VoIP for Business

VoIP is one of the most important technologies to arrive in the world of business communications since the PABX. However, for much of its life as a business technology, VoIP has been deployed chiefly in large businesses and used by the major telco's themselves. (See the VoIP Facts Post on our Blog)

Traditionally, businesses have used the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) for their telephone needs which is basically a circuit switched network. With this system a telephone call essentially takes control of the telephone line for the entire duration of the call. This is not a very efficient or cost effective way to make calls. In addition if you wanted to make or receive more than one call at the same time you are required to pay line rental for multiple lines.

Because the needs of business vary so much, the first task for any businesses interested in using VoIP is to become familiar with exactly what you are currently paying for in regards to usage and features. The next step is to determine if the benefits and features of VoIP will translate into the desired productivity gains and / or savings expected.

Below you will find several options for implementing VoIP into your business environment.

Assess your Usage and Requirements

Before you decide to invest in a suitable VoIP solution it is important that you assess what you requirements and expectations are. The following points will help you to perform your own assessment and help determine if VoIP will provide the benefits and features required for your business.

Analyse your call patterns and understand what the major cost components of your phone bill are.

  • How many Local calls do you make in a month? Is this the largest component in your bill?
  • How many calls are national (STD) and / or international? This is where your major savings will come.
  • How many incoming Lines are your paying for? Are you getting good value using Line Hunt!
  • How many employees do you have? Are they all in the same office or do you have Road Warriors?
  • How important is it to communicate with employees? Do they all need their own Direct Line?

Assess your requirements.

  • Would some of the advanced VoIP features improve your productivity or Customer service level?
  • Do the current internet and mobile phone services meet your existing communication needs?
  • What additional functionality is required?
  • What aspects of VoIP would provide the most benefits and ensure a speedy ROI?

What are the future plans of the business e.g. expansion, relocation, diversification?
Potential opportunities for a business to take up VoIP could be when they:

  • Need to upgrade their telephone system;
  • Are moving office;
  • Setting up additional offices; or,
  • Require the added benefits and features of VoIP.

With increasingly competitive mobile phone market, cheaper mobile phone deals are becoming more common. In some situations, a SOHO or small business may be able to obtain a very competitive mobile phone deal that could be more cost effective than switching to VoIP. What I have found, though, is that clients are often reluctant to call businesses that only have a mobile number as their primary phone contact. In Some countries, this can be offset by having a phone service where you pay for incoming calls which keeps the clients happy but can increase you communications costs significantly.

The perceived major drawbacks to VoIP are security and lack of technical support. It's important that you select providers (ISPs and VSPs) that will be available to provide timely and efficient support when required. Past experience with new technologies has revealed that the availability of 24 hour technical support is critical especially among small businesses that may not have the internal resources.

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What are the Benefits for Business?

For Business, VoIP allows voice, data and video services to be consolidated into one network. This consolidation is known as convergence. Although the emphasis is often on the cost savings, the real benefits of VoIP are the productivity gains and improved customer service that can be achieved via the advanced communication features of VoIP such as:

  • Simplified infrastructure. With VoIP on your network you no longer need separate cabling for your telephone system.
  • Scalable. Traditional PABX based phone systems come in many size ranges and it may be necessary periodically to scrap existing systems and replace hardware; this is not the case with VoIP systems. Additional phones can be easily added into network sockets as opposed to a PBX that has a set number of ports for phones and has reached its limit.
  • Reduce operating costs. Because a VoIP PBX is based on software rather than hardware, it is easier to configure and maintain.
  • Improve productivity. VoIP treats voice as if it were any other kind of data, so users can attach documents to voice messages or participate in virtual meetings using shared data and videoconferencing.
  • Flexibility. Because VoIP is a network based system it is possible to integrate functionality into your existing network and applications. The IP in VoIP stands for Internet Protocol, and it’s the same IP as in TCP/IP, which has been the standard networking protocol for quite a few years. It’s what most networks run on these days, from a small office environment to the Internet itself.
  • Increased mobility. With Follow-me-roaming. If employees are required to travel they are easily contactable and can access all features of VoIP as if they were in the office.

See the VoIP Benefits and Features sections for a complete list!.

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Home Office VoIP Solutions

Do you have a home office with one to two phone lines? Do you want to separate your work and home phone numbers? Maybe you need extra lines to be able to grow your business efficiently.

VoIP and the Small Office / Home Office (SOHO) are a match made in heaven. It is an easy and cost effective way to expand your communications without the overheads of additional Line rentals charged by the Telephone companies.

A simple cost effective Small business solution would be the Netgear TA612V. You can purchase the Netgear as a part of a promotion for a reduced cost. Check the VoIP Providers page for more details.

If you are wanting to use more advanced features, like call forwarding or the other advanced features mentioned in the VoIP Features section then you should consider the Linksys SPA-2101 or if you intend to have employees working offsite, then I can assure you the investment in an IP PBX will quickly pay off.

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Small Office VoIP Solutions

While VoIP is subject to a lot of market hype, steady growth is occurring among businesses with existing data networks. More and more businesses are embracing VoIP, with the majority implementing a partial setup of VoIP. Among the businesses that have deployed VoIP, more than half report significant cost savings and better call management as the main benefits.

In a small office situation, where there is generally 2 to 5 incoming lines connected to a small PABX (or Keystation PBX system) it has been possible to reduce the number of lines and save on line rental costs.

You can either use VoIP/IP Phones or connect your existing PSTN handsets to VoIP by using ATAs, like the Linksys SPA-2101. If you wish you can retain your existing phone system for incoming calls and use your VoIP service for making outgoing calls.

For multi-office situations significant savings can be seen even if VoIP is only used for internal communication between the offices. A small IP PBX located at each site will enable the organisation to harness the shared resources from either location.

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Existing phones or new VoIP (IP) phones?

Your ability to retain and use your existing phone system is dependent on if you are implementing a hybrid solution or if you require a full VoIP Solution.

The benefits of a hybrid VoIP solution is that you will save on the initial setup costs and there will be little or no training involved. The disadvantage is that you may not have access to the full range of benefits and features available. As is typical in business, it is a compromise between cost and ROI. If you have a good phone system now, you may not want to replace it.

If it's time to update then you should ensure you invest in business grade equipment to ensure the best quality and to maintain the level of reliability you are used to.

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Hosted PBX

Rather than purchase and maintain an in-house PBX, several Service Providers can supply a hosted PBX solution that enables your phone system and functions to be hosted and maintained remotely.

Your phones are connected through your broadband connection to your Hosted PBX Service Providers network. You usually get all the normal features of an in-house PBX but without the initial high set-up cost - including IVR, call forwarding, voice mail and more.

You will have access to your Hosted PBX service via a web interface which means you can make configuration changes from anywhere you have access to an internet connection.

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Your own internal IP-PBX

For small to medium businesses requiring from 4 to 20 simultaneous VoIP calls then one of the solid state IP PBX solutions is ideal. As this is a not a software based solution, requiring a dedicated computer, there is no maintenance or concerns about the "computer breaking down".

For larger implementations, a commonly used IP PBX is Asterisk, a well known "open source" software program that you can run on a spare computer. This means that the basic software is free. However there are a few catches:

  1. Asterisk needs to be installed on a separate computer with special telephony hardware components fitted to perform well.
  2. Asterisk uses a Linux operating system. A Linux expert may be required to configure the Asterisk PBX system. There are various flavours of GUI interfaces available to make this configuration easier but finding the right one can be tricky.

Once set up, most configuration changes can be performed remotely however. For more information on Asterisk, visit the Digium Website. You pay also be interest to watch a Video interview with Mark Spencer at the Australian CeBIT 2007 show as he is generally credited with being the creator of the software.

There are also some Windows PBX hardware/software combinations that could be considered more "user friendly". Although they may be initially setup by an expert, most users with Windows program experience can make changes if required. One example is 3CX VoIP Phone system for windows.

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More Information and Resources

Below you will find links to some useful information to help you decide what VoIP solution is right for your business.

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Ace VoIP Hardware Promotion
Netgear TA612V $49.95 (RRP $129)
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