VoIP Service for Small to Medium Business: Time to Switch?
by Nate Rand
Not long ago, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) was the latest thing, the choice of leading-edge adventurers. Today it’s become the standard way of setting up new office phone exchanges, even for small and medium businesses. You can’t really get a new TDM PBX even if you want one, and it’s hard to get support for existing ones. Switching to VoIP allows access to more features and saves on calling charges.
A business can either manage its on-premises VoIP gateway or use a cloud service. For smaller businesses, a cloud-based service can be more economical. If a business is expecting rapid expansion, a cloud-based system is easier to scale up. Businesses with an existing PBX may want to choose a hybrid VoIP-PBX system for an easier transition, rather than replacing all existing phones at once. They won’t get all the features of a VoIP exchange that way, though. SIP phones (the ones made for VoIP) will need to connect through an Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA).
VoIP provides a wider variety of features than the old phone exchanges, typically including features such as:
- Voice menus
- Call forwarding
- Speed dialing
- Transferring a call to another person
- Checking voice mail from anywhere, including offsite
- Caller ID
- Paperless faxing
- Call waiting
- Direct to voicemail (aka Do Not Disturb)
A VoIP network can include not only SIP phones but other voice applications, such as Skype.
A small to medium business needs to take several factors into account when choosing a hosted service:
- Cost. Obviously less expensive is better as long as it doesn’t involve serious compromises. Different services may have different pricing structures for calls and lines.
- Ease of installation and training. How complicated is the system to use?
- Features. What features does the business need, and which are optional?
- Uptime. How often does the service have outages?
- Customer service. If the system has problems, how fast do they fix them, and is the problem really fixed?
- Expansion. How easy is it to add more lines, and what will it cost?
- Emergency services. Does the provider support 911?
- Software integration. Does it work with the software that the business will need to use?
Setting up a new VoIP system takes some planning. The first thing is to make sure the local network can handle it. It needs to have enough IP addresses to cover the phones, and it needs to be fast enough, both internally and in its connection to the public Internet, to handle the voice traffic without sacrificing quality. It may be necessary to upgrade to a faster service.
Enough SIP phones will be necessary to supply everyone who needs them. Fortunately, these are commodity items, and a choice of vendors is available.
Setting up a friendly virtual receptionist is important; we’ve all experienced too many bad ones. A good one doesn’t bore callers with long greetings and explanations, but gets to the point of connecting them with whoever they’re trying to call. It may be worth having a professional record the messages; on the other hand, a small business may benefit from having a familiar voice answering customers’ calls.
Some amount of training will be necessary so that employees will know how to use all the features that will help them. Providing them with the online manual may be enough, or a training session may prove worth the time.
A good VoIP system lets employees communicate more efficiently and gives the impression of a serious, well-run business to the world. Any business with an old PBX needs to give serious thought to how soon it can switch over.
To find the best VoIP solution for your business, please contact us.
November 3, 2018