Nortel and ROLM battled it out against each other and AT&T in the 80s and 90s, and in the process changed the face of telecommunications, as company communications systems wrested themselves free of the AT&T monopoly. Neither of those 2 legendary companies is still around, but many of their systems are, and those of other fine players, and for some organizations, those old-school PBXs still work fine, decades later.
But the inhabitants of any ecosystem eventually become extinct, and that is certainly true for legacy PBXs. Many legacy systems are no longer supported by their successor organizations, support is harder to obtain as the pool of trained technicians drains away, breakdowns are more frequent, and the owners of these systems are forced to scavenge the gray markets of eBay and Craigslist to find replacement parts. On top of this, the cost of connecting to the public analog telephone network is skyrocketing as ATT and other carriers “encourage” their customers to migrate to new technology.
So, sadly for some, now may be the time to consider migrating that legacy PBX to the latest VoIP offerings. But today’s telecom ecosystem is vastly different, and there are traps for the unwary. We’ll discuss some of those traps, as well as some of the advantages that migration can bring to an organization.
Legacy PBXs connect voice users via telephones over dedicated networks of twisted pair copper wires, and in general, the voice service is excellent and reliable. But by today’s standards, the equipment is a power and real estate hog, and requires specialized, dedicated – and expensive – technical support. Are those increasing expenses and declining reliability enough to drag you into a new system? Or are you intrigued with the promise of improved productivity and collaboration that a new system could provide?
If you are ready to take a deep breath and leap, there are some risks and opportunities you want to know about before you commit to a new phone system.
1) Phones are optional. Sounds kind of weird, right? In the new world of telecom, phones have been replaced by “end-points”. Now they could be, and most frequently are, telephone handsets that still look pretty familiar. But some organizations have gone to “soft-phones”, i.e., applications that run on a computer that enable you to make and receive calls from your computer with speakers and a microphone. Or, your extension could be an app running on your smartphone, or even tablet. The point is, you have more choices than ever.
2) Cabling infrastructure may need a refresh. Today’s VoIP phones run on Cat 5, 6, or 7 cable, but not twisted pair. Often, if Cat 5 is already run to the location where the new phone is going to be, it can be piggy-backed to support both the phone and the computer. If you are going to have to run new cable, you won’t have to run 2 cables to every location, which would save time and money. Also, consider terminating the cable into a PoE (Power over Ethernet) switch, which can power the phones so they don’t need a transformer plugged into an AC outlet.
3) Hosted vs On-Premise. This is the big raging debate at the moment. Putting synchronous voice and/or video communications in the cloud is WAY different from backing up your files to a remote data center. Almost everyone has experienced talking with someone, even at Fortune 500 firms, where the voice quality was atrocious, and 90 percent of the time, they were on a hosted VoIP system. Going the hosted VoIP route requires very careful analysis. Our experience is that there are times when hosted VoIP makes sense, but as of this writing, most of the time hosted VoIP is more expensive and subject to at least occasional, and sometimes chronic, quality issues.
4) Remote Workers. Having remote workers can provide some real advantages, IF managed correctly. It gives workers flexibility to get work done from home or on the road, it gives a company access to a work force it might not otherwise have, and it can keep down facilities costs, among other benefits. However, provisioning the remote worker with secure phone and data access that is easy for the worker to implement is challenging, and not every system is up to the challenge.
We’d like to hear your thoughts and questions if you are thinking about moving from a legacy PBX to a modern VoIP system. Please leave us a comment below.