VoIP phone system

Running a small business you want to save as much money as possible. One obvious area for savings is the telephone system, which is why at Cleveratom we are using Voice over IP. Our number (non-geographic) is supplied by Sipgate free of charge. The problem is that with one number you would think that only one person can be on the phone at once.

As it turns out, the SIpgate service allows multiple connections. Let’s say that you have got four telephones connected via IP to your router and all configured for the SIP service. When a call comes in all four will ring. If you answer one of them and a second call arrives, the other three phones will ring. You can also dial out at the same time (in theory) as an incoming call. This is all new territory to me, but it sounds as if the SIP number is in fact a trunk line.

Having spent a good deal of time looking for a VoIP system for the office all of this came as a nice surprise. It isn’t exactly enterprise class stuff – more of a DIY approach – but it seems to offer considerable savings when compared to buying and installing a complete VoIP system, or using a VoIP gateway.

The phones all need to be configured slightly differently to get this to work, and your router needs to have some port forwarding set up, but it isn’t rocket science (well… it isn’t now I have found out how it works!) and you should be up and running in no time. Your biggest limitation is the broadband connection. A SIP call takes about 100Kb in each direction, so for full duplex that’s 200Kb per call. Given that our business ADSL is approximately 8Mb down and 800+kbps up, this means we should be able to have 8 separate conversations happening at the same time. I wouldn’t want to test this, mind you, since all our outbound network traffic uses the same connection. Imagine uploading a massive amount of data and trying to have a conversation… 😉

So, four phones for a small team should be OK. Once I have got it set up and running, I’ll report back. What phones to use? Well, as ever, we are starting off with the low cost option – which may prove a false economy in the end, but time will tell. We are using Grandstream 101 phones which allow us to do all we need. When we want a menu structure to direct callers to the right department we’ll no doubt upgrade to a bigger system, but for now we should be fine with a low tech answer.

It takes a while to decipher the jargon associated with VoIP if you have never done anything with it before. At one point I was convinced we would need a ‘gateway’. We don’t – a gateway allows you to connect your normal phone line to a VoIP system. In our case we just need the ADSL line to do the work. I guess a second ADSL line would be useful if the call volumes start to increase, or we could look at an Asterisk system… or a bespoke VoIP system fully installed… or even a centrally hosted VoIP system. All of these are possible, but let’s take it one step at a time.

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