You’ve probably heard about VoIP. Maybe you’ve heard people raving about how it’s so much better than traditional phone system. Or maybe you’re just confused about what it is and how it works. And why do you need a new phone system anyway? You’re happy with what you have?
In this article, we’re going to explain the what, how, and why of VoIP. We’re also going to give you some things to think about before you purchase a system.
Consider this your simple introduction to purchasing a VoIP system.
What Is VoIP?
VoIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol, and is a way of sending telephone calls using the internet rather than only standard phone lines. Essentially, it allows you to take advantage of the technological advantages presented by the internet.
Remember, the telephone was invented several hundred years ago and hasn’t changed in massive ways since it’s invention. VoIP incorporates internet technology into phone calls.
How Does It Work?
Standard telephone calls are made using audio analog signals. When you make a phone call from a standard landline, your voice is translated into an analog signal, sent over the telephone lines, and then received on the other end by the person holding the phone.
Because you’re using analog signals, the options are pretty limited in terms of what you can do with those signals. You can hear them, record them on an answering machine...and that’s about it.
VoIP takes the audio signal of your voice and translates it into digital packets. Then it sends those packets over the internet to the phone on the other end. If you are calling another VoIP phone, it will receive the digital packets and you’ll hear the person’s voice.
If you’re calling calling a standard phone, the digital packets will travel some distance over the internet, then get translated back into an audio signal by something called a PTSN gateway. It’s the translator between your VoIP system and the phone lines.
Here’s a bit more about how it works if you want further explanation:
Why Is VoIP Superior To Standard Phones?
Many people wonder what’s so special about VoIP. After all, isn’t it just another way to make phone calls? Why do they need some sort of newfangled technology when the old one has worked just fine for a few hundreds years?
It’s a fair question. It can be hard to understand why you would want to replace something that already works fine.
But there are some very significant advantages to VoIP.
VoIP costs far less than standard phone lines. Depending on your business and the system you choose, you may not need to invest in any new hardware at all. In this case, you’re only going to be paying for your internet, without additional costs on top of that.
If you do choose to purchase a specific VoIP plan and system, your monthly charges will probably be less than a standard phone system. You probably won’t need to sign a contract that will keep you tied to a particular system for a long time, which then allows you to switch if a better option comes along.
If you have employees scattered across the country or world, you’re going to save a ton of money on long distance calls. Since you don’t need to use public phone lines, most of your calls will be free, even if you live on one side of the country and they live on the other side.
By sending voice data over the Internet, making a phone call becomes as cheap as sending an e-mail. For this reason, almost all VoIP providers offer unlimited nationwide calling, with no long distance fees or roaming charges. Moreover, international calls are made extremely cheaper. With VoIP, calls to friends and family overseas or across the border cost a fraction of what they used to using traditional telephony.
VoIP providers usually have a mobile app to accompany their system, allowing you to make calls from your phone or tablet using your data connection. This can save on cost, as well as give you the convenience of calling from whatever device you’re currently using. If you’re in a document on your tablet and want to place a call as well, you can do that.
Additionally, you can have your office phone and your mobile phone ring simultaneously, ensuring you don’t miss important calls when you’re out of the office. If you receive numerous high-priority calls, this can be a huge benefit.
VoIP is relatively easy and inexpensive to scale as you grow. Instead of investing in large sums of cash in expensive hardware, you can usually add an additional extension by plugging in a VoIP phone and adjusting a few of the software settings. It’s really that simple.
Numbers Stay With Employees
This is particularly helpful for those with limited technical know-how. If you move to a new office, you don’t need to have someone come to your building and run a new phone line. All that’s usually required is plugging your phone in. Your number stays the same, which means no need to send out emails telling people of your new number. If you travel a lot or regularly change workspaces, this is going to be a lifesaver.
VoIP systems offer the same features as traditional phone lines: conference calling, voicemail, caller ID, etc. But they also offer some serious advanced options, like voicemail forwarding to your email, voicemail transcription, advanced forwarding rules and call screening, integration with office software, and a host of others.
For more detail on the advantages of VoIP phones, here’s a short video:
Downsides of VoIP
There are a few downsides to VoIP that you should be aware of before you make the switch.
Reliance On Your Network
If your internet service or your power goes out, you won’t be able to receive calls on your office phone. This may not be a problem if your VoIP provider reroutes your call to your mobile, but if you don’t want them routed to your mobile, you’re out of luck. The VoIP system relies on your network, which relies on power. If one of those fails, you can’t make office calls.
Most VoIP systems don’t offer emergency calling systems. Given the prevalence of mobile phones in offices, this may not be a problem, but if it is, you’ll need to maintain at least one traditional landline.
Most of the time, VoIP quality is outstanding, far superior to standard phone lines. However, if you have a slow, overcrowded, or laggy network, you’re going to have quality issues. This certainly needs to be a consider when evaluating VoIP systems.
Considerations When Purchasing A VoIP System
There are several primary considerations when you’re purchasing a VoIP system. Take your time doing research to ensure you get the perfect fit for your business.
First and foremost, you’ll want to evaluate the cost.
What is the monthly charge per user?
Does that price drop as more users are added?
What counts as a user (fax machine, mobile phone, etc.)?
What special features cost more?
What setup fees are there?
How much hardware do you need to purchase?
When evaluating the costs, you want to weigh features against cost. You’ll also want to keep in mind the cost of scaling, as well as what features you really need in your business. If you don’t need complex features, don’t pay for them.
The standard features are those that come with every phone line. Those features may include:
Integration with office software, like Outlook
Three way calling
Unlimited calling to the US and Canada
Virtual receptionists for each line
Dial by name
Mobile and desktop apps
Advanced screening, phone logs, forwarding, etc.
Again, you want to determine what you really need. Do you need a virtual receptionist, or do you just like the idea? How often will you really need a mobile app? Do you need phone logs? It’s crucial to separate the essential from the luxuries.
You’ll also want to evaluate additional drawbacks not necessarily associated with particular systems. Consider:
Will you need to upgrade your network before purchasing VoIP?
Will your employees struggle with using VoIP software?
Do you have someone on your staff who troubleshoot basic issues or will you need to always contact support?
These kinds of questions will help you evaluate the current state of your business and your compatibility with VoIP.
VoIP has some significant advantages over standard phone lines. They can increase the flexibility of your business while also significantly lowering costs. They do however, have some drawbacks.
Before purchasing a system, take time to research your options. Search the internet for user reviews. Poll your employees to see which features they would appreciate the most.
By doing these things, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to make an informed decision.