Read these 15 Business VoIP Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about VOIP tips and hundreds of other topics.
Looking for a new business phone service? If you haven't considered Business VOIP before, now is the time. The technology has matured over the past few years, making it much closer to the critical reliability needed for business users, while potentially saving big on costs. There are many reasons to consider VOIP for your office phones system -- portability across numbers and locations, easy web access, features like conferencing and video.
But the biggest reason is this: You can save up to 50 percent of the monthly cost of traditional business phone service. Many business VOIP providers offer free calling within their own network and very low cost calling outside to other networks. And remember, Internet traffic isn't taxed, while traditional phone calls are subject to tax, which saves even more.
Skype gets a lot of deserved publicity for being the clear front-runner with free VOIP services. But is it robust enough for business use? Yes and no. More businesses, especially those with large data networks, are looking at Skype as a Business VOIP alternative. But right now, it's best used as a secondary service, not a primary business phone service. This is because Skype is still basically computer-based software. So for people who sit at the computer all day, it can work. But it won't be so good to handle PBX-style business work. But with calls to other Skype users still free, it can make a great secondary business phone service.
Business VOIP service can save lots of money for large businesses with integrated Internet networks. But small/SOHO business owners can also take advantage of business VOIP services and cost savings. Most Business VOIP providers offer a small business package with remote hosting that offers all the standard business services. All the small business owner needs is an Internet connection for each phone. Meanwhile, digital-only services like local calling from anywhere and computer-based calling can make a small company seem a lot bigger to customers and other outsiders.
With Business VOIP, the major cost is going to come upfront, with installation of business-quality VOIP equipment: phones, switches, routers, etc. Expect to pay a few thousand dollars to set up a small office (5 to 15 extensions) with VOIP hardware. Double the cost to go to 30 to 50 extensions. Some Business VOIP providers offer equipment as part of a contract, but you still have to set it up and make it work with your network.
It's hard to report actual rate quotes here, since Business VOIP companies don't like to give them out until you talk to a sales rep. But Business VOIP providers generally charge a single flat rate based on the number of phones used, with no per-charge calls. This can be anywhere from $50 to more than $500 monthly. Expect to save anywhere from 50 percent to 90 percent off your current phone bill.
Business VOIP evolves on Internet time. There are new companies and networks coming online all the time. If you're considering Business VOIP, hire an expert consultant to help you choose and implement the correct system for you and you business. If you choose your consultant wisely, he will pay for himself with savings on set-up, maintenance and rates. And he or she will be there to help you if and when you need to upgrade or run into trouble. If you're a big business, you probably have the knowledgeable people in your IT staff. It's more of a cost imposition for small businesses, but worth it in the long run.
Business VOIP services have matured to the point where there is often very little difference in service between a business VOIP connection and a traditional business landline PBX service. Many Business VOIP services offer direct-dial phones, call routing, forwarding and conferencing, and unlimited extensions, often as part of remotely hosted plans that are easy to set up and maintain. Meanwhile, VOIP plans offer unique services like web-based calling, portable local numbers and phone-to-email connections. So the answer is yes, Business VOIP can provide full PBX services, often for rates that are much less expensive than traditional PBX systems.
Converting desktop office telephones for Business VOIP service is an unavoidable expense. You have two choices: You can continue to use most standard office telephones with an adapter that converts phone traffic for delivery over the Internet. Or you can purchase new, VOIP-friendly phones for business use. But one way or another you will have to pay something to convert each office telephone over for business VOIP use.
Is it difficult to convert your office phone system over to business VOIP? Not if you already have a networked Internet connection for your office that runs to each desktop. If you already have a network set-up, the rest is easy, especially if you go with a hosted solution. If you do not have an Internet network in your office already, your initial investment will be more, but it's a cost you can recoup eventually with monthly savings.
The easiest way to add VOIP to your existing data network is to buy a hosted solution. You simply pay to connect to the provider's network and they do the rest. But medium-large businesses -- and even small businesses with tech know-how -- are going to want to build out their own solution. Basically, you treat Business VOIP like any other data application. You connect it to your data network and use switches to properly route calls through your internal network. Setting up a Business VOIP network can be expensive, however. Even small-medium businesses can expect to pay five figures ($xx,000). But with cost savings of up to 90 percent over traditional PBX phone service, you will make it all back and more over time.
If you're using a laptop on business trips and connecting to the company VPN for email and intranet use, consider using a Business VOIP service to make phone calls through your laptop. Your calls can be extremely inexpensive -- especially if you use Skype to call other Skype users -- and the quality of service is decent if you have a broadband connection. Just remember to use the VPN if you want your phone calls to be secure.
A small business that wants to use Business VOIP without paying thousands to build out its network can consider using a hosted VOIP service. With a hosted VOIP service, all you need is an Internet connection. You pay a monthly fee to a provider and all of your Business VOIP calls run over the Internet through the provider's network. Of course, like most hosted services, your Business VOIP technology, infrastructure and security are in the hands of your provider. This can be good or bad, depending on your own needs and the Business VOIP provider's ability to give solid service.
If you're considering business VOIP, security should be a concern. Basically, Business VOIP should be treated like any other part of your data network. It should be protected by a network firewall and connections outside the firewall should be limited, monitored and protected with encryption technology and a VPN. If you take these precautions and continue to monitor security as an overall extension of your network, your Business VOIP should be reasonably secure. But no technology that uses the Internet will ever be completely secure and you should take that into account before making a big investment in Business VOIP.
Business VOIP can be incredibly inexpensive, and an especially good alternative for businesses with existing large data networks. But here are some potential negatives to think about before investing in business VOIP:
* When the power goes out, so does your phone. You can remedy this with a back-up generator, but a widespread blackout can take down Internet connections as well.
* A network or Internet connection failure can mean no phone service, too.
* 911 service is iffy. Although VOIP providers have been required by the FCC to come up with workable 911 plans, most VOIP providers are still not fully compliant.
* Security: Business VOIP uses the Internet, which is inherently insecure. Encryption and VPN tunneling technologies can go a long way toward easing security concerns, but they will never completely go away.
Your business should consider VOIP, especially if you've already made an investment in building local and wide-area data networks for your business. Here are five reasons why you should consider VOIP for your business:
* Calls are inexpensive, compared to regular phone service.
* There's no difference between long distance and local.
* Calls can run over an existing data network, and allow you to receive voice mail and faxes with your email.
* You can choose your own area code and make and receive calls from anywhere you can get online.
* Security is acceptable when using encryption and VPN technology.
The best way to choose a Business VOIP provider is to ask other business owners you know and trust which Business VOIP providers they use and how much they like the providers. Word of mouth with people you know and trust is always the best solution. Here are some other ways to choose a Business VOIP provider:
* Check web sites that offer accurate comparisons of Business VOIP providers.
* Ask your network consultant/technician for Business VOIP research and recommendations.
* Check to see if your current phone service provider offers a Business VOIP option.
|Sheri Ann Richerson|