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VoIP: A Beginner’s Guide
Have you heard of VoIP? It stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. It’s a technology that uses an Internet connection rather than traditional phone lines in allowing users to make phone calls.
It’s been around for a long time (SMR has used it for our phone service since 2005), but began to become mainstream 10–15 years ago as its quality, reliability, and cost-effectiveness caught up to (and, in some cases, surpassed) standard options.
These days, when we take on new clients, we find that often they are already using VoIP. For those that aren’t, we highly recommend it! Here’s why…
Traditional phone systems require an expensive, up-front purchase of equipment. That’s before paying a phone service provider, such as Verizon, for the provisioning and ongoing use of a sufficient number of phone lines.
These systems also require space, power, and maintenance. And while your phone equipment provider can dispatch a technician if there is a problem, it’s expensive.
VoIP eliminates all that. The phone system is in the cloud in a data center managed by your VoIP provider. Maintenance is handled remotely and there is no dedicated onsite equipment beyond your existing data network.
From a user perspective, the in-office experience with VoIP on a desk phone is identical. The only difference is that the phone is connected to the Internet (via your office computer network), rather than the phone system.
But it gets better. With VoIP, the user is not tied to a specific location, a feature that is becoming increasingly valuable as more and more people work remotely. You could be in your office, at home, or even travelling anywhere in the world. As long as you have your phone with you, when somebody dials your extension it will ring, regardless.
Further, most VoIP providers have an app you can install on your mobile phone, giving you all the same functionality.
In my case, for example, my VoIP app allows me to be more accessible than if I were tied to my desk phone. Plus, it enables me to easily separate my business calls (which come in on the app) from my personal calls (which show up as standard cell calls).
VoIP removes the need to estimate how much phone capacity your business requires — or will require in the future. You can add or remove lines quickly and easily, whether you are a tiny operation or much larger.
It is important, however, to consider the bandwidth you will need since your phone system will now be sharing the same lines as your other company’s Internet traffic. Unlike email or even web surfing, phone calls happen in real time, so sufficient capacity matters. That said, a high-quality VoIP call only uses about 100 kbps and most businesses today – even very small ones – have Internet speeds that are literally thousands of times greater.
Just to be sure, larger companies with more than 20 employees sometimes opt for installing a second Internet connection that is dedicated to VoIP traffic.
These days, of course, the number of people who work exclusively on-site is shrinking steadily. This means more and more people rely, at least in part, on their cell phones for doing business.That can be problematic.
Consider the example of a salesperson who works partly in the office, partly at home, and partly on the road. If that person leaves your company and has been using a personal cell phone to conduct business, they will continue to receive calls from clients and prospects who still have their number.
With VoIP, everything is centrally managed. When employees leave, their phone access is discontinued; all inbound calls to that number are routed back to the company. The employee may leave, but their contacts don’t.
Are There Any Downsides to VoIP?
Not of any significance.
The only possible exception is that due to regulatory requirements that have been in place for 75+ years, a traditional phone line is required to meet a higher SLA (Service Level Agreement) standard. So yes, your Internet may technically be more likely to experience an outage than your phone. But if you are using business class service in your office, it’s much less of a concern.
In areas of poor cell coverage, your VoIP phone will have difficulty. But that’s true of any offsite network when the cell coverage is spotty. In the office, at home, or on hotel Wi-Fi when travelling, and whether you are using your cell phone or one that physically sits on your desk, there are no quality or reliability issues with VoIP.
Set-Up and Pricing
We recommend contracting with a VoIP provider to get you set up and to take care of first-line support. We have worked with Vonage for years and have found their service to be excellent and their prices reasonable.
On the question of price, and on a pure cash outlay basis, VoIP is either the same cost or slightly more expensive per user per month. But you need to take into account the significant savings due to not having the traditional system’s upfront investment, maintenance costs, and repair costs.
For those companies that still have a phone system on premise, and understanding the need to amortize the cost of the system over some period of time, we recommend considering a shift to VoIP as soon as it is financially feasible.
We think VoIP is the best phone solution for companies of any size. Feel free to get in touch and we will be happy to discuss the specifics for your business.