What Is VoIP?
VoIP stands for Voice over Internet protocol, and it means using the Internet to place and receive telephone calls. Basically, VoIP software takes voice calls, breaks them up into “packets” and transmits those packets over the same lines that handle IP data and e-mail. On each end, it requires equipment that takes your analogue signal, converts it into digital packets and sends, or routs, the packets over the Internet to equipment that reverses the process and produces an analogue signal.
Why would you use such a system in your law practice? There are several good reasons.
- One is cost, especially if your organization has multiple offices or places a large amount of long-distance, particularly international, calls. Because VoIP calls are cheaper than standard telephone long-distance rates, the savings can add up.
- A second reason is ease of maintenance. Since on-site support is no longer needed, you can maintain a VoIP system from a central switch, which isn’t possible with a traditional phone system. If you already have a dedicated internal data network, then all calls along that network are, essentially, free.
- Also, VoIP allows a firm to have workers at home who can use a computer and the Internet to connect to a company’s Internet telephony switch, which routes all calls (and all calling features, such as voice mail) directly to them.
- And, because you are not maintaining two separate systems—a telephone network and a data network—you further reduce your overhead and maintenance costs.
Talk Is Cheap
Okay, how cheap is cheap? First, it would not make sense to pull out the brand-new PBX exchange that you just installed. However, if you are looking at replacing your phone system, then VoIP systems are cheaper than those of comparable-sized conventional systems. Also, the handsets are less expensive than standard telephone sets.
Solo or small firm? You can still access VoIP (and lower long-distance rates) by going to www.web.net2 phone.com and downloading the free software. Using a USB headset, you can start calling via the Internet after prepaying for $25 (US) worth of time.
As for quality, which not long ago was dubious, it is now virtually indistinguishable from a conventional phone call. In fact, you may already be receiving calls placed using a VoIP system and not even know it.
The following companies supply VoIP equipment or services—these technologies are worth a serious look.
David J. Bilinsky ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Practice Management Advisor and staff lawyer for the Law Society of British Columbia. A past co-chair of ABA TECHSHOW, he heads the ABA LPM Section’s Practice Finance Core Group.