Keep Your PBX, But Save With SIP Phone Calls

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When looking for ways to save in a medium-sized business--or larger--consider your phone infrastructure. Would a more-nimble SIP-based service trump your traditional setup with VoIP calls? SIP hardware and software companies are chomping to under-cut traditional office systems; you might be able to save by making the switch.

Your biggest savings could come from cutting your current ISDN PRI/BRI cord--the phone "trunk" into your business. Replace this with "SIP trunking" to connect through your ISP, sharing phone traffic with your Internet service. The switch can streamline your monthly fees. But you'll have to add hardware to make this transition.

Many SIP systems can work with your currently installed PBX hardware. You'll connect from the PBX phone system into border controller hardware, which in turn connects to your Internet Telephony Service Provider (ITSP). The ITSP finally taps into the public phone network, reaching anyone on any phone.

The border controller could be your biggest hardware cost. This gateway connects to your network, acting as a router and firewall, blocking malicious packets that could try to creep in through the phone interface.

Ingate Systems is one company that makes these components. Company president, Steven Johnson explained in email that his hardware stresses "Quality of Service to prioritize voice (which is more susceptible to jitter and delay than data). The Ingate unit (the Ingate SIParator) can also encrypt the signaling and media to make it even more secure." He also noted that the hardware lets remote workers connect back into your office SIP system, routing calls from wherever they're located.

Depending on your ITSP--unrelated to this hardware--you might see other cost savings. If that service provider has local infrastructure around the world, you could place those long-distance calls for local rates, since the SIP call gets transfered to the public network in that area.

Your hardware costs to switch to a SIP trunk will vary based on your current infrastructure. If your company already has a compatible PBX system, Johnson says that the Ingate hardware would only be about $5,000 or less for a medium business.

The best hardware fit depends on your calling needs and number of employees, scaling up for bigger businesses. However, if you have to install lots of hardware, you still might get your return on investment in a year or two, or often much less. Johnson explained, "Even in these cases--one such multisite installation handling approximately 35,000 calls a day, with nearly 2,000 handsets in use--we have seen paybacks in as short as 9 months."

Zack Stern is building a new business from San Francisco, where he frequently contributes to PC World. Follow him on Twitter @zackstern.

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