Why Your Company Should Make The Switch To VoIP

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

We made the switch to a Voice over IP (VoIP) phone system a few weeks ago. I opted for an in-house telephone server, but could have easily chosen a hosted option that didn’t require any hardware in the office except for phones.

A growing number of small businesses are making the same switch. While it can be a lot of work to overhaul the entire telecommunications system of your small business, it is definitely worth considering in light of the ever-increasing costs of traditional services.

What is VoIP?
VoIP is a method of making phone calls using the Internet as opposed to using typical landlines. VoIP services integrate Internet connected IP phones, which look pretty much like traditional office phones, except they plug into an Internet connection with an Ethernet cable.

Cost effectiveness
The biggest VoIP attraction is low cost. Since they’re Internet-based, hosted systems usually require little to no hardware investment. You might need to upgrade your firewall or Ethernet switches to accomodate the increased traffic.

An in-house system requires an investment in a mid-grade voice server, the phone system software, new phones, and possible network upgrades. The equipment cost is around half of what a traditional phone system would cost.

We’ve seen our monthly phone bill drop from over $300 per month to less than $60 using VoIP carriers instead of a traditional phone company.

Hosted fees run from $20 to $30 per extension, which includes all of your local and long distance calling, and the rental of the cloud based phone system.c150103_m

VoIP is particularly cost-effective, if you have employees working from satellite offices or telecommuters.

A telecommuter can take a VoIP phone home and make calls by plugging it into his home Internet connection to make and receive calls on the company lines at no additional cost.

Other benefits
Certain VoIP service providers have introduced mobile apps that allow workers to make and receive phone calls on their mobile devices using the company phone numbers. Their privacy is therefore protected since they do not give their personal phone number.

In addition, the company owns the line so if an employee leaves, calls are routed to the company rather than the employee’s cell phone.

Things to consider
While the mobility and scalability of VoIP systems are attractive, there are a few things to keep in mind. Since VoIP services depend on an Internet connection, if the connection fails, the phones would be dysfunctional.

In a business such as ours, where phones are integral to daily operations and client service, we would strongly recommend a backup Internet connection.

Almost all VoIP systems also have a fail over function, where the system will automatically route incoming calls to another number, such as a cell phone, if the Internet goes down.

The future
The increase in VoIP adoption is undeniable, and analysts predict that it will become the predominant business phone service over the next decade. Our system works great, and I’m glad we made the switch!

(Image Source: iCLIPART)

The Benefits Of VoIP Over Traditional Phone Service

by Jeremy Miller, Technician
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is the general term used for transmitting two-way voice communication over a network.

This can work on any network, whether it be at home or work, connected to the Internet. VoIP can also be used for internal communications and do not necessarily need to be transmitted out to the Internet.

Plain old telephone system (POTS) is the traditional phone service that everyone is used to, and it is commonly known as a home phone.

This system is designed to run on dedicated electronic circuits and is transmitted using analog signals where VoIP uses digital.

There are many reasons that you should use VoIP over POTS many of which include cost and expansion. Where ever you have a network connection, VoIP can be implemented. POTS often are much more costly.

As I said before POTS requires a dedicated circuit to transmit on. This means every time you add a new phone you would have to run a phone line and a network drop.

POTS can become quite expensive for an office building if you have to run phone lines to each person’s office.

In the event of expansion POTS will require costly hardware upgrades and provisioning of new lines. VoIP will only require more bandwidth and possibly software upgrades which are generally inexpensive and very easy to do.

There is much more competition in the VoIP market. Where POTS may have a few providers to choose from in your area, VoIP will have hundreds to choose from on the Internet.

When using VoIP you have control over the traffic of the phone calls as well. This makes it easy to manage, record, and maintain all phone calls.

Many of the features such as call waiting, conference calling, music on hold, multiple extensions and voice mailboxes are all free with VoIP. These features have always come at a premium when using POTS.

VoIP does not limit you to what you can transmit over its call. For instance you can make a video call or a voice call using VoIP. While in your call you can send over an attachment which is quite similar to email.

There are downsides to using VoIP as well, but most of them can be mitigated. The first is unpredictable quality of service. You may not always get great sound or video quality.

This is usually dictated by the available bandwidth. If you notice your quality is not as good as you like, then you may need to upgrade your Internet speed or you network equipment.

VoIP may not always get you to the correct 911 responder in the event of an emergency. They are not centralized like POTS. The traffic could be routed around the world.

Since VoIP relies on the Internet and the Internet relies on electricity, you will lose your VoIP service if either Internet or electricity goes down.

This can be avoided by having a redundant Internet connection and battery backups for your network equipment.

You can also install an IP based private automatic branch exchange (PABX) which will allow you to integrate your POTS with VoIP so you can take advantage of VoIP and not lose the benefits of POTS.

If you are looking into VoIP or have any questions we would be happy to help.

Does VOIP Phone Service Make Sense For Your Business?

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

When we moved our office last month, part of the process included reviewing things like our telephone and Internet services.

Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone service is basically technology that allows you to make and receive calls over data networks.

Instead of traditional phone services which channel analog signals such as the sound of your voice over copper wires, VoIP converts these sounds to digital form first—so that they can be sliced, diced, packaged, and routed over a digital network.

Because VoIP technology uses the same ideas behind data networking, and allows the use of the same networks used by computers, voice traffic can also be routed through the Internet as well.

Suddenly you can now dramatically reduce the cost of voice communications, as well as achieve creative combinations of both services to create new applications for use.

VOIP (voice over IP) services have really evolved over the past few years. In the past, I’ve been hesitant to use it because the service could be flaky – and since 90%+ of our business comes in by telephone, I wasn’t comfortable with something that wasn’t reliable.

Fortunately for small business owners, that’s changed. The service is now as reliable as service from the phone  company. And with the ubiquity of high speed Internet service, call quality has improved to the point of being indistinguishable from the old telephone network.

Our switch to VOIP provided two significant improvements over the service we used before.

First, we increased our telephone line capacity and coverage. We’ve added telephone numbers for our client’s in Toledo, Dundee, and the downriver area to be able to call us locally.

Second – and perhaps more importantly – we’ve cut our  telephone costs in half.

Cost and coverage were my primary concerns when looking at a move to VoIP services. Here are a few reasons you may want  to consider switching to VoIP for your office:

You can make and receive calls from multiple devices – for instance, on a dedicated phone, your PC via a software-based phone, or even a mobile phone with VoIP capabilities.

It’s easier to add extensions to your phone. You can provide a local number or extension for all your staff without  additional costs or cabling.

VoIP allows your employees to be more productive and  efficient by giving them the ability to receive and make  calls anywhere with a data connection.

You can use VoIP as a tool for real-time collaboration along with video conferencing, screen sharing, and digital white boarding.

You can potentially unify your communication channels,  streamlining communications and information management—for instance, marrying email with fax and voice in one inbox.

You can employ presence technologies that come standard with VoIP phones and VoIP communication systems. This technology can tell colleagues about your presence or give you info on the status and whereabouts of your staff.

When Does VoIP Make Sense For Your Business?

The Voice over IP (VoIP) landscape has exploded in the last five years. In its early implementation, Internet-based telephony was a hassle to implement, inconvenient to use, and far less reliable than regular or traditional phone service.

Today, our cup runneth over with VoIP services and providers, with pricing and features packages appropriate for everyone from individual/home users to small/medium businesses to the very large companies.

VoIP lines can connect seamlessly to regular lines and wireless numbers; to the end user, making a VoIP call no different from placing a call on a cell phone or landline.

VoIP advantages
Early adopters of VoIP were motivated primarily by cost; depending on their phone usage and long distance habits, they could save tremendously on phone bills because:

  1. Most VoIP plans don’t charge extra for domestic long distance (and some services offer free international calls to certain countries, as well).
  2. VoIP services often include, at no extra charge, features for which the traditional telephone companies impose extra fees, such as caller ID, call forwarding, three-way calling, and voicemail.
  3. VoIP has not been subject to all of the taxes and government-imposed fees that make up a large portion of the typical phone bill.

The big tradeoff in the early days was a lower quality in voice transmission and occasional dropped calls—pretty much the same disadvantages that plagued cellular phone service in its early days.

However, as VoIP has matured, transmission quality and reliability have improved to the point where they’re now close to that of regular telephone service. VoIP users are also drawn by other advantages of IP-based voice services, including the ability to have VoIP phone numbers in the area code of your choosing, regardless of where you’re physically located.

In effect, this gives you a low-cost way to maintain a virtual “local” presence in cities in which you do business so that customers there can call you without long distance charges, at much lower cost than alternatives such as an 800 number.

Another great advantage is that many VoIP services offer free voicemail services such as e-mail notification when you receive a call (along with a .WAV file of your voicemail messages sent to your e-mail address) that are either not available or cost extra with traditional telephone service packages.

VoIP disadvantages
VoIP technology still has a few disadvantages when compared with traditional phone service. Most notable is the inability to make phone calls during an electrical outage or when the Internet connection is down for any reason. In addition, some services that depend on phone lines, such as monitored alarm services, may require a landline, although there are now some alarm companies that offer service that works over a VoIP line.

Businesses that must rely on their phone service should take steps to ensure that their disaster recovery/business continuity plans cover their VoIP service.

Measures might include maintaining some regular telephone lines for emergency use, backup generators, and/or redundant Internet connections with failover capability.

Finally, VoIP services are subject to the same security concerns as other Internet traffic.

Selecting VoIP services
Small businesses may be able to save a lot of money by using VoIP services primarily aimed at consumers, such as Vonage or Sunrocket. These and other consumer-level services offer small business plans with online account management and may include a separate fax line.

A good solution for a small or home-based business that only has two to five employees and needs only a couple of phone lines is to order two VoIP boxes and plug both into a two-line base station system that supports multiple two-line handsets. Each worker can then use either line.

Larger businesses may need features that consumer level VoIP providers don’t offer, such as the ability to transfer calls, put calls on hold, or create conference calls among more than three parties—although in some cases the telephone equipment you choose can allow these activities, even if the provider doesn’t offer them. Larger VoIP providers generally include features like conference calling, music on hold, call queuing, scheduling and remote office features, and fax support.

Regardless of the size of your company, VoIP is now a viable option to traditional phone service, and may allow you to get more features and a wider scope of calling at a lower cost.