VoIP vs. Unified Communications – What’s the Difference?

VoIP vs Unified Communications: what will replace the landline? Young female executive using laptop and landline phone at desk in office

Land-based telephone communications are fading away. They are being replaced by Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology and Unified Communications (UC), which relies on a whole group of technologies. For anyone trying to figure out which is better for their home or business, this discussion should provide most of the information you need.

What is VoIP technology?

The simplest way to think about Voice over IP technology is that it is technology that has moved telephone calls away from private carriers to the same Internet your computers use. There are many advantages to this move, which are provided by the data networking protocols incorporated into VoIP technology.

For instance, a great deal of speed and reliability is added to making calls, costs are lower because signals don’t travel over a private phone line, and you have more control over your phone calls. With bare-bones VoIP technology, you have everything that’s required to send and receive messages from anyone. Yet, businesses enjoy the inclusion of some features besides the simple sending and receiving of calls, and that’s where Unified Communications comes in.

What is Unified Communications?

As the name suggests, Unified Communications is a group of technologies that adds many valuable features and capabilities to phone calling. All these technologies rely on a VoIP foundation for the transmission and reception of information, which highlights a point of commonality between VoIP and Unified Communications (UC).

VoIP vs. Unified Communications

Where the two differ is in their add-on features, which enable greater business functionality and promote greater productivity for employees. Some UC features are:

  • Videoconferencing
  • Email
  • Fax
  • SMS, or phone texting
  • Integrated voicemail
  • Instant messaging or chatting between employees
  • Call control, starting with basic controls on up to full-blown call centers
  • Other services which the vendor may package in with a UC offering

What UC Features Provide

Some of the features made available in a UC package are of significant value, while others have more limited value, and may not amount to much more than a sales pitch. Integrated voicemail for instance, is a feature of any normal phone system, and is already available without a UC package.

Having coworkers be able to chat or instant message each other makes it easy to ask a quick question or to synchronize their efforts, but unless either or both of them have a keyboard, or unless the service is actually associated with their computers, anything more than the most basic chatting will be difficult.

The same is true for SMS or phone texting–without a keyboard, it’s not all that practical. More value is obtained from email and fax integration, because those services can display messages on your screen, either from a phone or a computer tied to the UC system. To get even greater value from the service, it can be combined with a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system or a Sales Force Automation (SFA) system, which has been integrated with the company phone network.

When a customer call comes in, a great deal of information about them can instantly be displayed on the computer screen, such as any company affiliation they may have, past sales history, pending sales, and a history of contacts with them. With this information available at the press of a few keys, sales performance can receive a huge boost.

Videoconferencing has become invaluable to a number of businesses, because it saves a great deal of money on travel and expenses, and still brings employees together face-to-face, who may be far apart. When videoconferencing from your phone system is piped to a desktop computer, those same efficiencies can become available for anyone who has been set up with the technology.

Another UC feature called ‘Presence’, provides an instant indication of which employees are present in the building or currently at their desks, and the Find Me/Follow Me feature will cause their phone to ring until they answer. For instance, if the targeted individual doesn’t answer their desk phone, the feature progresses to their cell phone, or whichever phone is next in the call hierarchy.

One thing that you should remember about Unified Communications is that there’s no such thing as a standard package of UC. It depends on whatever features a particular vendor wants to include in its UC package, so you cannot count on receiving specific services that may be of most interest to your business. You’ll have to closely check the features included in any UC package to know what you’re getting for your money.

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