If you are old enough, you remember a time when having a phone required an actual phone line coming into your house or business. Names like Ma Bell and all the little Baby Bells ring a bell. “Hold the line” and “the wires have somehow gotten crossed” were not uncommon phrases.
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All obsolete today. And then some. Cell phones, the breakup of the Bells, and fiber optics changed much of that. The days of POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service)—analog signals over copper loops—have been over for years. But the Cloud is challenging traditional telephony even further— changing the way businesses, their employees and even consumers make and receive phone calls.
“Cloud telephony is a new name for something called Voice Over IP, except in a business context,” said James Hendler, director of the Institute for Data Exploration and Applications (IDEA) and the Tetherless World Professor of Computer, Web and Cognitive Sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. “It’s been used by consumers for 10 or 15 years,” he said, mostly by people who wanted to make long-distance calls on their computers to avoid phone bill charges.
“Moving whole companies to the Cloud,” he said, “is much newer.”
“We're focused on moving to the Cloud because enterprise companies want us to move there,” said Chris Smith, VP of voice and contact services at Level 3 Communications. “Phones on a desk with cables that move to hardware that fits in closets—this is going away.”
“With Voice Over IP, your phone has an IP address and is a citizen on the internet,” explained Omar Javaid, chief product officer of Vonage. “What makes it magical is the ability to use it whenever and wherever, and be mobile. It fits your life. You don’t have to sit at your desk waiting for a phone call.”
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Having the flexibility to be anywhere and communicate on a variety of devices is changing the way people work, and keeping everyone connected all the time. With Cloud phone services, a person’s cell phone, desktop computer, laptop or tablet can be the device with which they communicate via “telephony.”
A client can call a business phone number and instead of ringing a desk phone, that call can appear on any of the internet-capable devices, whether the worker is in the office—or elsewhere. To the caller, the connection is seamless. And while they may envision the person on the other end holding a receiver up to his or her ear, that person may actually be talking through their computer via a headset.
“This integrated, software-based medium gives customers and their employees more ways to communicate,” said Smith. “You are always on.”
Flexibility and mobility are two benefits of Cloud calling. Others are cost and scalability.
“I think there is more power that comes in the capabilities available today,” said Smith. “We do this for a living. … It allows our customers to spend resources and mindshare on what they need to do to grow their business.”
Says Hendler, “It is also cheaper than building the infrastructure for yourself. … It’s clearly the wave of the future.”
It also allows for what Javaid predicts will be the next phase: embedding these services directly into applications like Uber or Airbnb, allowing parties to communicate without ever revealing personal phone numbers.
“It’s only going to become bigger,” he predicted.