Software vs Hardware
The telecommunications market is a different beast to what it was 10 or 20 years ago.
A lot of the network these days, is run as software, creating virtual and not physical links. What does this mean for you?
Well there is a lot more that you can do with software that you can't do with hardware which means that you have a lot more flexibility in what services can be delivered and what limitations if any you put on them. With the computing power available, a lot of the devices, switches, firewalls and servers are all actually emulated in software.
This means that you are able to rapidly "deploy" the resource and functionality "immediately". In the past the hardware would need to be ordered through the normal procurement process, shipped, booked in, tested and then deployed into the environment which would require a physical presence.
If the device is to be later deployed, then a site visit is required, the unit decommissioned, checked back into the system and then transferred to the new location, again requiring multiple site visits. which all takes time and costs money.
Back in the old days (insert harp music here) a phone number was tied to a plug in a switchboard and that number could only be moved within the exchange (circuit switching), meaning if you moved out of the area then you needed to get a new phone number. If you wanted to add a new number, then this would need to be allocated from the exchange and a port made available. A technician would then need to go to the street where you live and cable your house to the exchange. (this is still how the internet is generally connected).
This all changed with advent of packet switching, where software routes the traffic, and the introduction of digital PABXs which brought the functionality of the big exchanges down to the business level, although this required the installation of expensive equipment and handsets, as well as configuring and "design" of the system.
PABXs could do all sorts of things such as ring multiple numbers, transfer calls, park calls, have calls go to voice mail, introduce self help IVRs and of course manage numbers. The company would typically buy a block of numbers and then these would be internally allocated. The telco would simply route all calls to the PABX and let it handle the "last mile" to the office desk phone.
These numbers were called Digital Inwards Dialling - or DID, and were generally grouped into departments such as Sales, Accounts, Admin, Finance etc, for accounting purposes. There was usually a voice mail service attached to the PABX, where people could not only leave messages but they could also retrieve them remotely as well as forward them to colleagues if they were urgent.
Businesses became more efficient, and as they grew, they introduced "Tie Lines" which would "Tie" two or more offices together. This enabled users in each of the offices to dial a short code prefix and the extension, and the call would be placed between the offices without the normal call costs (although there were costs for the line). This created substantial savings to organisations while also improving service and access to customers to the right department quickly.
Fast forward to the recent past, with the introduction and commercialisation of the internet, where the infrastructure of the internet is used to deliver those services. More recently the increase of high speed bandwidth to mobiles and their increased sophistication, the reduction in costs of storage and CPU cycles, has seen an explosion in the use of "cloud services" that have traditionally meant, email (yahoo, google, hotmail etc), some form of storage (Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive etc) and some form of application (Office 365, iCloud, Adobe CS, SalesForce etc), but now include Networking services such as virtual computing, virtual networking (VLANs), video conferencing, VoIP, firewall and security services.
This has pushed the traditional hardware/physical infrastructure onto a cloud based virtual infrastructure that is software based. The internet provides the underlying transportation layer for the applications, and subsequently anything that was previously in hardware could now be created in software as an emulator, and all of the traditional services now be provisioned virtually.
So What? I hear you ask, how does that help me?
Well the answer is quite simple. You now have the tools available to you that were previously only available to the Fortune 1000, and you have it a cheaper price than has been previously conceived. It is now possible to control your communications, and manipulate it to the needs specific to you.