How is VoIP Different from Unified Communications?

Posted on: 2017-09-22 | Categories:VoIP Services

Businesses looking to upgrade from the standard PSTN based enterprise phone system have a number of alternatives to consider. The first solution you’re likely to hear will be VoIP – either hosted or on premise SIP deployments. The second alternative is Unified Communication. Regrettably these two terms are used interchangeably by vendors and the media. But not many people understand the relationship between these two products or even if there is a difference between them.

What Is VoIP?

VoIP refers to Voice over Internet Protocol and it describes the technology to a T. A typical landline routes the human voice over a network of copper wires to its destination. The PSTN is the network which connects all telephones to enable voice calling. VoIP performs the same function albeit in a different way. Instead of using a separate network of wires, it uses the Internet to transmit voice calls. So VoIP uses the same data network as your computers, laptops and other Internet connected devices.

What Is Unified Communication?

Unified Communication is not a separate type of technology. It is a marketing term that refers to a suite of applications that share a similar design and interface to facilitate communication. It incorporates a variety of real-time and non-real-time communication channels. They include but are not limited to instant messaging, video calling, voice calls, conferencing, presence information, texting, integrated voicemail, fax and email.

Part of the confusion between VoIP and UC – as unified communication is commonly known – stems from the fact that most UC products use VoIP as a foundation. Within the UC suite of products, the voice component will be powered by VoIP technology. Most businesses start out with replacing their voice systems with VoIP enabled products. UC implementation generally comes later down the line. Essentially you can have VoIP without unified communication but not vice versa.

The Differences between VoIP and Unified Communication

Scope

The biggest and most important differentiator between the two is scope. VoIP focuses on Internet-based voice calling. Unified communication emphasizes enterprise wide communication. Many VoIP vendors offer some UC features in their plans, as extra add-ons or paid upgrades. The vast majority of unified communication products in turn rely on VoIP as the core foundation.

Whether you choose VoIP or UC depends on your specific business needs. If you are only looking for an inexpensive alternative to your current phone system, hosted VoIP solutions are the best option. If you are interested in facilitating collaboration, optimizing decision-making processes and streamlining workflows, Unified Communication products are a good bet.

Expense

Implementing any new technology or upgrading existing systems comes with a cost. Since the scope of VoIP and UC differs quite a bit, so does the expense associated with them. You don’t need much to get started with hosted VoIP. In many cases, vendors offer 30 day free trials that you can use to test the service in a real-time work environment. If the enterprise network infrastructure is robust, the only expense will be purchasing IP enabled phones and the monthly subscription plan from the service provider.

Deploying UC products within an organization will take much longer and cost a lot more. It is not a ‘set it and forget it’ initiative. It is an ongoing and continuous project that involves as the organization changes with time. UC products from different providers will never look the same and they can be further customized to suit your business requirements. The total cost of upgrading to UC will depend on several factors including business size, number of tools, required features and upgrades etc.

Implementation

Unified communication takes longer to implement than VoIP. It is a much bigger project and you are more likely to run into problems or obstacles on the way. Upgrading to VoIP is not a complex undertaking, even if you deploy on premise SIP solutions. Many VoIP services offer UC features such as find me follow me, integrated voicemail and digital faxing. However UC suites integrate all of these channels with a single interface. All the tools communicate with each other behind the scenes.

With VoIP you can see immediate benefits in the form of lower monthly bills, no equipment maintenance, timely and regular feature upgrades and so on. Unified communication pays off in the long-term through faster decision-making processes, increased collaboration and improved productivity. Integrating your UC suite with other enterprise systems like CRM and sales tools can lead to more benefits. However to actually gain those benefits, you need to invest in UC implementation at the outset.

Enterprises often assume that VoIP is a direct competitor unified communication services. Nothing could be further from the truth. VoIP is a fundamental part of any UC suite. At the same time not all organizations jump to UC and many are content with VoIP. So start with VoIP and you can always add UC features when you need them.