started much the same way. PBX became the way to segment voice and make sure that only the right people where on line. But the ability to make secure tunnels between remote locations over the cloud is what ensures VoIP is a viable and usable technology and what separated these systems from the tether of the local phone companies.

As a result, much of the uncertainty around the viability of VoIP systems has all but disappeared. While there was a time that VoIP was still in the development phase Google and Microsoft now both offer some level of free VoIP service as do other companies. Consumer grade VoIP appliances can be purchased for less than $20. Furthermore, most Internet providers and even phone providers now bundle a VoIP phone service with high-speed Internet offering a level of validity it’s never seen before.

The world is clearly moving away from traditional phones, even if some companies aren’t.

If PBX are becoming obsolete and unnecessary, why isn’t everyone using VoIP?

There are several reasons why VoIP systems are only now starting to gain popularity. Companies have been trying to build viable VoIP systems since the mid 90’s and many of these were bought into too quickly. They proved to be unstable, expensive, or proprietary without cloud services to augment and secure them. Many lacked support. IP phone systems have less compatibility with legacy devices and still make tasks like dialing out with a modem or sending faxes more difficult. These technologies had to become less important to daily operations for IP phones and voice over IP to be viable.

Software and hardware vendors also had to develop encryption standards, SDN, and communication standards to a level that they could ensure good communications over the Internet and not just internally on the local area network. Phone communication had to pass over the Internet and still remain private, reliable, and fast. These systems also required external bandwidth than a traditional PBX and so the Internet itself had to become more affordable at higher speeds and more locations for companies to use it. Appliances like routers and switches had to be smarter as well to allow the phone traffic to be managed differently.

That said, most statistics support that about 75% or more of businesses are using some sort of unified communications with SIP, and about half of residential phones utilize VoIP over traditional phone landlines. That certainly supports the idea that VoIP represents a shift in phones similar to the way consumers moved from dial-up to high-speed Internet or from analog TV to cable.

VoIP is stable and no longer an emerging concept.

VoIP is pretty well established at this point. Unified communications (UC), the idea of blending voice, video, and media into a single affordable system has become essential to business operations, and UC thrives on IP systems. This allows better management of all media from a single system and is a natural progression to trends we’re seeing in all markets and industries. Traditional phone systems just don’t lend themselves to that level of functionality seen with web-based tools and services. VoIP systems scale better, tie well into email, and are quickly meeting and surpassing the quality and reliability currently offered by a traditional PBX. They also benefit from a broader base of providers.

Additional Links about VoIP and How it Works * Revolution in the VoIP Space, Carolina Digital Kicks Goliath to the Curb * How VoIP Works by * Differences between PBX and VoIP.