A Primer for Hosted Telephony

Communication and remote data for forward-thinking enterprises

Telephony is the term used to describe voice, or at least sound, communication between two or more parties. It is primarily about conversations. However, it is important to note that the technology used in voice telephony is rapidly converging with the technology used for other business communication; that is, it is moving to IP or internet technology.

For example, BT is currently upgrading its old analogue copper telephony network to a new digital voice network. Consumers are being switched from old-fashioned telephone handsets to the newer voice-over-IP (VoIP) telephony via their internet broadband connections. At the same time, BT has announced that it will switch off all ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) services in 2025. ISDN is the standard method of connecting existing office telephony to the communications provider.

Since this move to digital telephony and the convergence of communication methodologies to a single basic technology is inevitable, it makes sense to consider a hosted telephony service to replace the existing on-site telephone system. Using a hosting service eliminates the hassle of installing a new system locally, and ensures the availability of communications experts to manage the future convergence of all business communications.

Hosted telephony versus on-site telephony?

On-site telephony, or on-site PBX (private branch exchange), has been the standard for business of all sizes for a long time. At its most basic level, it involves a private telephone network connected to the public network, allowing workers to communicate internally and externally. Depending on the requirements of the organisation, this is augmented by fax systems, call data storage, online connectivity, remote conferencing equipment, servers, video hardware or anything else involving remote communications.

Hosted telephony is an emerging alternative and part of the ongoing revolution of outsourcing IT, thanks to today’s capability for remote connectivity and stable, perpetual online connections. Hosted telephony providers hold all the infrastructure and hardware on their own premises, or in a public cloud environment, allowing their customers to connect and access the telephony functions they need without taking on the burden of local setup and maintenance. Many of the hosted providers will offer a variety of plans for client businesses, from basic VoIP calls to data storage to online visual meetings and presentations.

There are more options for business telephony today than ever before, and it can be daunting for anyone focused on running their business to understand all the different options and how they relate to the enterprise – let alone make an educated choice about the best options.

Understanding hosted telephony

For some micro-businesses, sole traders and brand-new entrepreneurs, the question of telephony might solve itself. If either a basic home or office landline and a laptop computer is enough to handle all the business’ data and communication needs, then a separate telephony solution isn’t required. A few small companies even use personal mobile phones to conduct business – but in most fields this is professionally too risky. It can be seen as unprofessional and it means that the owner and any staff make themselves accessible to callers day and night, not just during office hours. It is also dependent on the availability of adequate Wi-Fi / GSM / 4G in different locations, and the continuous maintenance of battery power on the mobile device.

In-house telephony with a local PBX has been the standard telephony solution for medium and large organizations with sufficient resources. It provides the company with complete control over the PBX, but requires the company to devote dedicated space to housing the hardware, dedicated staff to maintain it, and dedicated capital for both. On-site telephony also means that the business must assume complete responsibility for its own connectivity; all support, mitigation, or solutions for disruption to the PBX are wholly the company's responsibility.

Outsourcing IT in general is becoming a better and more flexible option for many organisations[1]. Outsourcing telephony to a hosted telephony provider is a logical and powerful extension of this process -- especially since telephony is increasingly VoIP telephony. A good provider will offer greater adaptability than on-site telephony. It can easily accommodate, for example, the expansion of remote working and hybrid workplaces. With the uncertainty of a post-Covid business landscape and the unavoidable changes in technology, such adaptability is becoming an asset for any business. On-site telephony may not be ideally equipped for remote working. Hosted telephony is already remote, so can be accessed by authorised users from anywhere. Even as of 2016, 87% of businesses relied on their employees being able to access work-related apps from their mobile devices, so this flexibility of connectivity could be vital.

Another advantage of hosted telephony is the ability to scale. An in-house PBX has a maximum number of 'seats'; that is, individual connections for users on the network. If company growth leads staff numbers to exceed available seats, the company will need to upgrade its telephony hardware with more costs, both initial and ongoing. Conversely, if the company contracts, it will be left with capital tied up in unused hardware that may need continued maintenance while providing little value. A hosted telephony service has the agility to scale on demand, providing an attractive advantage to fast growing or seasonally affected SMEs.

What does a hosted telephony solution need?

Hosted telephony is undoubtedly the most flexible solution for many companies – but it’s not without pitfalls. Partnering with the wrong provider, or pursuing a hosting option that doesn’t fully meet business requirements, can be a costly error at best and a disastrous error at worst. For hosted telephony to succeed, any business needs to consider the capability and reliability of the service provider and its own internet infrastructure.

On the hoster’s side, reliability is the single most important aspect. It is important to choose a dependable host that can guarantee consistent, stable uptime. A telephony provider also needs to be responsive and communicative with its customers; every second counts when there are issues with an enterprise’s telephony system.

Choosing a host that can guarantee good call quality is another important consideration; voice calls are still the backbone of any enterprise’s telephony, so a host that has the infrastructure to prioritise voice traffic is the best option. OGL Computer’s experience working with service-oriented businesses shows how vital it can be for any outsourced IT provider to offer responsive, ongoing customer support[2].

Whoever is providing it, hosted telephony lives or dies by the quality of the service provided to the client. An inferior or unstable internet connection will drastically inhibit the effectiveness of hosted telephony, even from an impeccable provider. It’s also important to consider how the workers – especially remote workers – are going to access the business network. As with all cloud-based computing, there’s an important balancing act between ease-of-use and security. Employees must be able to access the telephony system with minimal friction, but the business and the host must work together closely to protect the data being processed on the system.

However, as with all things in business, the last word goes to the bottom line. In terms of cost, there are some businesses that would find on-site telephony more economical than hosted; for example, large, well-resourced international corporate enterprises with extensive, multifaceted telephony requirements.

For most smaller or more tightly focused organisations, hosted telephony offers at least a huge up-front saving in implementation – the burden of purchasing hardware for PBX, setup costs and implementation is completely lifted from the client business. The only ongoing costs are those which the host charges for the service. If the client and provider work closely together in determining the business’ needs, these expenses will only ever match the exact telephony requirements – no wasted expense from superfluous seats or features, no missing or make-do capabilities from an infrastructure that isn’t ready for an upgrade.

For more information about hosted telephony check OGL Computer’s hosted telephony page[3] and consider getting in touch with an expert team to explore potential solutions for your organisation. You’ll need to move to VoIP telephony sooner or later anyway.

[1] https://www.ogl.co.uk/why-outsourcing-your-it-makes-a-lot-of-sense

[2] https://www.ogl.co.uk/thompson-insurance-brokers

[3] https://www.ogl.co.uk/hosted-telephony