If you are struggling with an old phone system (or no system at all), and you have heard about VoIP, you may be asking these questions:
5. What is VoIP?
Voice over Internet Protocol is a generic term meaning "voice service delivered over computer networks". It is normally delivered over the Internet (but there are some exceptions to this.) Although platforms such as Apple's FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, etc. use VoIP technologies for voice and video calls, they are closed systems, so we are not interested in those. What this article is concerned with is VoIP phone service that allows your business to connect to the PSTN. The PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) is the worldwide connected system that allows you to pick up the telephone and dial a number, and be connected with anyone else on the phone network, regardless of what service provider company the person on the other end uses. VoIP allows you to channel your calls over the internet, instead of expensive legacy lines.
4. How Does VoIP Work?
You'll find lots of answers to this question in the technical area, explaining the details of SIP and RTP protocols, how phones work, etc., but as a business owner what you really want to know is "How does it work for my business?" To answer that, there are only a few things you need to know.
First, let's look at how conventional phone service works: A common scenario is this: you pay a [large] monthly fee to a phone service provider such as AT&T or CenturyLink. They connect a fixed number of either digital or analog lines to your office, and assign phone numbers (often called DIDs) to each line. The lines commonly connect a wiring patch panel, and then either to analog phones, or into a legacy phone PBX system, and from there to analog or digital (legacy digital) phones. On the other end, those phone lines run to a local CO (carrier office) or switch point, where they connect into the PSTN.
With VoIP, the voice data gets sent over the internet to your VoIP carrier, who connects to the PSTN. This has a number of advantages, in regards to flexibility and cost. There is less infrastructure than with standard phone systems, since you don't need extra wires, or extra connections to your building/office space. Instead, you use your existing computer network. This eliminates complexity and increases reliability. Commonly, you don't even need extra Ethernet jacks when you switch to VoIP. Most phones have two Ethernet jacks; you can plug the VoIP phone into the wall jack, and plug the computer into the second connection on the phone.
Price-wise, VoIP gives you many more options than conventional phone service. You can opt for a standard post-paid monthly fixed lines plan (normally in the range of $20-$40/mo per line). Alternately, you can go for a much more flexible system, pay per-minute rates, and have the amount of lines you use scale up and down automatically (at no extra cost). You only pay for the minutes you use, regardless of whether you have two employees talking at once, or a thousand. Contact us if you need help deciding what's best for your particular use–case.
3. On Premise or Cloud VoIP?
There are advantages and disadvantages to both options. With an on–premise system, benefits are you have total control over the system, and you can keep your intra–office calls on your local network, rather than them traveling over the Internet. This can reduce your internet bandwidth usage (particularly if you do video calls), as well as guarantee maximum quality for calls within your office. On the flip side, having equipment on–premise involves greater initial expense, maintenance (and personnel to manage), and the associated costs. Also, there is the risk of equipment failure.
Disadvantages of going with a cloud–hosted system can include problems if your internet quality is not good, but these can usually be dealt with. Also, you do have monthly recurring costs for each user seat. Advantages include no barrier to entry, no (or low) setup costs, and no equipment to buy, other than your IP phones themselves. There is no equipment to break down, and the system gets automatic upgrades and management from your cloud provider. Also, you get the benefits of redundancy, scalability, and geographic flexibility (assuming you choose a quality provider of course). Geographic redundancy means you can have your workers be anywhere and still have their office phone, even though they are not on your premises. This is particularly helpful during the coronavirus pandemic, with many organizations transitioning from in–person to work–from–home.
2. What do I Need for VoIP?
You do want to have a stable internet connection to properly support your voice traffic. Internet speed is not nearly as much an issue as stability. With proper settings, you can run several simultaneous calls on even a very slow DSL connection. There are ways to mitigate connection problems and still allow somewhat troublesome connections to provide good VoIP quality, but in general you want a very stable and reliable connection.
For an in–house system, what you need can vary from a simple server or embedded device, to a very very complex setup with lots of equipment spread across different locations. The options are so many that you really need a consultant (such as RuhNet) to help you create a fitting system that will best work for your business.
If you go with a cloud phone system, there is no equipment to purchase, other than the phones you wish to use (if needed—keep reading).
In both cases, you will need phones. Most people prefer hardphones (a hardphone is a real physical phone), but sometimes a softphone application running on your computer or smartphone is more convenient. Advanced installations may use a combination of both, or custom software that integrates a softphone along with CRM/ERP or workflow management software. Often, these custom phone applications will be web–based and take advantage of modern web technologies like WebRTC to integrate voice and video into your business operations.
Most existing computer networks can support VoIP with little or no modification. However, if you want to guarantee the best possible call quality and reliability, you may want to have your network assessed to make sure it can be setup to specifically accommodate your chosen VoIP system. This is particularly important for larger networks with many users. In some cases replacement hardware, such as a more capable router, is needed, but other times there are simply tweaks that can be performed to turn a poor system into an excellent one. An example of this is enabling quality of service (QoS) on your outbound internet connection. We can help you with this.
1. Is VoIP Cheaper?
The main item everyone wants to get to: the bottom line. Will VoIP phone service save you money. The answer is, in general, yes. VoIP gives you more options than conventional phone service, and allows you to flexibly select a system type and plan that optimizes your value per dollar.
Bonus question: What VoIP carrier should I use?
Although there are several really good VoIP carriers out there, in our experience, one stands out from the others: Telnyx. Their price is excellent, in our experience they've been rock solid reliable, and call quality is always top notch. If you use our affiliate link, you get $20 credit free. Even if you don't use our link, we still recommend them wholeheartedly!