Voice-over IP (internet protocol) phone systems—more commonly known as VoIP—have now been around for many years. After the technology was refined throughout the 1990s, the first commercial VoIP systems began to catch on in the early 2000s due to their flexibility and affordability versus traditional public switched telephone networks (PSTN), aka analog landlines.
Here in the 2020s, VoIP is an excellent telephone communications solution for small businesses, especially those with multiple locations and mobile or remote employees. However, finding the best VoIP phone system for your small business can be tricky because there are literally thousands of options.
Today’s post gives you a few of the biggest points to consider as you look to jump from an analog landline to a digital VoIP setup. Of course, you don’t have to go it alone in making this complex business communications technology decision—your friendly local IT consulting partner can assess your needs and recommend the best VoIP system for your small business.
Quick Review: What is VoIP, and Why is it Good for Small Business?
As we covered in an earlier blog post, VoIP is an advanced technology for transmitting phone calls as data over the Internet instead of through a wired connection facilitated by your phone company. VoIP phone service offers a long list of advantages for businesses, including significant cost savings, better mobility, and versatility versus a landline-based system.
Additionally, some of America’s largest traditional telecom companies—such as AT&T—have actually announced phase-out plans for PSTN services. Likely within this decade, moving to a VoIP phone system will no longer be optional. Weighing your VoIP options now before the so-called PSTN sunset will prevent you from having to make a hasty decision later.
Determine Whether You Want Onsite or Cloud-Hosted VoIP
VoIP phone systems come in two main configurations: on-premise networks and cloud-based solutions. Understanding which will work better for you ultimately comes down to whether or not you want to purchase and maintain your own equipment.
Cloud-hosted VoIP providers remotely manage much of the necessary software and hardware (other than your actual phones) for you, whereas self-hosting your VoIP phone system often requires complex setup in addition to equipment purchases. This means upfront costs for setting up your own onsite VoIP network could be high, depending on the IT and communications solution infrastructure you already have in place.
Make Sure Your Network is Ready for VoIP
If you plan to self-host your VoIP phone system in-house, making sure your current internet connection and internal network can handle the load is critical. Because your phones will require bandwidth for your employees to make calls, you need to check on the capacity and performance of your network’s routers and switches.
Additionally, you’ll want to know if your business’s internet service provider has bandwidth caps in place. You may have to upgrade your broadband service to accommodate VoIP phone service or risk dropped calls and slow internet speeds.
Don’t Get Hung Up On Pricing
A recent PCMag article laid out the wide range of pricing plans available for VoIP phone service. Their advice—and ours—is to pay less attention to monthly cost and more attention to feature sets in the VoIP plans you’re considering. Sometimes the cheapest plans don’t include everything you need to get your work done.
At the same time, however, it’s not worth paying big bucks to get “the best plan” with a host of features your employees won’t use.
Case in point, lots of VoIP service providers offer excellent packages that are appropriate for large customer service call center operations. But your small, family-owned service industry business likely handles a much lower daily call volume.
Not sure how to weigh price vs. features for different service plans? Or wondering how to determine which VoIP features are the best for your unique business? Let our expert IT consultants guide you.
Understand the Features You Need and Prioritize Ease of Use
To know what VoIP features to look for, you’ll want to take some time and check in with your employees. What phone calling features do they absolutely need, and what features are “nice to have”? VoIP systems are getting better all the time, and many now integrate with desktop apps to manage calls, increase collaboration between employees, and make workflows more efficient.
However, maybe you just need to make phone calls, and you’re not worried about this kind of advanced integration. Look for simple, intuitive phones (or systems that may let you continue to use the phones you already have) and these other basic VoIP features that most businesses need:
- Clear, high-definition call quality
- Company directory
- Time of day routing
- Voicemail to text/email
- Ease of adding new lines/extensions
- User grouping and management
Think About Potential Future Expansion
One of VoIP’s most significant advantages is how easily it scales as your business grows. So, this tip is actually a little misleading. The great thing about VoIP is that once your network is configured correctly to handle the bandwidth that the system requires, you actually don’t have to worry about accommodating more employees over time!
Adding extensions to your VoIP phone system is often as simple as plugging another SIP-enabled phone into the network and changing a few software settings. (SIP stands for System Integrity Protection. It’s the standard protocol that allows phones to make calls over the internet.)
Need Help Upgrading Your Central PA Small Business’s Phone System to VoIP?
EZComputer Solutions is the Lancaster, York, and Harrisburg region’s favorite managed IT services partner. Not only can we recommend the best VoIP communication solutions for your small business, but we can install and maintain your business phone system so it just works.