VoIP Hardware

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General VoIP System Hardware

A VoIP PBX system, whether hosted in the cloud or located on site, is a combination of software and hardware components that a company will use to route calls through their phone system. An on-premise IP PBX must be outfitted with a SIP trunking solution. Some hardware, like headsets and IP phones, can be used with either type of system. With a hosted PBX, most of the VoIP hardware is hosted off-site so companies will mainly need accessories, such as VoIP headsets or IP phones.

It’s usually advised to invest in IP phones since they use the most modern technology. However, sometimes companies can buy an analog telephone adapter or gateway. Adapters, gateways, and more can be bought at computer supply stores or through dedicated VoIP hardware providers. If you're not sure which brand or model to choose, there are often independent hardware reviews available through trade publications or blogs dedicated to IP solutions.

If you choose to construct your own IP PBX system, be sure to pick the most up-to-date hardware that is reliable, supported (warranties!), and flexible, allowing for adaptations and growth. The best equipment is easy to set up.

Basic IP Hardware Definitions

ATAs

are devices that convert the analog signal of traditional desktop phones into digital, compressed, packetized data ready to be transmitted over the Internet. ATAs can be used with standard phones on a hosted PBX or an IP PBX (creating a hybrid system).

IP phones

are phones that convert the voice signal from analog to digital, using built-in codecs and other components. An IP phone is plugged into the Ethernet, either via a wall jack or the computer. IP phones are configured with the user's network information, allowing for hot desking — making moving cubicles much easier, as the information travels with the phone. IP phones can simplify moves, adds, and deletions and lower costs by supporting one converged data network.

VoIP headsets

are corded or cordless headsets with a microphone and speakers, and can often be connected to multiple devices simultaneously (via Bluetooth). VoIP headsets compress the voice signal and create data packets for transmission over the Internet. VoIP headsets support wideband audio for high quality sound, and can be used with both ears or just one.

Channel banks

are high-potency (high bit rate) analog to digital signal converters, and can convert as many as 24 analog lines simultaneously into 1 digital (T1) line, and back again. Hybrid systems use channel banks in place of multiple PCI cards. Companies that need to connect more than 12 analog lines (FXO or FXS) might use channel banks. The channel bank then takes the single T1 line and connects it to the Asterisk or other PBX system.

VoIP gateways

are used with a hosted PBX or an IP PBX instead of ATAs and routers, enabling a company to use its legacy desk phones rather than switching to more expensive IP phones. A VoIP gateway converts incoming telephony traffic from the PSTN to VoIP, and vice versa for outgoing calls when necessary.

PoE devices

supply electricity to power-hungry IP phones without using AC outlets. IP phones often require a separate AC power source for each phone, or they can draw power (collectively) from the Ethernet, or LAN. PoE devices enable companies to back up IP phones centrally.

VoIP routers

are special routers that include ATA functions, using protocols and codecs to digitize and transform analog signals into IP-ready packets. VoIP routers generally offer support for multiple protocols and codecs, such as SIP, as well as Quality of Service (QoS) features to prioritize voice traffic.

Hosted PBX Hardware

A hosted PBX is located off-site and managed by a service provider, which cuts down on cost, space, and maintenance. A hosted PBX therefore translates into fewer hardware purchases for the customer. A business client using a cloud-based PBX will still have to invest in some VoIP equipment, however.

The VoIP hardware required for a hosted PBX can include:

  • Analog telephone adapter (ATA)
  • IP phones
  • VoIP router
  • VoIP headsets

Of course some items are optional, such as VoIP headsets, or can be swapped out, and if you use IP phones and/or VoIP headsets, you won't need ATAs, for instance.

IP PBX Hardware

An IP PBX is an on-site PBX that typically offers the advantage of a single, converged network for all your company's data (unless you keep your desk phones and run a hybrid system). The VoIP hardware needed for an IP PBX is a lot more involved than a hosted PBX. With an IP PBX, the physical components can include the server that houses the PBX system as well as the PCI cards and various other hardware items.

The amount of hardware required for an IP PBX depends on whether your company chooses an out-of-the-box solution, such as an enterprise-ready system offered by Bicom Systems, or builds one with components from VoIP hardware providers such as VoIP Supply or VoIPlink. The hardware you need can also depend on how many users you will have and how many simultaneous calls you might need to support, and whether you're going to perform more resource-heavy functions, such as call recording.

IP PBX hardware can include:

  • IP PBX server
  • Hot swappable power supplies
  • PCI cards
  • Asterisk appliance
  • VoIP gateway
  • VoIP router
  • SATA/RAID hard disks
  • FXO or T1/E1 cards
  • Channel banks
  • IP phones
  • VoIP headsets
  • Power over Ethernet (PoE) device

Not all of these items are required together. If you buy an Asterisk appliance, for instance, you won't need a separate server and PCI cards. With a gateway, you don't need a router (and you'll be better able to support video calls). VoIP headsets can be used with or in place of IP phones.

Other Hardware Needs

The number of simultaneous calls you make dictates how much RAM you need. For example, 1GB will give you roughly 23 simultaneous calls. With more RAM, you won't worry about exceeding your call limit. Additionally, the voice quality will be better, and the server will run faster.

How much hard drive space you need depends on your answers to questions such as: How long will you archive voicemail? Will you be doing a lot of call recording? Will 160GB be enough, or should you get a 1TB? These are just some of the considerations for hard drives, and you may also wish to consider storing voicemail and call recordings somewhere else, such as on an FTP server.

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