What to Ask your VoIP Provider Before Signing Up

For many small business owners, it’s a challenge to choose the right telecom system. The recent emergence of VoIP, a technology that sends voices as packets of data over the Internet, has provided entrepreneurs with several telecom solutions, each with their own pros and cons. The smallest startups now have access to all the features of a high-end PBX, including direct internal dialing, customizable auto attendants, and conferencing. In fact, VoIP now provides businesses of all sizes with unified communications, which allows employees to work wherever there is a high-speed Internet Connection.

Discover Your Options

First, you need to understand that both traditional and VoIP service providers refer to their solutions as a PBX (public branch exchange), a system dedicated to a single client.

Traditional PBX systems utilize proprietary TDM technology to switch your calls, hardware usually owned by your local phone company. Large corporations often use this type of PBX, but the SMB versions aren’t quite as robust.

VoIP PBXs, on the other hand, utilize your business’s computer network and high-speed connection. This means that remote calls will be routed through the Internet and your IP PBX, with no phone bills. VoIP also provides SMBs with high-end features, as the features they provide are usually software-based.

No matter what solution you choose, you’re going to need an outside connection, either a phone line, or an Internet connection. Although phone companies often bundle phone and data services nowadays, a typical T1 line may carry up to 15 VoIP conversations simultaneously.

Choosing the Right VoIP

There are two basic options for VoIP, each with their own pros and cons:

Hosted VoIP

A Hosted VoIP is housed and operated off-site by a service provider. You connect to the Hosted VoIP via the Internet and your high-speed connection. These systems are usually inexpensive, as routing calls over the Internet means that you avoid paying long-distance charges. The Host normally charges per extension and according to the amount of external calling time. It’s crucial to consider you communication pattern before you settle on a plan. They are also usually one-time fees for service installations, software licenses, and network equipment. Users will also need to purchase IP-enabled handsets.

Hosted VoIP solutions have low up-front costs and are quick to get up-and-running. They also frequently upgrade their service via Internet downloads. However, the solution does depend upon the quality of your Internet connection. If your connection to the internet is slow then you might need to upgrade your internet connection to accomodate voice as well as data.

Private VoIP

Your company can also purchase its own software and hardware. With this solution, external calls are usually transmitted using SIP (session initiation protocol) to route calls over the Internet, with features similar to that of Hosted VoIP solutions. Private VoIP solutions are usually designed by a network consultant, and need to be maintained by the consultant or your IT group.

Although it’s arguable that a Private VoIP solution is more customizable and potentially cheaper in the long run, it’s important to note that there are high up-front costs. You will also need to maintain the system, which is often difficult for an IT group.

What to Ask your Provider

Redundancy

Ask your provider in they have redundancies set up in the event of an emergency. You never know when a technical problem can affect your system; it’s better to be prepared.

Quality of Service

Quality of Service is a protocol that gives priority to voice packets of information over data packets. This protocol ensures proper sound quality.

Uptime

Uptime is the percent of time the network is operating. The solution should be providing at least 64 kilobits per second per conversation.

Service Agreement

A service agreement ensures that all of the issues above are covered in writing.

Free Trial

Most VoIP solution providers offer a 30-day free trial, so you can judge the sound quality and features.

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