Buyers Guide

Our Guide to Hosted VoIP

The market for business telephony is now hugely complex and there is wide variety of options available for consideration. It can become confusing with so many options to make cost-effective, efficient business calls over a networked system - so our user guide is here to help! In this guide, we will look at a very common business phone system solution for the digital age - VoIP. 


What is hosted VoIP?

VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. Essentially it works by sending communication data via the internet, rather than through traditional analogue telephone lines. The technology has been around since the 1990s and its adoption - and varied methods of use - is growing steadily.

What is the benefit of hosted VoIP?

The primary benefit of VoIP telephony systems is that they provide a host of useful features plus greater flexibility at a much lower cost than for traditional business phone systems. In particular, they are very cost effective where long-distance and international phone calls come into play. Additionally, because they are delivered via digital bandwidth which doesn't require individual physical lines, they aren't limited in the same way as old-fashioned phone systems.

Examples of VoIP systems

Some VoIP systems are very simple and others bring in more complex functionality for advanced business requirements. Here are three examples:

1. A simple VoIP system

A basic VoIP system will use an office PC and a piece of telephony software, called a softphone. This will make and receive calls to any phone number, using the internet. These calls aren't restricted to other VoIP phones - they can go to any kind of phone. The client will pay the VoIP provider for just one telephone number. All calls that go to that number are routed through the softphone. All calls made through these display caller ID information. This means that customers cannot tell whether they are being called from an office or a digital device on the road. This is of benefit to many businesses. Softphones are also on offer from most VoIP providers and include other features such as voicemail.

2. A typical mid-sized system

Within a small business of, say, a dozen employees, a more mid-sized system would see each desk equipped with a VoIP 'hard phone', which resembles a handset but which is connected to the business's computer network. (These hard phones are typically included in some plans but can also be bought separately.) The calls between each of the phones will be managed and directed via a central switchboard, which is also known as a Private Branch Exchange, or PBX. There are free systems that are ideal for small computers, more complex systems that are rich in features and cloud-based systems which are offered by preference now by many VoIP providers and which need no special on-site hardware to operate.

3. An example advanced system

This would be found in a business with various offices and several hundred staff. All employees would have a connected hard phone which would link to the cloud or onsite PBX using the business's computer network. The PBX would allow any staff member in any business office or location to connect to other employees or to transfer calls to them. Softphones would also be present on laptops and mobile phones for remote calls. These would connect to the PBX via a data service such as WiFi or 4G. Many big firms with several offices will have a PBX in each of their office premises which acts as a single co-ordinating system, using mobile SIP clients or trunks.

What are the benefits of VoIP?

There are multiple benefits to using a VoIP system. Firstly, it can replace a traditional phone system which adds greater functionality, reduces business costs, allows the business to remove physical analogue lines and allows it to run more efficiently. Other benefits are:

1) Enhanced functionality - with most systems offering realtime tools such as video conferencing, voicemail, text messaging and remote collaboration. Many of these functions are delivered through the computer screen that is attached to the telephone. This can provide valuable visual cues that help staff when making voice calls - allowing them to offer a better customer experience.
2) Enhanced business efficiency - with functions that improve business communication whilst offering other gains, such as the ability to upscale a system with ease.
3) Reduced costs - tiered and flat rate plans are typically less expensive from VoIP providers than the traditional service plans found with analogue phone providers. There are also hardware savings to be made by using cloud-based PBX systems.
4) Mobility - the system can be accessed from any networked device, with intelligent routing and diverting features.
5) Easy features - see below.

What are the features of VoIP systems?

Presence tracking:

VoIP systems often show which other people are present and available on the system, so you know whether or not you'll be able to get hold of someone before you ring them.

Call management and recording:

Call management is also easier thanks to drag and drop functions on the screen, as well as call recording for training purposes and audit.

Text and video chat:

Another neat feature is text chat, which allows a typed messaging service. Some also offer video options, so users have a range of communication methods at their fingertips.

CTI

Computer Telephony Integration allows your desktop PC to integrate your phone and business CRM. This allows calls to be controlled by the system, call information to be tracked, active states to be monitored (such as when staff are busy, available, away etc), call routing to appropriate staff and data entry during call time. The systems also allow features such as predictive dialling and automatic call distribution according to business routing networks. This links customers to the most appropriate person for a call automatically.

Fax and conference call

These are standard features on most VoIP systems.

How much do VoIP systems cost?

Each provider will have a different pricing mechanism. This will be based on a variety of factors, but will take into account:

The size and locations of your business (locations create connectivity complexity, as do mobile devices.)

The number of phone lines and phones / employees

The cost balance required against coverage

Traffic times and usage patterns

Desired features and functionality - systems with complex CTI features or the ability to host large conference calls will, for example, be more expensive than those with more basic facilities. Companies which have a large base of networked mobile phones may also need to buy additional management software.

Regulatory requirements - some industries have legal and operational requirements that affect the type of system they can buy. For example, financial services and healthcare are two key examples, as are public companies that hold sensitive individual data. Data security software may be recommended as a service add-on.

Broader packages

Many of the companies that deliver VoIP services tend to offer it as part of a bigger service package. For example, many offer bundled packages that incorporate hosting, network administration, or broadband internet provision. This will increase costs, but there are efficiencies to be made by taking multiple services from one provider - so long as they have genuine and demonstrable capability in each service you are buying from them. Do your research carefully beforehand.

Providers

There are a number of reputable providers in this space, including Jive, Vonage, Velantro and Nextiva. All will offer slightly different propositions and have unique selling points that appeal to different target markets.