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VoIP (Voice over IP) is a technology that has been around for many years but is now gaining significant footholds in organizational phone service.

Essentially, VoIP takes your voice and turns it into digital signals. These signals are sent along your network and across the Internet to your VoIP service provider. Your service provider hands the traffic off to the public phone network and the person at the other end of the line hears you on a “regular phone call.” When they talk back to you, it goes the opposite direction: their voice comes across the phone network, gets handed to your VoIP service provider, which digitally sends it down to you on your device where it gets turned back into sound that you can hear.

Some VoIP services allow you to have a phone that plugs into your network. These phones are powered by an AC adapter that gets plugged into a power outlet in the wall, or they might be powered by the Ethernet wire itself. Other VoIP services allow the user to simply plug in a headset to their PC or Mac and place and receive calls with a “soft phone,” an app that processes the voice calls in the same way the phone does. Often, providers who have soft phones as an option also have similar apps for smart devices like phones and tablets.

It’s important to note that VoIP phones, by their very nature, can work anywhere there’s an Internet connection. Because of this, location-based services like 911 may not function as expected. If your VoIP service is set up in Columbia, Mo., and you go on a trip to Washington, DC and plug in your phone, the system will still think you’re in Missouri, and if you dialed 911, you’d likely get Columbia’s Joint Communication Center. There are ways to tell the system you’ve relocated, but it’s important to know that if you’re uncertain about voice service, it’s best to use a service that is location based for calling emergency services – such as your cell phone or a landline.

That consideration aside, many organizations are choosing VoIP service, because it’s significantly less expensive than traditional phone service and allows more flexible call routing. A worker can sign in from the office, a branch location, home or even a hotel on the road, and have her calls routed to her. She can place, pick up, transfer and conference just like she does at her desk. She remains connected, even though she’s physically elsewhere.

VoIP service providers may also offer virtual fax servers, which allow the organization to drop their fax lines and retire their fax machines. The service provider intercepts any incoming fax, and attaches it to an email addressed to whomever you specify based on rules (what number was dialed, where the call came from, etc).

RingCentral, Jive, Cisco, 8×8 and Ooma all provide VoIP phone service. All you need is a connection to the Internet and a plan for who will get VoIP phones vs. soft phones. VoIP service provides flexibility to an organization while reducing the cost of telecommunications.

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