Last Updated: 11/11/2019
VoIP is still quite young in the telephony world, but it’s increasingly popular with both business and home users, given the substantial cost savings and beneficial features it delivers.
Among other benefits, VoIP allows employees to telecommute, and is much more cost-effective than traditional PSTN service. It also makes it possible for users to forgo boardroom meetings in lieu of conference calling and make calls from any enabled device using the same number, eliminating the need for multiple lines and DIDs (Direct Inward Dial numbers).
You can also set up IVR (Interactive Voice Response menus) through a VoIP provider. Even if you’re a one person operation, you can project a strong corporate image with a custom recorded menu system. One final benefit worth transitioning to VoIP is the quick set up time. Compared to the weeks or months needed to set up a new PSTN connection, VoIP service can be set up in mere hours.
Transitioning to VoIP
Despite all of these benefits, some organizations still have lingering concerns about VoIP technology that cause them to hesitate to make the switch. Typically, these include concerns over reliability, cost and, above all, call quality.
There is some justification for these concerns when you consider that most people’s only experience of VoIP is through ‘best effort’ platforms – such as Skype or FaceTime – which don’t perform at their best when internet connections are less than ideal.
Users attempting to make calls through these platforms via low quality connections may experience poor audio, video, and dropped calls. However, it’s important to remember that VoIP on a consumer level varies greatly from the reality of VoIP provided by a hosted service on a commercial level. These services are designed to be on 99.9% of the time, with provisions in place to ensure that any downtime does not affect your company’s productivity.
When choosing a VoIP provider, always consider the specific needs of your organization. You’ll also need to check the quality and reliability of the service, consider how well the service can be integrated with your existing systems, and, of course, factor in the costs and billing practices of each provider you consider.
Determine Your Service Requirements
As a first step in investigating any investment in telephony – VoIP or otherwise – you’ll need to take a close look at your organization’s historical usage patterns, as well as the likely requirements associated with any future plans you may have for growth.
With traditional telephony, these considerations were relatively simple. Other than rate differences, engaging with PSTN providers was really a matter of comparing commoditized services, which differed only by billing practices and packaging. Choosing a VoIP provider, on the other hand, adds a somewhat greater degree of complexity, as it requires some analysis as to how you can best use the enhanced feature sets offered by this technology.
For example, take location. You’ll need to catalog where calls from your business are being placed, since VoIP providers will have different degrees of presence in different areas.
If your business works internationally in certain locations, for instance, choosing a provider with an established presence in the region in question will ensure high quality and low costs. Also, if you’re considering having VoIP set up in a rural area, you’ll want to ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place to support the network.
Consider the Costs
Cost comparisons with VoIP are very similar to those associated with traditional telephone provision, though they aren’t just broken down by simple ‘local vs long distance’ metrics.
Since VoIP calls travel on IP and SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) networks, you’ll benefit from far lower call charges, regardless of the distance. Instead, the primary driver of cost depends on how close to the call destination the nearest traditional telephone network is.
As a result, each VoIP provider 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 be able to offer you significantly different rates.
The billing increment is another key consideration. Few, if any, VoIP providers bill for ‘exactly’ the time used; most will bill a few seconds at a time. If you exceed that time, 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 your bill over the course of a quarter.
Investigate the Quality and Service
With a telephone service, you essentially know what you’re getting, since every company is leasing the same infrastructure. With VoIP, however, the routes and bandwidth at each node can vary wildly with different providers, meaning significant variance in call quality – particularly in rural areas, as mentioned above.
Thankfully, most VoIP providers offer trial accounts for potential customers, as well as staged rollouts that allow you to slowly step away from using the PSTN until all workstations are set up on VoIP. This prevents any service interruptions while you make the switch and is a good way to mitigate risk if you’re feeling nervous about the transfer of services.
While researching providers, try calling clients and high-traffic destinations to check call quality on the network in question. Also, contact their support services with any questions to check how they respond to customer concerns.
Finally, before choosing a VoIP provider, research their customer reviews and the popularity of each provider. Are there red flags, like frequent complaints about poor network connection or dropped calls? Or are they receiving four or five star ratings from happy customers? The time to discover a provider gets a bad rap from customers is before you sign on the dotted line.
Examine Features and Integrations
Most businesses now rely upon a variety of digital resources, from customer relationship management (CRM) platforms and cloud-based, Dropbox-style applications, through to simple ‘office’ programs. With some VoIP services, these applications can be integrated into calls to improve overall productivity.
For instance, in a call center setting, this can mean that a support engineer receiving a customer call can instantly access CRM information and client data. This eliminates any awkward pauses while support looks up account details. It also becomes possible to share documents and presentations with cohorts on a conference call absolutely seamlessly, saving considerable time and effort.
Basically, all of the advanced features that would need to be programmed and re-programmed into a traditional PBX can be easily accessed and updated on a VoIP service with the click of a mouse. Whether you’re after voicemail-to-email functionality, the ability to integrate smartphones and other devices, on-hold music program, or any of the other functions designed to make your workday that much more productive, VoIP opens up a world of possibilities to businesses of any size.
Consider Routing, Redundancy, and Reliability
Once again, each different VoIP provider will use vastly different routes to various destinations. If you have key clients or dealings in a region, you can’t afford for issues in a single network node to disrupt communications. Therefore, you’ll need your VoIP provider to have a certain degree of redundancy. The right provider will maintain multiple routes to key destinations to ensure top call quality and accessibility at all times.
You also need to ensure that you have enough bandwidth to get the best use of the service. A great provider will know how much your company needs, based on daily and maximum usage patterns. This will ensure that you’re not paying for bandwidth you’d never end up using or running low on bandwidth during busier days.
A good provider will also be able to aggregate, or combine multiple connections into a single, larger connection. To have the most reliable service, you can also prioritize your VoIP network above all else, ensuring you can always make and/or receive calls – even when you’re experiencing higher than usual traffic.
Review the Service-Level Agreement (SLA)
Finally, understanding the SLA for your chosen VoIP provider will help you better understand target and guaranteed access times for key services (uptime) as well as what happens if service is interrupted (downtime).
Check to see what the guarantee is for uptime, what happens during periods of scheduled maintenance, and how to apply for compensation should the service fail. Above all, make sure that your chosen provider has an SLA at all. Any VoIP provider worth their salt will have an ironclad SLA fully detailing your terms and conditions of service.
All of that said, the most important message to take away from this article is this: no two VoIP providers are exactly alike. Carefully research and evaluate a handful of possible providers before making a decision.
VoIP can exponentially increase workplace productivity and create seamlessly unified communications. IDT Express has been a leading provider for over 20 years with major hubs located worldwide. If you have any remaining questions or concerns about VoIP services, our dedicated team is happy to help!