Cisco Phone Systems
Cisco is a name most people will have heard of.
Chances are, many people who answer the phone at work will have used one of their telephone systems. They are very popular, cheaper than traditional landlines and work well for a small business on a limited budget and a large organisation with many buildings and hundreds of workers. Cisco is the market leader in VOIP phone systems, widely used and very adaptable.
What’s so special about Cisco phone systems?
One of the most significant benefits of Cisco’s phones is that they are VOIP, or voice-over-internet-protocol. That means the phone operates on the same network (LAN) and existing connection as the internet, and the technology inside the phone separates the voice part from the data part.
IP phone systems use standard PC hardware, which makes them cost-effective, and also more powerful. One connection is plugged into the nearest LAN port and the other into the PC. A VOIP phone uses the SIP protocol, which is the same standard as ISPs use. These days many places no longer have traditional landlines but use VOIP phones instead.
Cisco themselves claim that one of their phone systems can improve employees’ productivity.This is based on the ability to collaborate in real-time, using just one line for both the phone and the data. A Cisco system is both cost-effective and robust and can also be used for video conferencing, instant messaging and mobile communications, and voice, voicemail, paging, and data. The small business systems are suitable for firms of up to 150 employees, while companies with much more staff than that will also find them cheap and reliable.
How does a Cisco VOIP connection work?
The jack with the icon of three small boxes on the phone should be connected to the network line. The second jack, which has an icon of a computer, should be plugged into the PC. Both handset and PC should be set to DHCP or static. In addition, the phone should be configured to pass through for PC. The phone system should then register the handset as active.
The switches at the back end of the system should have a voice VLAN and a data VLAN per port. Many Cisco switches will automatically detect the handset when it’s connected and assign the traffic to the correct VLAN. If this does not happen automatically, the installer will probably have to set up a VLAN tag on the handset, so the tech can differentiate the two streams.
It takes analogue voice signals, converts them into digital signals and relays them to the user as data through the broadband connection. So users can continue to use their existing landline phone as long as the switches and tech behind the scenes are compatible with VOIP.
VOIP systems are compatible with several existing systems. Perhaps the best known is Skype, which operates via a computer but can be used to make calls to landlines as well. Smartphones are also capable of making VOIP calls through several apps. Landline phones will need a VOIP adapter.
Incoming calls from any system are automatically converted to VOIP for the recipient, so the incoming caller doesn’t need a compatible system. As at least one caller is not connected to a physical telephone line, it doesn’t matter where the callers are. The system can convert the incoming signals regardless.
A VOIP system also does away with the need for a physically connected phone. In that respect, it’s much more like cellular mobile systems, as it gives the ability for an employee to be mobile or working from home but still receive phone calls. If there is a freelance worker in the US with a mobile and Skype, but their client is in Europe and has a broadband connection, they can make calls to and receive calls from this client over their broadband connection. Voice calls use less bandwidth, but it is possible to use video calling as well.
What are the advantages and benefits of a VOIP system?
Analogue systems have been around for years, so why should businesses consider changing their set-upset-up now? Well, apart from the cost savings already mentioned, there are several other good reasons to upgrade a system from analogue to VOIP, as discussed below.
Remote workers and freelancers can work wherever they have a connection and still make and receive calls at will. So those staff who work from home can use a VOIP connection to call into the office or have their office number redirected to wherever they are.
Existing landlines and mobiles can be used to route calls as long as they have the appropriate software installed. Or the user can choose an app like Skype or similar to access those calls.
More on those cost savings, as they are a major selling point for VOIP, besides flexibility. Because only one connection is required for both internet and voice calling, saving 50%-75% of costs is possible when switching to VOIP.. This makes it a simple decision for many companies. The integrated nature of VOIP makes things easier too. Not only can employees talk to their colleagues, but they can also video call or message and share collaborative working on files in real-time. All of this is available on one system without downloading additional software or using third-party applications.
Because the internet signal and the phone signal are on the same network, the company’s communications are unified. Unified communication makes maintenance simpler and lowers costs. The downside is the chance that if the system goes wrong, both voice and internet communications will be affected at the same time. However, VOIP does away with the need for dedicated phone landlines and integrates the phone requirement into the broadband signal already in use to access the internet. Not having to pay for line rental can equate to a significant saving.
Collaboration is easy with VOIP. It supports voice calls and video, messaging, cloud file sharing, and other multimedia services. In these days of increased home working and remote working in preference to the in-person presence in an office, it is helpful to have employees who feel connected as a team, whether they’re at home or in the office. A VOIP system is a useful addition to video conferencing and emails and could even do away with the need for Bring Your Own Device requirements in some cases because files could be stored in the cloud, not on a server somewhere.
Collaborative working across departments is also easier with VOIP for the same reasons. This means less silo working and fewer copies of the same file retained locally. The idea of ‘one single source of truth’ can be implemented with the master file retained in a central location and all amendments made to that version only. This will make document management much more accessible and ensure that all staff are automatically referring to the most up to date version of the file.
Flexible connections with availability option
VOIP also has more flexibility than regular fixed phone lines. If a caller needs to fetch information from another room or talk to another colleague during a call, they can transfer the call to their mobile and keep talking as they move away from their desk. VOIP also offers call logs, records of missed calls, voicemails and other interactions.
Employee availability can also be shown in one central contact phone book using the presence feature, so a colleague can check availability before calling. It may be that their query can be dealt with by leaving a message or sending an email instead, but if they do need to speak to someone, they will know when it’s best to contact them.
Using landlines with VOIP
It is possible to use a regular landline with VOIP, although an adapter is required to convert the signals. This can be set up with the internet-connected device switched on, so the VOIP adapter knows which bit of kit it needs to talk to.
The adapter plugs into a wireless router or cable modem using an ethernet cable. Once the IP address is added to the VOIP adapter, the configuration instructions will appear on the screen, and all the user has to do is follow them to set up the adapter. Then they can plug their phone in and use the phone as usual. The cost of buying the adapter can be quickly recouped by the drop in the cost of calls.
Additional benefits of Cisco VOIP systems
It is possible to improve a VOIP connection by using a more advanced handset or headset. Many people find that a headset is more convenient than a standard handset, as it frees both hands to type or take notes. Users may also then be able to take advantage of additional features such as programmable shortcut keys, call storing and cordless options.
Call quality, however, generally depends on the broadband connection. The better the connection, the clearer the call will be. Many broadband-by-default services now offer additional VOIP features which enhance user and caller experience, such as caller display, call divert and voicemail.
VOIP is flexible enough to support BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) or remote working as required. BYOD has become the cornerstone of many people’s work-from-home set-upset-up in the last 18 months, and VOIP is part of that.
It allows regular both landlines and mobiles to be configured to take work calls as needed, depending on the agreement between the employee and their workplace. Some companies may provide a specific phone for work calls; others may choose to reimburse their worker for extra costs incurred or ask them to use apps like Skype to reduce call costs.
VOIP can also use encryption to ensure confidentiality, and all Cisco phone systems share the same basic OS to make encrypting systems easier. Hopefully, that does not also make it easier to crack the encryption.
Conferencing is also easy with VOIP as it uses backlit, pixel-based displays for small meetings.
This set-upset-up may not work for a full conference of several hundred people, but for the average weekly team meeting, it will be more than adequate.
VOIP means adaptability
VOIP is the best of both worlds for many users. It’s user friendly and very adaptable, allowing a smooth transition between landline use and more mobile, tech-based communications. Many users won’t even know the difference in the workplace, but may come to appreciate it if they need or want to work from home at any point.
Any newly installed technology should meet VOIP criteria to ensure a communication system meets the current requirements and can provide all the functionality that workers need. Even if the company is not yet ready to transition to VOIP, it should be prepared to move in the future, as older technology is decommissioned or phased out as obsolete.
There is a selection of Cisco VOIP phones available for all types of business. The 7800 series, for instance, offers reliability and security whether on-site, via the web or as part of a unified communications set-upset-up. Single, two-line and conference options are available. The 8800 series offers fully-featured VOIP, with some models supporting HD video and on-site mobile staff.
No matter what requirements a company has for its telephony and connection system, the Cisco range of VOIP telephones and associated software will provide it. The systems allow upgrading now and developing services at a suitable time or going straight into a fully-featured VOIP system compatible with the work from the home (or digital native) world.
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