Voice over IP (VoiP) has been around for over 10 years, and has become much more reliable in the last few years. Installation companies abd IT departments are learning what must be done to their network ahead of time before properly implementing a VoIP solution.
VoIP uses your existing Ethernet LAN and WAN network to communicate to a main phone processor called the PBX, and the outside world via a variety of phone line types - some you may have already and some that may be new to you. You can have conversation with any VoIP phone on your network, regardless of geographical location, or anyone in the world, using a wider variety of phone line service choices, some which are only available to a VoIP capable system.
Unless your business is small, you will need to modify the backbone of your network to properly accomadate a VoIP phone system. This encompasses a few key areas such as:
- Power over Ethernet (PoE)
- Quality of Service (QoS)
- VoIP Readiness Assessment
- Network Management
Power over Ethernet
VoIP Phones need to be powered. This can be accomplished using an external transformer pluggeed into the AC power receptacle under the desk. While in a small environment, this may not be a problem. But in a larger environment, outlets may not be available, power supplies may be lost and additional wires plugged into the phone does not promote a clean look. There is another way.
Power over Ethernet (PoE) utilizes an unused pair of wires in any Ethernet cable, which is also extended in your behind the wall wiring and patch panel in the equiptment room. You are already set up end to end for this capability. This way, both the phone's power and network connection are included in one cable going to the desktop. You can use your existing Ethernet cable. All you need is a PoE Ethernet switch. IP Office Techs uses PoE switches from Netgear and can help you choose a model based on your needs. A switch is the rack mounted applianace that all your network cables are plugged into in the equiptment room or closet.
Quality of Service
QoS refers to programming within an Ethernet switch that allows for the pioritization of certain types of network traffic. In most cases the traffic that needs preferential treatment is the VoIP phones data. If the data flow to the phone is interrupted by someone transferring a large file across the network in your office, then choppy voice or a dropped call may occur. This is one of the biggest complaints in a VoIP system that has not been properly implemented.
To allow the phone's VoIP data to always have priority, your network switch needs to have QoS capability and someone (such as your network or IT person) needs to program this into the switch for the ports that phones are connected to. Some switches can globally recognize voice traffic, and prioritize it automatically, but this still needs to be set up within the switch.
IP Office Techs uses switches that have both features of PoE and QoS installed on the network. You need to have all switches replaced in order to realize clean and stable phone calls - even small satellite switches that may be in a remote part of a warehouse, for example.
VoIP Readiness Assessment
Before and after a VoIP implementation, your internal IT staff, external network service company, or IP Office Techs, should perform a network VoIP readiness assessment. This will involve:
- Checking your Ethernet Switches to see if they are capable of PoE and QoS
- Checking the type of cabling you have installed to see if you are Gigabit capable
- Checking how well cabling is terminated in the equiptment room or closet and cables dresses
- Checking the house wiring plant to see if wall jacks and patch panels are labelled properly
- Checking the enviromentals in the room - temperature, humidity, threat of water damage
- Checking backup UPS power capability
- Checking space availability for a new system
- Checking what external features will be needed such as paging and door releases
- Collectiing a count of phones and phone lines to adequately size a system
- Mapping out the payout of your network - what is connected to what - switches, routers, firewalls
- Who manages or programs all the above mentioned devices
- Connecting a Network Monitor laptop to check for any bandwidth heavy components which may be affecting your network's performance, and thusly a VoIP phone system ability to provide reliable service
Network Management and Issue Resolution
A VoIP system may be installed and working properly at the time of installation, but as time goes on and new people and network devices are added to the system, issues can crop up. Printers, PC's, Scanners and more can all act up and cause issues with the system. Someone may add a new Ethernet switch or reconfigure how cabling interconnects the switches - all this can impact the intent of the design work done when the VoIP system was originally installed - to provide reliable and interruption free phone service.
By installing QoS and PoE capable switches as recommended above, another key functionality is available to your IT person or chosen network vendor - the "managed QoS switch". This allows a technician to log into a switch and view which devices on the network are acting up - throwing streams of un-needed data into the mix and effecting your phone systems reliability. He/she can then use special software, called a network "sniffer", to analyze the traffic coming and going from that device by connecting to a port on the swicth called a "mirror" or "network probe" port, then coming up with a remedial plan to stop the offensive traffic, and restoring reliable communications.
By using a defined group of best practices, a company can take advantage of the many modern features of a VoIP phone system - and keep issues under control, both at installation time and into the future. IP Office Techs provides this ongoing support as a value added service to our sales and installation teams.