We live in an era where customer choice is top of mind. B2C (business to consumer) companies have to address consumers’ expectations to choose exactly what they want, when they want. Similarly, B2B (business to business) companies need to adapt to the personalization trend and allow customers to choose specific products and services that fit their price, performance, geography or other considerations. All-or-nothing packages can be a very hard sell.
We see this unbundling trend clearly in the communications industry, on both the B2C and B2B fronts. Consumers want to unbundle internet service from TV and phone service, leveraging a traditional phone system like AT&T for PSTN landlines, an internet service provider like Wave Broadband for internet, and a streaming TV service like Sling or Hulu for programming.
Similarly, businesses are looking to unbundle their communications services. Business voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology is particularly ripe for unbundling as more organizations weigh out VoIP vs landlines and more service providers enter the growing market to help businesses address opportunities like worker mobility and productivity, global expansion and customer communication agility.
What is VoIP Infrastructure?
When moving from the public switched telephone network, it’s vital to understand transport protocol and packet loss. Traditional telephone systems send data through a stable line while voice communications over broadband internet rely on data packets. VoIP traffic can drag down the quality of your telephone calls if your business phone service isn’t optimized for QoS to prioritize internet telephony over other kinds of network data.
The current voice over IP landscape includes a mix of hardware and software components, such as VoIP-enabled telephones, IP-PBXs for transmitting and routing calls to VoIP phones, and SIP (session initiation protocol) trunks for IP telephony. Some VoIP vendors package these components together for an all-in-one solution. Others offer just a key piece of the puzzle, such as SIP trunking.
For example, some vendors package proprietary telephone hardware with IP services, often for a premium. For some businesses that are new to VoIP or have limited resources, this type of turnkey, multi-pronged solution may be beneficial. For other companies, unbundled, open-source VoIP solutions might offer greater flexibility and control over pricing, but could come at the cost of functionality or on-demand support.
As businesses consider unbundling their VoIP services, they should understand the layers of the VoIP infrastructure, the various market players at each layer, and the pros and cons of unbundling.
The Layers of VoIP Infrastructure
To determine which layers might make sense to unbundle, it helps to look at the various components of VoIP technology, such as:
For companies that want to use physical phones with their VoIP service, several companies offer VoIP-enabled phones, such as Grandstream, Polycom and Yealink. While these phones are considered to be hardware, they include built-in software that allows them to work with VoIP and offer features such as caller ID and conferencing such as what’s found in Cisco VoIP phones.
Software and Softphones
In contrast to hardware phones, some organizations leverage software-based virtual phones that enable users to make calls through their computers. Softphones can provide more flexibility than investing in hardware phones, though they are often fully bundled into a VoIP package by companies such as 8×8 Inc., RingCentral, and Vonage.
VoIP users can leverage software-based private branch exchanges (PBXs) known as IP-PBXs to transmit and route voice and data communications to VoIP-enabled phones. Providers such as 3CX, Asterisk and FreePBX offer solutions that interface with other components of the VoIP infrastructure such as SIP trunks.
SIP trunks connect your IP-PBX to the internet so you can make calls, transmit video and messaging. Providers like Plivo, Flowroute, and AT&T offer SIP trunking solutions that can help you obtain the communications service you want, from voicemail to long-distance calls and video conferencing, with separate numbers from each IP address.
With all this in mind, a savvy company could buy VoIP headsets and phones from a company like Polycom or Yealink to put on-premise, pair the phones with an open-source IP-PBX system like Asterisk or 3CX and then plug in a SIP trunking service from a company like Plivo or Voxbone. Softphone applications can be purchased separately, such as from Grasshopper or Google Voice, but once again, they are more often than not packaged together with a full-service Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) solution like RingCentral or 8×8.
Consider UCaaS Vs. Separate Providers
UCaaS providers offer a cloud-based package of communication tools, typically with a white-labeled SIP trunking solution bundled as part of the service. While UCaaS can be advantageous for businesses looking to quickly transition from having a separate landline phone system, video conferencing system, SMS system, etc., to one all-inclusive VoIP system, it generally does not offer the same level of customization as other options. Rather than being able to pick the specific technologies they need at the right price and right level of service, UCaaS customers may end up with a solution that falls short in certain areas of the VoIP infrastructure landscape or includes components they don’t need.
Moreover, there seems to be a dizzying array of UCaaS companies, with widely varied descriptions of UCaaS and terminology about optimal solution packages. First-time buyers (and even those pretty well-versed in the market) can be confused by the similar-sounding descriptions. Buyers should look past the nomenclature and assess the specific features and services offered by a UCaaS provider in comparison to unbundled options.
Why Unbundle Your VoIP Infrastructure
While UCaaS providers address a set of communications needs, a business can plug in a VoIP feature like SIP trunking from one provider into their UCaaS solution from another provider. If you’ve built a robust and efficient local area network or are using a quality VLAN provider, you can connect a variety of services with the same efficiency as a bundled solution.
This growing trend known as bring your carrier (BYOC) allows businesses to use a VoIP provider’s platform to develop custom messaging and voice applications, for example, but also bring their carriers for voice service and phone numbers.
1. Cost Savings
Some UCaaS vendors package VoIP solutions and charge a monthly subscription fee based on a per-user basis. But, not every business needs every feature within a VoIP provider’s package. Unbundling enables them to negotiate a lower rate by picking and choosing only the elements they’ll use. Or, businesses might prefer a “pay-as-you-go” model to gain flexibility for scaling call volume up or down in certain regions or during different times of the year.
2. Global Reach
Another benefit of unbundling is global communications coverage. Not all carriers are equal when it comes to global reach and quality, so a business with multiple regional operations may seek a carrier that has points of presence (PoPs) in the areas of the world where they do business to help ensure consistent call quality. By contrast, if your business is only in North America you need not pay a premium for a carrier with PoPs on six continents.
SIP trunking providers often work with multiple carriers and have redundant infrastructure so that if one area has an outage, calls can be routed through other infrastructure that’s still running. Unbundling allows organizations to choose SIP trunking providers that have a level of redundancy they’re comfortable with, rather than being locked into whatever a bundled solution offers.
4. Call Quality
Similar to the benefit of redundancy, those who unbundle can choose SIP trunking providers that only work with high-quality, Tier-1 carriers. Doing so helps ensure that calls go through consistently and that communications are clear throughout calls. It’s vital to also manage traffic through your local area network because if your system allows for public internet connections or free Wi-Fi, that traffic could lower call quality.
Some carriers offer low cost through “least-cost-routing” (LCR), which means calls may be routed to whatever VoIP network provides the lowest rate for that particular time and location, regardless of connection quality. Unfortunately, the focus on LCR often leads to less-than-ideal call quality and issues such as high jitter or latency, one-way audio, dropped calls, high latency (connection delay), and lack of support for DTMF or CLI.
Customize your VoIP phone system with Quality of Service measures. QoS ensures that your inbound VoIP calls don’t suffer quality if you’re sending video or data over your internal network infrastructure. Contact center customers and clients can have their data prioritized in real-time so your telephone service stays consistent no matter how much your data network is hampered by Wi-Fi traffic.
5. Feature Customization
In addition to cost savings and reach, unbundling can enable businesses to better customize their VoIP infrastructure with the technology features, customer service and compliance support features that meet their business needs.
For example, a business that is concerned about compliance can bring a carrier that offers built-in features such as call recording or call logging, which enables efficiency in maintaining call records. Another business may want to bring a carrier that has guaranteed DMFI support and CLI retention and promised uptime.
6. VoIP Hardware/Software Customization
Unbundling can also give businesses the ability to customize their hardware and software setup. Some VoIP providers offer all-in-one deals that include phones and other hardware, but businesses want the control to bring their phones and other devices to save money and/or address unique business needs. For example, some businesses may prefer equipment that’s better suited for conference calls, whereas others may need more feature-rich desk phones.
Communicate With VoIP Providers For Unbundling Options
By taking advantage of unbundling, businesses can reduce costs and increase customization. Still, some businesses will benefit more from an all-in-one package, so it’s important to not assume that one approach is inherently better than the other.
Depending on your current telecom infrastructure, your in-house resources and your business goals, you may be able to customize a package that fits your needs, or you may be able to negotiate an all-in-one deal that helps you come out ahead. For example, even if unadvertised, some UCaaS providers may be willing to unbundle certain services or reduce pricing by leaving off a few features that you don’t need. Like in the consumer media/telecom business, the power of choice within VoIP is increasingly shifting to buyers, and providers increasingly realize that they need to open up to thrive.
To understand the potential for this infrastructure to enhance your business, research what cloud PBX is and learn how it can be the foundation of more efficient business communication.
About the author: Sushant Koshy is the Associate Director of Product at Plivo, a cloud-based communication platform that offers businesses a simple, fast and scalable way to modernize and customize their customer communications. Sushant is a VoIP specialist, working with businesses to integrate Zentrunk by Plivo, a platform-agnostic, global SIP trunking solution. Zentrunk is a straightforward yet powerful enterprise-grade solution that offers instant provisioning, interoperability with most standard IP-PBX systems and pay-as-you-go pricing for calls across 190 countries and 1,500 carrier networks.