Implementing VoIP In The Modern Practice

Author: Dr. William D. Engilman
VOIP from the AAO
Voice over IP (VoIP) merges traditional telephone services with modern computer networking.  What can VoIP bring to your practice? How do cost reductions, improved customer service functions, and getting more out of your office network sound?The cost-saving potential of VoIP is just half of the story.  VoIP allows your office telephone system to use your computer network to send and receive phone calls.  In a way, this makes a lot of sense.  The phone company already takes your voice signals and turns them into digital data when they switch your phone calls.  By handling this step yourself, you can also introduce a lot of great functions to your phone system.

An IP phone can “follow” you around the office or between offices. It can even follow you home. This means a caller only needs to know one phone number for you. If you work in multiple offices, you simply “log in” to an IP phone, and your calls will be routed to your phone, no matter where you are. This is great for on-call and after-hours coverage, too.  Log into your IP phone from home, and you can handle incoming calls to the office from there.  You can even log into a “soft phone” when you’re on the road and accept calls from users who dial your office number.  The IP phone will also let you make calls from wherever you are, and the CallerID information will display as though the call originated from your office number.

Is migrating to a VoIP solution complicated? Introducing VoIP to your practice can be a do-it-yourself project, or you can hire a professional firm to help you make the conversion. A VoIP server will take the place of a PBX, if you have one, and will help you reduce the number of telephone lines coming into your office(s).

If you have the time and interest in setting up your own VoIP server(s), one open-source implementation you should consider is called Asterisk.  If being your own telephone system support doesn’t appeal to you or doesn’t seem like a good use of your time, you can also reach out to a local IT firm for help. Asterisk is free to download, and you’ll find plenty of firms that can deliver full-service, product-certified support.

A common concern about open source products is the potential lack of product support. From a development and support perspective, the open source approach is fundamentally better than a proprietary approach, where you buy a specific company’s privately developed VoIP solution. In a proprietary approach, no one but the owner can look at the source code. Users have no way to know what the weaknesses are, and have no way to fix or customize an application for their use.  Not knowing how something works is one thing; not being allowed to look at it – especially when your business may depend on it, could be something different.

One very popular Asterisk-based implementation is called Trixbox Community Edition or Trixbox CE. New and prospective new users download this product at a rate of about 65,000 per month. The popularity of Trixbox is due to the ease of setting up and maintenance through a web-base graphical interface.

Additionally, the Trixbox distribution includes a number of add-ons that extend the base Asterisk platform.  Trixbox CE has been available since 2004.  Fonality, the company that supports the Trixbox CE distribution, offers other products and services to complement its Trixbox CE line.  You can find more information about Trixbox CE, including documentation and help, at http://fonality.com/trixbox/.

If having a VoIP server is appealing to you, but the prospect of managing and maintaining it isn’t, you can also find providers who are willing to host a VoIP solution for your business.  A hosted solution allows you to take advantage of VoIP without requiring you to spend additional time and effort on managing, maintaining and securing your VoIP server(s).  You’ll pay a regular monthly fee for the service, but you may find that a hosted VoIP solution offers a nice compromise between the cost-saving and the time expenditure that may be required to set up, manage and support your own phone system.

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