The more things change . . .

The good old reliable telephone. no matter how advanced e-mail, instant messaging, two-way paging or text messaging become, nothing quite compares to the human interaction that a telephone can provide. As they say, it’s the next best thing to being there.

Traditional PBX systems have been widely used for decades, but as with all things rooted in technology, evolution occurs. Perhaps that is why PBXs have begun to morph into IP PBXs. Seems like a lot of acronyms, but the concept does make sense. It is a methodology that simply expands upon a tried-and-true tenet of communications.

Maybe we should start back at the basics of what a PBX (Private Branch Exchange) is, as it has been a while since we examined one for the purpose of benefit analysis.

In a nutshell, a PBX is an internal telephone switching system that is connected to all extensions within the network itself, generally all located within a single facility.  In addition, the PBX acts as the clearing house for all things voice-related; it not only connects each individual extension to one another, but it also connects all users to the outside world as well. Pretty fancy for something that has been around longer than most people who work on them have been alive.

They have become so commonplace that most people tend to focus primarily on the maintenance and upkeep aspects of the PBX system itself. The routine monitoring of PBXs is a continual and constant task, mainly because of the numerous station changes, addition of new extensions, physical moves, etc. As with any other network component, it is absolutely essential to make sure that all equipment is properly maintained.

Let’s move on to the present, where call routing just isn’t enough. A uniform desire for more advanced features, at a relatively low cost, is where the IP PBX concept stemmed from. Relatively new, this hybrid approach is growing in popularity. It seems as if customers are more willing to supplement their existing systems with newer IP-based equipment as opposed to replacing the entire network. As contractors well know, a complete system replacement is not only costly, but can often times be labor intensive as well. This becomes even more evident if the “old” system is operating off outdated cabling that needs to be replaced. Perhaps that is why the addition of IP features and applications can seem like a good temporary solution to an organization’s needs.

Since most PBX systems in current use still have some life left in them, end users are keeping them as the “backbone” and supplementing them with the IP-based solutions. This could also be perceived as the intermediary step between operating off of a PBX system and moving into a full-blown IP solution.

The addition of IP-based capabilities means that PBX services such as call holding, call forwarding, conference calling and voice mail (fairly routine call-center applications) are deployed via an IP-based LAN (Local Area Network) or WAN (Wide Area Network).

The addition of the Internet compatibility enhances the features of a PBX system. The highly touted VoIP (Voice over IP) is something that can easily be incorporated into an existing PBX circuit-based system. The introduction of VoIP into an existing PBX system also helps lower the cost of long distance since the Internet is being utilized.

By using the LAN to deliver voice to the desk, via the IP PBX solution, only a single wire is required. This is because that sole line is accessing the data network for both voice and data applications. This can be a significant cost savings when one thinks about the structured cabling aspect alone.

The only drawback to enhancing a PBX with IP is that routers and IP-compatible phones are required to ensure proper call routing, functionality and interoperability. This may seem like an expensive upgrade, but it is less expensive than completely swapping out a traditional PBX for a full-blown IP telephony system.

Depending on how you look at it, upgrading to an IP PBX may be in the best interest of your customers. Most businesses, especially in this time of tightened budgets, are seeking out ways in which they can extend the life of their investments. Most PBXs in current use operate efficiently enough for the average business. By adding the IP component to the mix, you can thus offer your clients a way to take a small step toward entering the IP world. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com