Schools as well as districts are often hesitant to adopt new technology for a variety of reasons, not least of which is budget. There are other concerns as well, such as the time and resources needed to train staff on a new solution, and the total cost of ownership when factoring in maintenance and replacements. It’s not surprising that many schools are using tech that other industries would consider many years obsolete. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! (yes, I know the saying is not grammatically correct.)
There are some technologies, though, where the points in favor stack up so far above the points against that there is little reason not to upgrade. The problems they solve are so far-reaching, and the solutions so elegant, that they simply must be investigated. One such technology is Voice-over-IP, also known as Internet telephony, or more commonly as VoIP.
VoIP is ubiquitous these days, and most Americans have used it whether they know it or not. Businesses of every size have switched to Internet phone service for its cost and feature advantages, and in fact some major phone carriers rely on it for their communications backbones.
Concerns about call quality and reliability have largely been resolved with the advent of modern broadband connections. What’s left is an affordable telephony solution that is easy to use, easy to manage, budget-friendly, and offers advanced phone menu features that were once the realm of dedicated switches that could only be configured and maintained by trained specialists.
The technology is perfect for almost any organization. Here are some of the reasons VoIP is especially ideal for schools.
PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) systems, AKA old-style analog phones, are quickly disappearing. In 2014, AT&T began the push to “sunset”, or discontinue, the analog phone network by 2020. Other carriers have come on board with the movement, and soon it will be difficult and expensive to replace failing analog phone hardware and lines, as the parts will become harder and harder to fine. After the sunset, it will be impossible.
“In short, the IP-transition is well past the tipping point, and at some point in the not-too-distant future it will no longer be possible to maintain traditional TDM-based telephone networks and services. The demand won’t be there, the economics won’t support it, and the parts and labor to keep these networks going will not be available.” -AT&T
Replacement phones and other parts for VoIP systems, by contrast, are cheap and plentiful. A VoIP service partner can quickly and easily repair or replace them as needed, or in a pinch they can even be purchased at the consumer level.
From both a service and equipment standpoint, VoIP is far more budget-friendly for schools than traditional PSTN phone lines. Since VoIP leverages existing broadband Internet connections, any facility that has upgraded to broadband can install VoIP phones without laying any additional cable. VoIP phones typically plug into standard Ethernet network ports, the same type of data connection used by a computer.
Ongoing service costs are often far less than PSTN, as well. Unlike PSTN which may charge connection and long distance fees for calls, a call within a VoIP network is typically free. A person in the district office can call a school without incurring any charges, and even long-distance calls to distant landlines are generally much less expensive than calling landline-to-landline.
VoIP Ease of Use
VoIP systems take advantage of modern interface design to make their features more accessible to the end user. Functions like setting up call forwarding, recording a voicemail greeting, or configuring open and closed hours are performed over an easy web interface or mobile app. End users often find themselves using the features of their VoIP lines much more regularly and to far greater effect than they ever could on analog phones. The interface is a far cry from the arcane DTMF codes that were once required for even the simplest operations.
One of the greatest features that VoIP brings to schools is unified communications, or UC. In essence, UC brings together all the different means by which the modern worker communicates.
- Computer and mobile device text messages
- Video calling
- Voice calls from all devices, including desk phones
A teacher on a field trip can receive a text notification that someone has called their desk phone, and then use their cell phone to check the voicemail and call back. A district supervisor can automatically forward calls to their cell phone as they leave the office to visit a school, or even redirect their calls to the front desk of the school during the hours of their visit.
VoIP can Include Interactive voice response (IVR)
This simple interface extends to phone menus, as well. In years past, setting up a special message for holidays or emergencies was so difficult that most schools simply did not bother. With modern user interface and accessibility features, messages are simple for any user. Specialized, temporary phone extensions are also viable, such as hotlines for special events or voicemail boxes for fundraisers.
Finally, VoIP is eminently scalable, meaning it can easily shrink or grow to suit the current needs of the school. Adding “lines” to the system is as easy as upgrading the service plan, toggling an option in software, and plugging in a new phone to any network port. There is never a need to tear down walls or rip up floors to add new physical lines, and the new extensions can be deactivated just as easily. Extensions may be linked and unlinked from phone numbers as needed, allowing a classroom or office to have a direct line when desired, and for that same phone number to redirect to the main office when no longer needed.