Over the past few years, IP telephony has been adopted by increasing numbers of home and business users alike, delivering substantial cost and feature benefits when compared with traditional PSTN offerings.

However, some organisations have lingering concerns about VoIP technology. These relate to reliability, cost and, above all, call quality. There is some justification for this when you consider that most people’s only experience of VoIP is through ‘best effort’ platforms such as Skype.

These issues, however, have been resolved when it comes to enterprise IP phone provision, but they still need to be considered. When you look at traditional providers, price is just about the only comparison you can make. With VoIP, there are far more factors to explore.

Clearly, you need to consider the needs of your organisation, check the quality and reliability of the service, consider how well the service can be integrated with your systems, and of course it is still important to factor in the costs and billing practices of the providers under consideration.

Determine Your Service Requirements

As a first step in investigating any investment in telephony, you will need to take a close look at your organisation’s historical usage patterns, together with the likely requirements associated with future plans for growth.

With traditional telephony, this was relatively simple. Other than rate differences, engaging with PSTN providers was really a matter of comparing a commoditised service, differentiated only by billing practices and packaging. VoIP adds a significant degree of complexity, requiring some analysis as to how you can best exploit an enhanced feature set.

One obvious example is that of location. You will need to understand where your business is calling to a far greater degree than necessary when engaging with traditional services. VoIP providers will have different levels of presence in different areas. If your business works internationally with certain locations, choosing a provider with an established presence in the region in question will ensure high quality and low costs.

Consider the Costs

Cost comparisons are very similar to those associated with traditional telephone provision, but will not be broken down in the simple ‘local vs long distance’ manner.

Since VoIP calls travel on the IP networks, you will benefit from far lower call carriage charges, regardless as to the distance. This means that the primary driver of carriage cost will be how close to the call destination the traffic will be required to ‘break out’ onto the traditional telephone network.

Consequently, providers will have varying costs for different regions depending upon their presence and partnerships. The net result is that, depending on where you do business, different providers will offer significantly different rates.

The billing increment is another key consideration. This is the number of seconds that are billed at once. Few, if any, providers bill for ‘exactly’ the time used; most will bill a few seconds at a time. Go over this and you will be billed for an entire additional increment. While this may mean tiny costs incurred at any one time, the difference between a three second and six second billing increment can make a substantial difference to the bill over the course of a quarter.

Investigate the Quality and Service

With a telephone service, you essentially know what you are getting: every company is leasing the same infrastructure, after all. With VoIP, the routes and bandwidth at each node can vary wildly with different providers, meaning significant variance in call quality.

Thankfully, most VoIP services offer trial accounts for potential customers. Part of your investigation, therefore, should be to call clients and high-traffic destinations to check call quality on their network, and to contact their support services with any issues to check how they respond to customer concerns.

Look at Features and Integration

Most businesses now rely upon a variety of digital resources, from customer relationship management and dropbox-style applications through to simple ‘office’ programs. With some VoIP services, these applications can be integrated into calls.

This can mean that a support engineer receiving a customer call can instantly have their account and CRM information provided by a tie-in with your CRM software. This eliminates any awkward pause while they look up customer details. It is also possible to share documents and presentations with partners on a conference call absolutely seamlessly.

Think About Routes, Redundancy, and Reliability

Once again, different VoIP providers will use vastly different routes to various destinations. If you have key clients or dealings in a region, you cannot afford for issues in a single network node to disrupt communications You, therefore, need your provider to have a degree of redundancy. The right provider will maintain multiple routes to key destinations to ensure call quality and accessibility at all times.

Finally, it is also worth understanding the provider’s service-level agreement which should detail target and even guaranteed access times for key services.