General Telephony

VirtualPBX What You Need to Know: What is SIP Calling?

What is SIP CallingWhat is SIP calling is as easily answered as most of the advanced telecommunications topics we cover in that, once you break down the acronyms into meaningful definitions, everything makes a bit more sense. What is SIP calling is one of the many different SIP Trunking topics that is addressed in brief our SIP Trunking FAQ’s, but we’ll dive a bit more in depth, here. First, SIP calling stands for Session Initiation Protocol calling and refers to voice calls transmitted over a SIP Trunk or SIP Channel. Often confused with VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol), SIP calls aren’t the same technology, but work very much in accordance with one another. SIP can also connect information like video, instant messaging, and other data, but we’ll get into how that works a bit later. And like many of the topics we’ve discussed in previous What You Need to Know Blogs about various telecommunications issues, SIP Trunking is one of those things that may seem daunting at first but is actually pretty clear once you have a broader understanding of the issue.

So Really, What is SIP Calling?

SIP Calls are voice conversations that use a specific route to connect parties. First, let’s address how telephone calls were traditionally made. The two basic components of a traditional business telephone system include accessing the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) and managing the calls and their routing/voicemail/etc. over a PBX (Private Branch Exchange). This already would indicate that SIP calling is something that is traditionally reserved for similar situations, specifically in that it’s more for businesses only. Spoiler alert: that is mostly the case. Some consumer SIP calling capabilities exist on open source platforms like the Android mobile phone operating system, but for the vast majority of SIP Trunk clients and customers, SIP calling is primarily for businesses. Moving on, a business with an on-site PBX used to connect to the PSTN exclusively over copper wires connected by the legacy telephone carriers, but in the advent of the digital and internet ages, that system changed dramatically.

SIP Calling Wasn’t the First Option

To begin handling the increased connections and complexity that initially came with having both landlines and internet connections running through the same on-site PBX hardware that was designed for voice only, PRI lines were created. PRI (Primary Rate Interface) Lines were an early solution to begin managing these new connections and have since been outdated by the more capable SIP Trunking option. We go into great detail on the SIP Trunking vs PRI in another post, but it boils down to SIP Trunking being faster to implement, more capable of handling the needs of voice-only data traffic, and an overall reduction in operating and installation costs. SIP calling via a SIP Trunk accomplishes all of this by eliminating the need to have a traditional, physical connection to a legacy phone company. This simplifies things on the site of the PBX by also eliminating the need for multiple phone lines because SIP Trunks leverage some of the flexibility that comes from cloud-based communications and can expand and contract to accommodate the needs of any business as its call activity spikes.

SIP Calling Is Just One Facet of Cloud Communications

What is SIP calling is just one of those questions that arises now that telecommunications have more than one route (specifically, a single copper wire) to connect people across a vast array of distances and devices. As we mentioned earlier, though, SIP connections can transmit a variety of data beyond just voice connections and that makes it more inherently “cloud” than anything else. By this we mean the majority of the benefits of cloud-based communications come from the infinite number of customizations and modifications that can be made for free to advanced telephone systems with a press of a button versus for a fee with the eventual visit by a telephone company engineer. This also means that SIP Calls are operated over connections that are optimized for the prioritization of voice over data, meaning that if traffic is at a peak the voice connections remain crystal clear and upload/download speeds of your favorite cat video may be constricted until the surge is over. Also, and possibly most importantly in light of the pace of business in the modern era, speed of implementation of SIP Trunking, like all cloud communications, is lightning fast in comparison to PRI lines. What traditionally takes PRI lines upwards of 45 business days to accomplish can be done with a SIP Trunk in as little as a 15 minutes or less.

With all of this under consideration, the next time someone asks what is SIP calling, perhaps the best answer is to simply say, “A really good idea.” If that’s the case, feel free to learn more about SIP Trunking for business and our other hosted VoIP business phone plans by reading more. Also, remember to let us know of other topics you’d like to learn more about in future What You Need to Know blogs by sending us suggestions over Facebook or Twitter.

VirtualPBX’s What You Need To Know: SIP Trunking vs PRI

SIP Trunking vs PRIWe have a lot of people asking us to clarify various terms they’ve heard during their search for the right hosted telecommunications solution for their businesses. One reason that’s so common is that not every company focuses as much on education and support as they do on sales. Because we take Customer Support so seriously, though, we’re happy to help with anything you need, even if it’s just a bit of edification. Today we’re examining the two related technologies of SIP Trunking vs PRI, their similarities, differences, and best uses. As will become clear by the end of this blog, this is one of the more disproportionate pairings of technologies we’ve ever reviewed, too. Suffice to say, we’ve narrowed the bulk of what you need to know into three categories- Efficiency, Capacity, and Costs. After reviewing these three areas, you’ll be an expert on the differences between SIP Trunking and PRI.

SIP Trunking vs PRI: Efficiency

PRI (Primary Rate Interface) and SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) Trunking are very much related in the sense that PRI is simply the precursor to SIP Trunks insofar as addressing the same challenges is concerned. That said, unlike other technologies that have a legitimate coexistence for a variety of reasons ranging from experiential to personal preference (think about vinyl records versus digital audio files), these two technologies coexist simply because the former hasn’t completely been phased out yet. Much like the original steam engine that revolutionized intercontinental travel, PRI systems allowed for more flexibility and capability for business-based PBX telephone arrays. However, much like the original steam engine being supplanted by more efficient locomotives, SIP Trunking addresses the same challenges while accomplishing much more in the process. Taking the efficiency of the PRI system into consideration, this is immediately evident. A PRI was designed to bring dial tones to businesses that had invested in on-site private PBX hardware. The problem is that both voice and data connections were static through this connection and that created two problems. First was that there was no way to limit voice and data connections meaning that it often resulted in an inefficient earmarking of bandwidth by constantly allotting space for each regardless of its actual traffic at any given time. Second is that PRI’s also have no way to employ QoS (Quality of Service) rules that can protect the quality of voice connections by dynamically increasing or decreasing the allotted bandwidth to channels base don their use. SIP Trunking is totally QoS compatible (provided the on-site PBX hardware is QoS Enabled) and can be optimized to always prioritize voice traffic over data traffic so that calls continue without interruption.

SIP Trunking vs PRI: Capacity

Another area where SIP Trunking represented an improvement over PRI was in overall capacity. These systems, by definition, will only ever be required by organizations that have the need for multiple simultaneous channels. In lay terms, businesses that have multiple simultaneous telephone calls. The introduction of PRI was exciting for businesses because it meant that they could have 23 channels of voice traffic and one ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) channel that addressed the Post-Dial Delay issue of calls taking an additional 10 or more seconds to connect that had plagued businesses with their own PBX equipment up until that point. However, as another testament to the efficiency of SIP Trunks over PRI, part of their way to address this was also successful in expanding their capacity, as well. First of all, because SIP Trunks deliver dial tones that come from the same DNA as hosted VoIP (from the cloud, infinitely expandable and customizable), they can expand a company’s number of channels to any number of concurrent conversations that it needs or that its data connection can tolerate rather than only coming in allotments of 23 channels. Additionally, SIP Trunk channels are already capable of addressing the Post-Dial Delay without a dedicated ISDN channel, as well. While the theoretical ceiling of the number of channels that can be run through a SIP Trunk is nonexistent, the reality is that most businesses will opt for a set number of channels with an additional number “burstable,” or flexible and expandable channels that only activate with spikes in traffic in order to cut costs.

SIP Trunking vs PRI: Costs

Possibly one of the most commonly asked questions whenever we review any technology is about cost. This is one time when the answer expands into both the actual dollars and cents that a company will need to pay in order to implement SIP Trunks and PRI systems, and into the opportunity costs of doing so, as well. First of all, the initial costs of a telephone system that needs either a SIP Trunk or a PRI will mostly be already be paid for. That’s because these are systems that only work for businesses with their own, existing, on-site PBX hardware. Acquiring that type of equipment is expensive and typically wouldn’t be the first solution for a new enterprise, rather it would likely belong to a company that has been in operation for a while already and had acquired it before fully cloud-based PBX options had become available. That said, the PRI will cost, in general, at least $300-$400 a month to operate with an additional fee per channel which is far more than even the best SIP Trunking options on the market. Additionally, a professional telecommunications provider can deploy SIP Trunking in as little as 10 minutes, whereas a PRI installation will take at least 30-45 business days. And for businesses that have as much call capacity as it takes to need these services, over a month without being able to handle those calls is a month too long.

SIP Trunking vs PRI: The Verdict

Like we mentioned early in the blog, comparisons of these two technologies is almost unfair simply because they were never even meant to be competing technologies. Instead, SIP Trunking is the logical next best option that is entirely designed to improve upon the path that PRI systems set out. That said, there are still PRI systems in place and many of them belong to companies that have no impetus to change because their needs are met and they already own the on-site PBX hardware that the PRI connects to. Even for them, however, it may be worthwhile to consider a switch to SIP Trunking for both the opportunity to optimize their networks for QoS and for their potentially hundreds of dollars in monthly service charge savings. Either way, we’re thankful for the Facebook and Twitter communities for asking the questions they have about PRI and SIP Trunking. Also, we know that for the more hardcore telecom folks out there we didn’t even scratch the surface about all of the nuances about these technologies like TLS Encryption, Delayed Media, or P-Asserted Identity. For you information on those and other topics pertaining to SIP Trunking vs PRI, visit our SIP Trunking FAQ compendium for some more, um, “light reading.” Please feel free to keep those new suggestions rolling in and we’ll be happy to continue offering the finest Unified Communications Products and Services, plus the education to support you in choosing them, that we can!

Tech Talks: Using DID Numbers to Measure and Improve Digital Marketing

VirtualPBX Tech Talks DID Numbers improve marketingWe’ve been around for a long time and have collected some of the best minds from across several industries, and we think it’s high time they got their day in the spotlight. In this series of blogs we’ll be unearthing some of the technology and talent that power our hosted communications platform.

If you’re here reading this and have ever encountered even the smallest bit of VirtualPBX content out in the world, then you already know the work of our next Tech Talks guest. Rachel Anderson is our Vice President of Design and Marketing and among her many responsibilities is the curating and oversight of all of our brand guidelines and content. Basically, if it’s ever been printed, published, or prepared by our many different channels and departments, she’s had a hand in making sure it’s as good as it can be. Despite what may initially appear to be a clear slant away from our traditional tech-heavy conversation, Rachel also has some heady insight into how digital marketers can get more campaign and conversion data by using a clever feature available on any Dash service plan. And because data rules most of the decision-making processes in marketing and operations circles now more than ever, this definitely warrants a walk through the steps on how to do it yourself. That’s why today we’re taking our Tech Talks over to the Marketing Department to discuss how DID Numbers shed new light on the impact of your marketing budgets like never before. Plus, seeing as how she’s VirtualPBX to the core in that she has worked from all over the world thanks to our flexible remote work policies, we need to have as many conversations with her while we can when she’s in town!

Rachel, thanks for joining us today for Tech Talks and let’s jump right in. For starters, what is the headline about what exactly a DID number is?
A DID number stands for Direct Inward Dialing and it means that people who dial a specific number designated as a DID will be directed to whatever internal department or extension that an admin wants. See what I did there? Anyway, this means that even though a company may have a Virtual Receptionist or any other prescribed inbound call process, dialing a DID number will bypass that and send the caller to whatever specific destination you like.

Okay, clever. All of this makes sense, but how is that helpful from a marketing perspective?
It all started with looking at the ROI from our various advertising channels. We’re able to capture a ton of behavioral information through the analytics thereof, but there were still some aspects of what constituted a non-sales conversion that we didn’t have visibility on. That means that when we have ads that guide prospects to fill out forms to learn more about a product or service, we could learn all about the impressions the ad gained, its click-through rate, and info about how frequently the form was completed and by whom. However, when that ad led to a phone call with sales, determining the quality of the conversation and the outcome of the call wasn’t something we could quantify. This meant that establishing the ROI of a particular venture was partially incomplete.

Well how do the DID numbers solve that? It’s not like you ended up fielding all the calls yourself or anything, right?
No, our Sales Department is an expert group of people that doesn’t need my help with that! Plus, we wanted to get quantitative data over qualitative so I needed something that was scalable. What we did was assign three key areas for our digital marketing specific DID numbers as part of either our advertising or contact/profile information. For this exercise, we chose Google Ads, Bing, and Consumer Affairs. Then, by tracking the ads we could see the conversions, cross reference those figures with our call traffic, and then gain added insight to the nature and quality of the phone conversation from what we learned by doing that.

Wow, there’s kind of a lot to unpack there. This all sounds good enough but it also sounds like a lot of work. What all is involved in getting from placing an ad to gaining those types of insights on the calls themselves?
First we had to acquire numbers to our Dash account. And as a shameless plug for our massive bank of local, toll-free, and international business telephone numbers to choose from, let me tell you, that part was easy!

DID Numbers improve marketingGroan. Okay, noted, please continue.
Anyway, after we got the numbers we did the following for each one; assign them directly to sales because we knew the callers wouldn’t be existing customers with a support or billing query, give them each a prepend message specific to their source (ie, Inbound Call from Bing, Mobile for Business) to notify the sales team in advance of answering, and then just sit back and let the data populate. Then, after we had a statistically significant amount of information to begin digging through, we put our data scientist lab coats on and went to work.

Wait a second, data scientists? I hope the process of learning from the data wasn’t too involved.
Not at all! Our Dash Call Log is great for capturing and filtering out vital information. Plus for folks who are more comfortable with spreadsheets, the data can all be exported from Dash, as well. Once we had the expanded call history, we could look for indicators that highlighted exactly what we were looking for. For example, we could look at call length and determine quality through how long they stayed on the line, we could cross-reference the contact information through our Salesforce information to see that all pertinent info had been documented, and we could even spot anomalies that help us to refine our ad strategy.

What kind of call information did you consider an anomaly and how did it help you create better ads?
One of the most impactful improvements we were able to make was with what appeared to be dropped calls or calls that had durations less than 3 seconds. We know that with our industry-leading 99.999% operational uptime, it would’ve been impossible to have drop rates that matched the amount of these calls we noticed. After a further review into the time of day that these calls occurred, we immediately recognized that they were placed after 5:00 PM Pacific when our Sales queue goes to voicemail. And because we had this DID number bypass our general inbound call process that meant they also bypassed the Customer Support team who is here and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. What we did to improve the ad is leverage the dynamic advertising options that some platforms have whereby we could stop showing the ad with our DID number on it after a certain time of day and then begin again when the Sales folks were in the office. This action simultaneously saved us money, didn’t leave customers without anyone to talk to, and also resulted in more sales and fewer missed opportunities.

That’s awesome, but what about all of that filtering and cross-referencing with Salesforce? That sounded like a lot of busy work to me.
It definitely would have been too labor intensive to conduct this exercise at scale, but we have a handy workaround for that, too. By leveraging Webhooks by Zapier we can automate the process of exporting call log data from Dash directly into another system, and in this case that was Slack. Webhooks let users integrate their Dash telephone system with any one of hundreds of different business tools, so it’s really a matter of defining your needs and then connecting the software to address them.

Well, this is a lot of great info about how to leverage DID numbers to benefit marketing efforts, thanks for taking the time to join us on Tech Talks, Rachel! One last thing before we go, though, because you’re so hard to nail down to one zip code for very long, I have to know, where is the next exotic place you’ll be working from?
Ha, well it’s more appropriate to ask which exotic places I’ll be working from. That’s because in May I’ll be leaving for an extended working vacation through about a dozen countries in and around the Mediterranean including Europe and Africa. This has been a trip we’ve been planning at home for a while and I’m excited to finally have it on the horizon. Of course, I’ll be in touch the whole while thanks to my, ahem, stellar business communications tools and integrations, namely my Dash Service Plan.

No matter where Rachel happens to be calling home she’ll be able to take the lessons she’s learned from the DID number exercises she described above and apply them to continually improve the impact of the VirtualPBX Marketing Department. Would your business benefit from greater insight into how your investments are panning out? Is having specific, actionable data that measures your marketing ROI important to your business? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then make sure to stay tuned to the VirtualPBX Blog by signing up for our newsletter. Also, if there are topics you want discussed about your business telephone service in future Tech Talks, hit us up on Twitter or Facebook and we’ll be sure to include it in our series. Until then, thanks for listening to another Tech Talks and we’ll be back with more, soon!

Landline Phone Service Versus VoIP: What’s the Real Difference?

landline-versus-voipWhen weighing the merits of a landline phone service versus VoIP, there are a lot of variables to consider. With the exception of both systems being the basic method by which people can place and receive phone calls, these options couldn’t be more different. Choosing between landline phones and VoIP service is even more nuanced when the consideration is for what type of phones service to get for an office telephone. Business phone services introduce a variety of needs and limitations that make the weighing landlines versus VoIP phones even more important. Over the next few sections, the differences between VoIP and traditional landline phones will become clear, and especially in the context of choosing the right business phone, you should have all the information you need, beginning with defining their core technology.

Landline Versus VoIP: How They Work

The landline telephones that everyone has relied on for decades are built on networks of copper wires, switches, and branch exchanges. Basically, think of the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) in a similar way to the Eisenhower Interstate System. There are millions of miles of physical pathways, some larger than others, with complex interchanges that cost a great deal of money to install, are disruptive and difficult to make changes to, and that are also generally too expensive to manage by anything other than the largest or organizations. Conversely, the way VoIP operates is by the same theoretical principles behind facilitating conversations through a network of connections, but unlike landlines, these connections occur over the infinitely expandable internet. Even the name, VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol), is a delivery of a promise that communications over this method will be inline with the expectations that one would have with any cloud-based system. You can read more into a complete explanation of the smaller details behind the inner workings of both landline and VoIP telephone PBXs (Private Branch Exchanges), but recognizing the physical and cloud-based differences is all that’s needed for the general weighing of options between a landline and VoIP phone.

Landline Versus VoIP: Features and Scalability

The first thing many companies will consider when choosing between a landline and a VoIP business phone is price, and while we will get into that shortly, that shouldn’t be where the search begins. That’s because features, functionality, and scalability should are often the gating items for businesses when it comes down to choosing a phone service. And considering that many, but not all, of these can be accomplished with both landlines and VoIP phones, it’s important to know if there are things that can or cannot be done by each option. Also, some businesses will have needs specific to their industry that will require the inclusion of certain features as well. For example, a law firm may need to ensure that their service comes with inbound call recording. A medical office may need to send and receive digital faxes. These are the types of features that a company needs to know about before they begin their considerations over price.

Features and scalability are two areas where VoIP has a distinct advantage over landline phones. Because the telephone service of a VoIP service plan is based in the cloud, there is no hardware to install or manipulate in order to make changes to the system. If you want to add or remove telephone numbers, extensions, create groups or departmental ACD queues, or just simply manage numbers for automatically forwarding calls when you’re not at your desk or even make basic hours of operations automation, anything like this would require the work of an on-site technician for a landline phone system. Conversely, all of these advanced business telephone features and many more are easily managed from the palm of one’s hand on a VoIP telephone system. Because VoIP is all operated off of hosted software that is managed and maintained by the engineers behind the company that provides the service, all the end user needs to do is access whatever online portal they are provided to make any of these types of changes.

Landline Versus VoIP: Costs

Despite the clear advantage that presents itself after comparing landline phone service to VoIP insofar as their respective features are concerned, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Pricing through growth is an area where landline phones will never be able to compete on a level playing field against hosted business phone services. As soon as a company begins to look at current pricing for advanced hosted business telephone systems, it’s quickly evident that VoIP plans just tend to cost less. Up-front costs for VoIP are virtually nonexistent because there is no hardware to buy or install. Plus, engineers at secured server locations handle all of the relevant VoIP software maintenance, as well. Building a landline phone operation for business can be relatively easy for unsophisticated systems, however, as soon as the company needs to have extensions or departmental queues of any of the features above, the cost skyrockets. That’s because all of those functions are impossible without a telephone company engineer installing complex, bulky, and very expensive switching equipment and hardware on-site. Not only does that come at a high cost at the onset of the service, but then even the most basic management of that system (say you want to add or remove employees, for example) requires more service calls by the telephone company. The costs of paying for these visits adds up quickly, but even more costly is the time value of money in that is lost each time a business needs to wait for a third party to conduct relatively simple changes. VoIP system management happens as quickly as an admin makes the respective changes from his or her online portal. These disparities only become more pronounced with every new feature and function that is added to the system, thus making choosing a business phone system on price alone a clear-cut victory for VoIP.

Landline Versus VoIP: Updating and Obsolescence

The final area to consider when weighing the benefits of a landline phone system versus VoIP for a business phone is less clear cut than the simple costs of one over the other. Nobody can say what communications technology will look like in the coming years, but there are some trends that provide a good indication. Unified communications is definitely one such trend by which more businesses are integrating their total communications technology array into a single platform. Advanced VoIP phone systems are beginning to integrate everything from Salesforce CRM software to digital faxes in a move to accomplish just that. Additionally, the most developed VoIP platforms also are leveraging Webhooks from Zapier to integrate even proprietary and internal systems that cover systems like inventory management and order fulfillment. While many of the initial features businesses use on their phone systems that were discussed above are actual possibilities on both landline and hosted versions, these types of integrations are exclusive to VoIP platforms. Choosing the right business telephone system based on a desire for future-proofing it against becoming obsolete makes VoIP a more attractive option.

Landline Versus VoIP: The Verdict

There are clearly some differences between VoIP and landline business telephone systems that will sway companies one way or another. Ultimately, though, it’s important to remember that they each is essential for a business because there is no replacement for being able to have voice connections with customers and partners. And while this comparison of the two platforms covers many meaningful contrasts between the two, the choice of which platform is right is an individual one best made by and employees using it. For more information on VoIP, and for an opportunity to try VoIP for free, you can contact VirtualPBX 24 hours a day.

March Madness Returns, and With It Comes Time Away From Work

march-madness-2018It’s that time of the year again! Today, the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament begins on the auspicious day of the Ides of March. For many, this is about as appropriate as it can be because they could care less about the circus surrounding the single-elimination tourney. But for others, many others in fact, this compact and very busy basketball schedule represents one of their favorite times of year. How many others feel this way? As we reported on last year, according to ESPN there are at least 50 million brackets completed on their website alone. Sure there will be people who submit multiple brackets to hedge their bets, so to speak, but no matter how way you cut it, that’s a massive engagement on the behalf of the public. So much so, that the estimated productivity loss to businesses as employees focus on the games and not on their work responsibilities can likely top $2 billion this year. That number is staggering when you consider how quickly the tournament is here and gone, but it doesn’t have to be that big of an impact if you plan to adjust your work schedule accordingly.

Don’t Let March Madness Win

In order to get the most out of employees, regardless of what sports events happen to be ongoing at the moment, it’s essential to ensure they have access to the best communications tools available. Being able to use features like Mobile for Business that leverages a nationwide 4G LTE network just for business ensures that they are capable to work around the events in life that are bound to arise from time to time. Everything from home life demands, to illness, to simply scheduling conflicts that arise in the course of doing business can impact an employee’s availability in the office. This plus the reality that we have wide network of high-speed internet access that can fuel advanced unified communications means there’s no reason to be as tethered to a traditional 9-5 work schedule as businesses in the past. In fact, just keeping people tethered to their own desk isn’t even required anymore with features like Hot Desking and Follow Me Calling. Keeping an open mind and a flexible attitude about the whereabouts of employees has also been proven to boost autonomy and thereby engagement, both which have an overall positive impact on the job performance and retention of employees. Having these types of attitudes in place as evergreen approaches to work/life balance helps to navigate situations like March Madness when there may be a spike in distractions for even the most engaged employees.

While March Madness is Here, Though…

Seeing as how you follow the VirtualPBX Blog and, as a result, you already take advantage of the latest developments in business communications tools, you’re probably well-positioned to handle March Madness with ease. That’s why I’d like to invite you to take a peek at
my own bracket on Yahoo! Sports
and challenge you to a friendly competition. Even though the games have already begun, you can still complete your brackets online. Plus, even if you wouldn’t want to go toe-to-toe with my own picks, there are dozens and dozens of options for picking winners on a round-by-round basis. No matter how you participate in the March Madness tournament, though, remember that you still have a job to do at work. In fact, so do I, so it’s time to get back to it!

If you want to share your picks, thoughts, and any creative remote working strategies you have for the tourney, hit us up on social media. We’re always around on Facebook and Twitter and would love to hear from you!

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