Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hybrid, Converged, Pure IP, Hosted.... What does it all mean?

Just like any technological field, the telephone and voice mail world sometimes seems like it has it's own language.  When you start shopping for a system you are bombarded with terms like hybrid, hosted PBX, converged and pure IP, it can get confusing very quickly.  This article will shed some light on the differences of each system option and what they all mean. 

Let's start with Hybrid Telephone and Voice Mail Systems.  This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a hybrid blending of digital and analog technologies all in one system.  You can use digital system telephones with all the features and capabilities, LCD screens, and pre-programmed buttons, or you can use standard single line analog telephones on the system.  The same applies for the incoming telephone lines, you have the option of using standard analog (POTS) copper lines or digital offerings like PRI or VOIP lines.  The hybrid systems are slowly being phased out and being replaced by converged and pure IP systems, but they are still out there so we wanted to make sure they were on the list!

Next we have Converged Telephone and Voice Mail Systems.  Wikipedia defines technological convergence as "the tendency for different technological systems to evolve towards performing similar tasks. Convergence can refer to previously separate technologies such as voice (and telephony features), data (and productivity applications), and video that now share resources and interact with each other synergistically".  Ummm... what?  In plain English, Converged communications systems not only allow you to combine the digital, analog and VOIP technologies like the Hybrid systems above, they add in integration to your computers and programs allowing features like dialing your phone from your contacts database, among many others.  They also allow integration with video conferencing systems and other video applications such as IP security cameras.  Converged systems allow the integration of all the most commonly used business technologies and applications, phone, computer and video, into one seamless system.

One of the newest options for communications systems is a Hosted Telephone and Voice Mail System.  These systems are occasionally referred to as Virtual PBX, but basically all it means is the service provider "hosts" the phone system equipment in a remote datacenter, not at your site.  So you have no physical telephone system equipment at your site other than the telephone sets, which are generally single line phones, IP phones, or SIP phones.  The things to watch with a hosted system are making sure you are getting the features and capabilities you want and need, and the overall cost versus a physical, on-site telephone system.  In most cases, hosted telephone systems are a monthly fee from your service provider and you are renting the equipment, so at the end of your contract, you have no system and no phones.  Hosted systems can be a very good solution for some homes and businesses, just make sure you are comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges when considering a hosted vs physical, on-site telephone system.

Last but not least, we have the Pure IP Telephone and Voice Mail Systems.  Pure IP systems are based on the Converged systems, but with significant differences to it's form factor (the physical size and shape of the system).  These systems are generally a 19" rackmount system with a pre-installed Main Processing Card that has the option for IP trunk ports (incoming telephone lines) and/or IP extension ports (telephone sets), and which runs desktop productivity software and simple voice mail . Thus, a complete IP system (including voicemail and CTI) can be configured using only the Main Processing card and optional VoIP DSP cards – no external components are needed.  Out of the box, the system is set for a Pure IP deployment, but it also can be configured to support analog or digital system phones as well as analog/digital telephone lines with additional equipment.

Hopefully this has shed some light on the differences between the communications system options available today.  It can be very confusing, but working with a trained and knowledgeable telephone vendor like Key Communications can take the guesswork out of your next communications system purchase.  Contact us today to review your options or schedule a system demo.  Let Key Communications take the mystery out of shopping for your next system.