VOIP in a Nutshell

VoIP, also known as an IP PBX, or business phone system, a PBX acts as the central switching system for phone calls within a business. PBX systems handle internal traffic between stations and act as the gatekeeper to the outside world. Today, a business phone system is much more than just a simple switch. Adjunct technologies like automated attendant, voice messaging, call queuing and multi-party conferencing have become standard features. Basic analog and proprietary digital phones are giving way to standards-based IP phones. Outside connectivity is now available over the Internet in the form of SIP trunks or other VoIP services.

When PBXs were originally developed, wire line phone calls were the only type of electronic communication available. Today, the communications landscape has expanded to include email, instant messaging, video conferencing, desktop sharing, SMS and mobile telephony. Unified Communications is a catch-all term that describes the process of merging all of these technologies and integrating them with business processes. Unified Communications aims to increase efficiency while simplifying management.

Key PBX Features

If you’re looking for a PBX, here are some of the features you should be sure are included:

  • VoIP Ready: The world is moving away from legacy PSTN lines and towards VoIP. Make sure your PBX can support IP stations (phones) and IP trunks (service). SIP is the current de facto standard, so don’t buy a phone system that doesn’t support it.
  • Voice Messaging: Once upon a time, voicemail was an optional add-on. Today, it’s table stakes. Look for PBXs that can forward voicemail messages to your email as attachments. If possible, look for IP phones that support visual voicemail.
  • Mobility: Most businesses have at least some road warriors who spend much of their time out of the office. Make sure your PBX supports mobility features like Find Me / Follow Me, remote IP extensions and fixed / mobile convergence.
  • Conferencing: One of the best ways to cut down on travel costs is teleconferencing. Make sure your phone system has native support for true multi-party conferences (not just basic three-way calling).
  • Reporting: If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Make sure that the PBX you pick includes basic call history reporting features.

Asterisk As A PBX

Asterisk was originally created as the engine for a PBX system (in fact, many refer to it as the Asterisk PBX) and includes all of the components necessary to build a powerful, scalable business phone system. These include advanced features that usually cost extra on a commercial phone system: things like voicemail, automated attendant, call queuing, conference bridging, parking, paging, and intercom calling.

Asterisk is technology and protocol agnostic, which means that you can connect it to the outside world using VoIP or traditional telephony technologies. It also means that you can use virtually any standards-based IP phone; Asterisk includes drivers for SIP and other protocols. Asterisk is future-proof. Unlike traditional phone systems that are generally upgraded using a forklift, Asterisk continues to evolve. Phone systems based on Asterisk see significant improvements each year as new features are included.

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