SIP trunking is making waves in the healthcare world. Infonetics reports that in North America, 45% of businesses are already using SIP trunking. That will increase to 67% by the end of this year. We are lucky to get the chance to chat with people who run medical offices and who are interested in the possibility of using SIP trunks. However, most of them are generally unfamiliar with how SIP works or what it might mean for their healthcare practice. This post explains some of the fundamental aspects of SIP trunking in healthcare without a bunch of industry jargon or unfamiliar acronyms.
What is SIP Trunking?
SIP stands for Session Initiation Protocol. SIP trunking is a method of sending voice and other unified communications services over the internet instead of traditional telephone lines. SIP trunking works with an IP-enabled PBX (private branch exchange). SIP trunking lets medical practices get rid of telephone lines and PRI contracts (Primary Rate Interface).
Before SIP became a common and reliable method of transmitting voice signals, and high-speed internet connections became ubiquitous, telephone calls were carried over the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). The PSTN is the network of the copper phone lines you might associate with the “telephone.” The PSTN is a circuit switch network that requires a physical connection between two points to complete a call.
SIP trunks are virtual phone lines that let people make and receive phone calls over the internet to any phone number in the world. SIP trunks utilize a packet switch network, in which voice calls are broken down into digital packets and sent across a network to the final destination.
Each SIP trunk supports an unlimited number of SIP channels. A SIP channel allows for one incoming or outgoing call. You only need one SIP trunk, no matter how many concurrent calls you expect. The number of channels needed depends on how many calls the medical office will make at any one time. (This post will help you calculate the number of SIP channels your office likely needs.)
SIP vs. VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol)
Although SIP and VoIP are frequently used as though they were the same thing, they are two different things. VoIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol. It is a broad term that covers any phone call made over the Internet. It includes a group of protocol technologies of which SIP is an example. In short, SIP is one of the specific protocols that enable VoIP.
Codecs are computer codes that convert audio signals into compressed digital form so they can be sent over the internet. When the signal reaches its destination on the network, the codec converts it to uncompressed audio signal for replay. Codecs are what makes VoIP possible. Different codecs have different levels of compression. The two most popular for SIP trunking are G.711 and G.229. One (G.711) provides uncompressed high-quality voice, while the other (G.729) is compressed so that it uses less bandwidth, but that comes along with a reduction in quality.
Tier 1 Carriers and Call Quality
Excellent audio quality is essential for any medical office phone system. The best solutions offer voice quality that is indistinguishable from traditional landlines, but it is vital to inquire about the grade of the carrier network used by your SIP trunking vendor. Only Tier-1 carriers are directly connected to the backbone of the internet for the highest possible call quality and reliability that your patients and staff expect.
Router Setting: Quality of Service (QoS)
Quality of Service (QoS) is a router setting that tells the network to give voice calls priority over other data traffic. Small delays in the signal reaching the endpoint, or a bit of data loss isn’t something that you notice when consuming data, but it can lead to terrible voice calls. Properly setting up QoS ensures that audio quality will remain excellent even when data-intensive actions, like downloading large files or streaming content, are going on in the background.
Why Medical Offices Choose SIP?
There are many benefits of SIP for healthcare providers. One of the most important is reduced cost. With most SIP trunk providers, unlimited local and long-distance calls to most of North America are included in with the monthly fee for each SIP channel, lowering costs and making them more predictable. The best SIP providers make it easy for you to provision channels on-demand, meaning that you get, and pay for, only the number of channels that you need now and can grow at any time or expand and contract to meet seasonal demand.
Additional benefits include:
- Built-in business continuity features so your office phones never go down and you can re-route calls to another location or mobile phones if weather or some other emergency makes it impossible for your staff to get into the office.
- Network consolidation that gives you one network to manage, not separate networks for voice and data.
- Unified Communications features, including video, screen sharing, application integration, and instant messaging.
You don’t need to be a telco expert to enjoy the benefits of SIP for your medical office. We do recommend choosing a great vendor partner that will help walk you through the implementation process and support you as your needs change over time. If you have more questions about how SIP might work for you, we’re happy to help.