I wanted to thank all of the employees of the Massachusetts Legal Aid Corporation that I met with today in Boston. I spent a few hours with them to speak about Voice Over IP and deploying it in their system. If you are unfamiliar with the organization, or their misssion, The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is the state's largest funder of civil legal aid programs. MLAC-funded programs provide free legal advice and assistance to low-income Massachusetts residents with non-criminal legal problems. You can check them out at http://www.mlac.org.
They had some questions for me, which I promised to answer for them. Here's the first few :
Q: Can VoIP work in conjunction with an older phone system?
A: In general, yes. Devices called VoIP gateways translate between older phone systems and VoIP based systems. They work well for most purposes. The biggest problems come in when you need to have a "feature" work between new and old systems. As an example, if you have a phone system on one side of the gateway transfer the call, it may have problems on the other side. You've probably got to test those feature interactions pretty carefully.
Q: Will the cost of VoIP outweigh the benefits of the system?
A: Well, VoIP is pretty much a slam dunk for nearly all applications. It either makes sense because of the cost savings in toll charges or maintenances, or it can do things that your old system can't. If you have to get a new phone system, you probably don't have any other reasonable choice.
Q: Can you name reliable sources of information of independent information on the VoIP industry?
A: There's so much out there, the basic problem isn't necessarily in independence - it's in digestion. If you are considering deploying VoIP, get an expert to help you understand the issues and guide your purchases. In general, find someone independent from vendors if you can.