Business VoIP: Features, Benefits and What to Look For

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), or Internet telephony, has become increasingly popular with businesses of every size. The reasons are quite simple: companies need to find cheaper ways to communicate without compromising efficiency and productivity.

What Is VoIP?

Definition of VoIP: A family of technologies, methodologies, communication protocols and transmission techniques for the delivery of voice communications and multimedia sessions over Internet Protocol (IP) networks, such as the Internet.

Business VoIP systems have many benefits for organizations. Using the Internet for voice calls is typically more cost-effective and makes IT’s management of the company’s phone system easier, in addition to providing useful features for users.

The top benefits of business VoIP include:

  1. Lower calling costs — 55% of current or potential VoIP users said cost is the main reason they were using or considering the service, according to a 2010 survey conducted by Better Buys for Business. Many business VoIP plans charge companies a flat rate per phone and allow unlimited local and long distance calling.
  2. Greater manageability — Putting a telephone system on the company’s computer network makes users’ phones easier to manage. Adding or moving extensions requires a simple change in software configuration, rather than a complex re-wiring.
  3. Enhanced mobility — With business VoIP, employees can make and receive calls on their work lines while they’re out of the office by using computer software that imitates their physical telephone. Many systems also have call routing features that  automatically forwards calls to users’ cell or home phones, depending on where they are.
  4. Advanced features — Since they’re software-based, many business VoIP systems come standard with powerful calling features that can enhance users’ productivity. Some common features include a display screen showing a name directory, call records, and other information, multiple folders for organizing voice mails, and integration with PCs that lets users call a number directly from a web browser or address book in an email client.
  5. Integration with other software — Business VoIP systems can also enhance productivity by integrating with other software applications the business uses. For example, software tools can allow businesses to keep better track of phone activity to increase the efficiency of their call centers.

Getting Ready for VoIP

Adding voice service to the company’s network on top of everything else that’s already being handled can put a big burden on IT resources. Failing to assess current network capabilities and upgrade accordingly is one of the biggest mistakes companies make when implementing a VoIP system.

Experts recommend businesses considering VoIP conduct a call volume study before the installation, either on their own or with the help of an outside consultant.  That will help determine what additional stress will be placed on the network and what, if any, upgrades need to be made.

In addition to assessing hardware, it’s important to address how capable your company’s current IT staff will be in supporting the VoIP system, and what technical support you’ll need from the VoIP vendor.

Choosing a Business VoIP Provider

There are a lot of business VoIP vendors out there with different options in terms of pricing, features and how the service is delivered. One of the biggest decisions businesses need to make is whether to go with a system that is hosted by the vendor, one that is purchased and kept on-premise by the company, or a managed system that’s owned by the company but supported by the vendor.

Here’s a breakdown of those major delivery models, with the advantages and disadvantages of each:

Hosted system

On-premise system

Managed system

Who owns the hardware? The vendor. The company leases or buys IP phones, but all other major equipment is owned and maintained by the service provider. The company. The hardware is kept on the company’s site, and the company is responsible for maintenance and upgrades. The company owns the equipment, but the vendor is paid to set up, administer and maintain the system.
Costs required In addition to phone service fees, the company pays a subscription to use the VoIP system. The up-front costs for major hardware purchases, plus fees for voice service. Up-front hardware costs, plus fees for maintenance and voice service.
Advantages Lower up-front costs, no maintenance required. This option is especially attractive for smaller businesses. The company can customize the system to meet its needs. May cost less over time than a hosted system. Customizable with full ownership, without increasing the burden on the company’s own IT staff.
Disadvantages Less customizable, can cost more over time than an on-premise system. Big up-front investment. Often only a good option for larger businesses. Up-front and on-going costs, and a greater risk of downtime compared to a hosted system.

VoIP Features to Look For

Business VoIP providers also differ in terms of the features and pricing options they offer. Here’s a list of the most common options — businesses will need to decide which are important and narrow the list of potential vendors to the ones that offer all of those:

  1. Charge by seat — This is the most common pricing option, where the company pays a fee for each user. The alternative is paying per call, which typically only makes sense for companies with few outgoing calls but a lot of incoming calls.
  2. Standard toll-free North American calling — This is often the default, but some providers will charge extra, and a few don’t offer it. Companies that only make calls within a smaller region can save by choosing a plan covering that geographic area.
  3. Ability to migrate your current phone numbers — Some providers will allow businesses to keep existing phone numbers and extensions free of charge, but others require a fee.
  4. 24-7 tech support — Contracts should specify when support is available, as well as time guarantees, with real repercussions for the vendor if they’re not met.
  5. Security — One disadvantage of business VoIP is that putting voice service on the company’s computer network makes it subject to the same security threats as other IT resources. Find out what security controls vendors have in place to prevent the system from being hacked.
  6. Availability of 911 support — Because digital numbers in a VoIP system aren’t tied to a single location or phone wire, enhanced software is required to cover this issue. The software may be standard, optional or not available, depending on the vendor.
  7. Combination Internet/VoIP solution — Some companies save money by buying Internet and business VoIP services from the same vendor. However, that increases the risk that both services will be down at the same time.
  8. Vendor reliability — Phone service is essential to most businesses’ success, so check vendor references to determine if a business VoIP service is reliable, how the vendor prevents serious outages, and how they respond when incidents occur.

For information on how to purchase a business VoIP system properly, download our whitepaper “Avoiding the Pitfalls: What to Look Out for When Implementing VoIP.”

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