Does your business spend hefty sums on phone calls with traditional phone lines? If it does, you can cut a lot of that cost by switching to a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) phone system. This technology allows you to make and receive calls, SMS and faxes through the internet instead of the regular public switched telephone network (PSTN). It also lets users manage these channels via dedicated VoIP software.

It’s the preferred option for companies that want to enjoy higher quality communications technology. And all for a fraction of their budget on traditional phone calls. But before you can start enjoying the benefits of VoIP, you need to obtain the appropriate VoIP hardware.

This article explains the hardware required to run a VoIP system. It should help you decide what kind of equipment you need to set up an internet-based phone system that caters to your business’s peculiar needs.

What Kind of VoIP Hardware Do You Need?

Many businesses already have the basic hardware required to set up a VoIP phone system. These include a computer, cable modem and sound card.

1. Computer

You can initiate, coordinate and record phone calls on a computer with VoIP software installed on it. Your computer must meet the minimum requirements set forth by the VoIP service provider. This ensures that it’s compatible with their software. Check with your VoIP company for recommendations on minimum memory size and processing speeds.

2. Cable Modem

Internet service providers (ISPs) deliver internet connectivity to users in various ways. Of these, fiber optics and cable-based systems offer the highest bandwidth. Fiber optic connectivity is usually faster. But it is also the more expensive option due to the cost of fixing fiber infrastructure into buildings. Cable internet can achieve speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, enough to support voice calls over the internet.

Cable modems are an important part of a VoIP setup. When someone initiates a voice call, the modem on the initiator’s end converts or “modulates” the voice signal into data packets. It then transmits the packets to the modem on the call receiver’s end. The receiver’s modem then reconverts (demodulates) the data packets into voice signals, enabling the receiver to hear what the caller has said.

Your VoIP cable modem should have ports for voice. Because many people use modems solely for internet browsing, most do not come with a phone jack. You should consult your ISP to get a modem that has the necessary phone ports.

3. Sound Cards

Computers typically have sound cards built into them. These cards generate audio from computers by converting digital data to sound. Users could settle for an onboard sound card if they think the audio it produces is good enough.

If you want professional sound quality, opt for an external sound card. You can connect this device to your computer’s USB port and plug a USB microphone into it as well. The audio interface ensures that you hear your voice as soon as you speak into the connected microphone. This, along with better sound quality, guarantees improved call experience with your audio systems.

The following factors will help you decide if you need to complement your basic equipment with other VoIP hardware.

  • Intended use: A VoIP system with video call and conferencing capability will require more hardware than one for voice calls
  • Size of your business: Small businesses can set up a VoIP system with existing equipment that fully meets their operational needs. All you need to do is sign up with a cloud-based VoIP system provider. Larger companies will need more VoIP hardware to serve their needs. This will include equipment for video and conference calls
  • Type of VoIP phone system: Businesses can use their traditional phone lines to set up a fixed VoIP system. If they want a non-fixed IP phone system, extra hardware is necessary

Complementary VoIP Hardware

Besides the basic equipment, most VoIP phone systems require the following hardware:

1. Telephone Sets

You need a telephone set to make and receive calls through VoIP. There are different types of VoIP phones, including:

  • Analog phones
  • Desk phones
  • IP conference phones
  • VoIP cordless phones
  • VoIP cell phones

These phones perform the same function: to make and receive calls. But each one is suitable for certain use cases.

For example, you can use desk phones when you are in a stationary position, such as a receptionist’s workstation. If you have to walk around while making a call, a cordless VoIP phone is a more suitable option. A basic, single-line VoIP phone is sufficient for a call between two persons. IP conference phones are ideal for calls involving multiple participants.

Sometimes, your employees have to communicate with each other on the go, from client sites or when traveling. In such cases, they can use VoIP cellphones. These phones are configured to make calls via VoIP once they're connected to the internet. This saves the company the cost of using more expensive traditional phone lines.

VoIP phones deliver these benefits to users:

  • More flexibility
  • Clearer sound quality than traditional phone lines
  • Add-on features including call analytics, routing and call control

2. Analog Telephone Adaptors

If you’re undecided about switching from conventional phone channels to VoIP systems, try a bit of both by using a telephone adapter. When connected to an analog telephone line, the adapter converts voice signals from the phone into digital content to send over the internet.

This device is easy to set up. The user simply has to plug the analog telephone line into the foreign exchange subscriber (FXS) port of the VoIP adapter. An RJ45 cable can then be used to connect the other end of the adapter to an internet cable. Audio signals can be converted from analog to digital once this setup is complete.

These adapters can also enable plain old telephone service (POTS) lines to function in the absence of an internet connection. These sorts of phone lines can be linked to an adapter through its foreign exchange office (FXO) port.

There are three kinds of VoIP phone adapters:

  • Single FXS: Accommodates just one phone
  • Dual FXS: Can accommodate two phones
  • FXS/FXO: Accommodates one or two phones and can also support one or two analog lines

VoIP phone adapters are a great option for companies that don’t want to spend on new hardware for their internet-based phone systems. They are much cheaper than full-fledged VoIP server systems.

As such, using one is a cost-effective way to digitize your communication channels and try out VoIP services. You get access to all the benefits of VoIP communications while keeping your existing analog lines intact.

3. VoIP Routers

Routers enable the transmission of data packets between networks. This is vital for internet-based communication. It’s the means through which internet users send and receive digital content. Routers enable people to surf the web, watch their favorite videos and download files.

Regular routers transmit data through an internet protocol called the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP). The activities mentioned earlier—web surfing and video downloading—are initiated via HTTP. VoIP uses a different protocol, the real-time transfer protocol (RTP), to transport packets of voice data between sender and receiver devices. These differences make regular routers unsuitable for VoIP.

VoIP routers are designed to transport VoIP data packets. They do this through two protocols:

  • RTP: Allows the voice data packets to be transmitted in real time
  • Session initiation protocol (SIP): Creates a connection between VoIP endpoints

Your business could benefit from a VoIP router. A VoIP router will prioritize your voice call data and create a path for seamless transmission. This enables voice calls to come out crisp and clear.

4. PC Handsets

PC handsets are quite similar to regular telephones. However, they can connect to computers through sound cards or standard USB ports. PC handsets work alongside softphones and enable you to comfortably use VoIP.

5. PC Headsets

When making VoIP phone calls, you have to speak clearly so that the person on the other end can hear you. But your discussion shouldn’t be loud enough to distract others, especially in a busy office environment. Likewise, you shouldn’t strain to hear what the other person on the other end is saying. A VoIP headset comes in handy in such situations.

VoIP headsets perform this function for VoIP-enabled computers. They work by connecting with the computer and transmitting sounds to and from it during phone calls. These headsets can be wired or wireless. Wireless headsets consist of a built-in microphone and earpiece components. They may connect with computers via Bluetooth. VoIP wired headsets transmit voice data through a wired connection.

You can use the wireless VoIP headset with a phone as well, especially when you need to make an extended call.

A Model Hardware Setup

These are the steps to setting up hardware for a VoIP phone system.

  • Get a computer that meets the VoIP service provider’s specifications. Make sure it connects to the internet. You will be installing the VoIP software on it later
  • Connect VoIP phones to the same network as your softphone using ethernet cables. If you want your phones to share your PC’s internet, you will need a router to link them to the PC. You can also connect analog phones to the internet with a phone adaptor
  • Plug a headset into the PC or connect it with the computer via Bluetooth
  • Plug the sound card into a USB port in the computer
  • Install and run the VoIP software on your computer. The computer will function as a “server” for networked devices (phones)
  • Configure your router to enable full compatibility will all the connected devices. You may not need to do this if you are using a VoIP router

A note on servers: Larger companies will need VoIP-dedicated server hosting to cater to the high volumes of inbound and outbound phone calls they support. These dedicated servers are built on cloud technology. They allow companies to scale up their VoIP systems as they grow.

How Hardware Integrates With VoIP Software

Installing VoIP software on a computer enables it to make and receive phone calls through the internet. You can attach other peripheral devices such as a PC handset or headset for a better call experience.

The software doesn’t receive calls as voice signals. Instead, it relies on the modem and routers to convert voice into digital content that it can process. It functions as an “exchange point,” passing the voice content between the parties that create them in real time. The software may also collect, store and aggregate data on the calls that it processes.

As a user, you can connect the other hardware to this virtual system by:

  • Physically plugging them to the network via a computer USB port or an internet cable (as with USB headsets and some IP phones)
  • Accessing the computer via wireless connections. These include wireless headsets, VoIP cell phones and cordless phones

Get the VoIP Hardware for Your Unique Needs

To find out which set of VoIP hardware is best for your business, you may contact an 8x8 product specialist to help evaluate your needs. They will recommend the right equipment for your company.

When it comes to VoIP, 8x8 offers a cloud solution that supports your communication needs in ways unmatched by other VoIP service providers. Choose from a range of VoIP packages that eliminate the need for a lot of expensive hardware.

With 8x8 Express, you can enjoy unlimited calling, HD audio and video conferencing, business SMS and more. What’s more, you can get started with the minimum VoIP hardware—your cell phone. Start your free 30-day trial today!

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