As I wrote about a few weeks ago (Is VOIP Ready for Small Businesses?), I’ve been testing out the Vbuzzer VOIP solution, using a Sipura Ethernet to phone interface box and a cheap old telephone I had in the closet. So far, it’s working well and I’m impressed with it and quite pleased with VOIP overall.
But trying to figure out how to integrate it into my existing office setup is making my head spin, and it’s really a great example of the cost and challenges of people who are early adopters or even mainstream adopters. Sure, I can sign up for Vonage and get a “free” box similar to the Sipura, but what I really want is to transfer my existing business line to a VOIP system, transfer my fax line to a VOIP system, and then have a two line hybrid telephone where line one was a standard phone line, and line two was the VOIP business line.
After spending hours and hours digging around on different Web sites, from Hello Direct to Cisco and Polycom, I’m simultaneously impressed with the wide range of phones and baffled by the many options, none of which seem to exactly meet my needs.
But to be a really good business solution, I also need a second device to go with this setup: a highly compact headset that I could easily pack with me so that when I am in a hotel room or visiting a facility with high-speed networking, I can reroute my VOIP business line to that location. I’m sure that there are compact USB headsets that are VOIP compatible (and both Mac and PC compatible too), but, again, finding one is darn difficult.
Another concern I have is based on the fact that in the last twenty years I’ve only experienced one outage of a traditional phone service, but network outages seem to affect my office on a monthly basis. What happens to a call that comes into a VOIP line if the business network is down? Does it automatically roll over to voicemail at the VOIP service provider’s system (e.g., Vbuzzer or Vonage)?
Finally, there’s the Skype factor: many of my colleagues have Skype and I’d like to be able to communicate with them using the Skype service when possible. How would a VOIP telephone system support a USB “soft phone” capability? Or would the headset end up being called into service for this particular task?
Today my desk is full of phone devices, from the soon-to-be-returned Hello Direct multimedia headset device, to a two line GE phone, a Lucent answering machine, the Sipura VIOP interface device and the second telephone. It’s too darn much. I want a unit that offers me all these capabilities, and I believe it’d be the perfect office device for the next generation of telephony. Is it so hard to put all these pieces together and solve this problem?
And I have deliberate not mentioned one more issue: in my second office space, we only have wireless connectivity, yet all the VOIP to phone interface systems I’ve seen require a hard Ethernet connection.
Honestly, I think that there’s one heck of an opportunity here for some mainstream telephone companies like Panasonic or General Electric to work in partnership with the various VOIP providers to create hybrid, multifunction telephone systems that offer plug-and-play replacement capabilities for businesses that want to migrate off their existing solution, but perhaps gradually, or one feature at a time…
VOIP telephony experts, talk to me. Tell me what kind of solutions I could use, what kind of hardware would serve all the needs outlined here and let me sweep my existing telephone gear into a box destined for eBay and move my telephony into the new era.