Part 3 - Getting Technical: IP Phone Systems

At this point you should have a good understanding of what your business requirements are.  I can now begin hitting on some of the more technical questions.  By the end of this section, you will have a better understanding of what capabilities are important to you for your phone system.


A lot of people are confused about what an IP phone system means.  What is an IP system?  Before I can answer that question, do you understand what "IP" means?  IP stands for Internet Protocol.  But don't let this scare you.  When we talk about an IP phone system, it does not use the "internet" in the same sense that you are using the internet on your PC for browsing or streaming music and videos.

Instead, the word you should be concentrating on is Protocol (out of Internet Protocol).  An IP phone system uses the same technology (or the same protocol) that your web browser is using, but in a very different way.

Most importantly, an IP phone system is simply a phone system that uses your internal network to communicate between phones and the system server (or control unit).  This is in contrast to using an analog phone jack and a standard phone cord that plugs your analog phone into the wall.

A phone on an IP phone system connects through an Ethernet jack; this is the same jack that provides internet to your PC through an Ethernet cord.  In fact, in the typical setup, you will have an Ethernet cord coming from the wall, into your phone, and then another Ethernet cord coming from your phone and going into your PC.

Again, you have two pieces of hardware (your CPU and your IP phone) using the same technology, through the same Ethernet connection.  But--to re-emphasize my point--this does not mean your phone is connecting to the World Wide Web.

Because of this shared Ethernet connection, a lot of people ask, "I don't know if I have enough bandwidth on my internet access to have an IP system."  But your IP phone is not using your internet bandwidth.  If your LAN (Local Area Network, or internal network) is working well, you can do an IP phone system all day long.

The second major point of confusion for phone system buyers is the distinction between VoIP and IP phone systems.

Just because you have an IP phone system does not mean you must use a VoIP provider.  VoIP stands for Voice over IP.  Some business owners are shy of making the jump into using VoIP phone service.  However, it is entirely possible to use your standard phone service with an IP phone system. 

Most IP phone systems come with a server unit that has normal phone line inputs in the back of it.  So you can keep your phone lines as they are.

How is this possible?  Because the IP phone system uses your internal network, and does not rely on your outside internet connection.  Whether you choose VoIP or a standard phone service plan, the difference is only in how your outside calls are handled.  Once the call hits the server, then the server propagates the call to the phones on the network.

That is why when you are considering an IP phone system, you want to make sure you have a good, reliable LAN.

At this point you should get comfortable with the term, "POTS lines."  This stands for Plain Old Telephone Service.  When I say that a phone system can handle your regular phone service, then it connects to outside calls through POTS lines.

Please note:  Not all IP phone systems are compatible with POTS lines.  Before making your purchase, make sure this is a feature of the phone system.

This is the first major technology requirement you must consider, because there is a big fork in the road here:

a) IP phone systems
b) or digital phone systems (normal phone wiring)

If you are unsure what phone system is compatible with your office, you can always hire a specialist to walk through and inspect your office's internal network.

If each room already has an Ethernet jack, which you use to connect your PC to the internet with, then you can probably handle an IP phone system.  If not, you might want to find out the cost of installing a network.

While I will try to keep this guide impartial, there are many benefits of choosing an IP phone system.  These include:

  • Lower cost with richer feature set
  • Better sound quality
  • Ease of installation
  • Ease of use and administration
  • Easy to make changes (extensions, user names, department names, voicemail, holiday schedule)
  • Easy to move a phone from one room to another (no programming needed, just move the phone and it automatically moves detects its new location and settings)
  • Remote office capabilities (*not all IP phone systems have this feature, but most make it easier and incredibly cheaper than digital phone systems)

Find Out Telephony Jargon From A to Z

If you do not clearly understand what a telecommunications term means, check out our complete telephony glossary that features more than 50 terms.

What is the difference between the SPA2100 and the SPA2102?

Learn all about the Different Between the SPA2100 and the SPA2102.

Part 4: Additional Questions that Should be Asked

This last section concentrates on your office's infrastructure, and finally your personal preferences.

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