…Or maybe the question should be, is VoIP telephony ready for business?
By far the most common objection received when discussing the potential use of Internet telephony within a business, is the quality of the speech – which one could say is rather an important factor.
Those companies we come across who have used an Internet based telephony service have often had a far from ideal experience; those who haven’t yet made the move, have read or heard the negative comments from those who have – or should one say to be more precise, from those who have used a poorly implemented and resourced service.
First off, let’s be absolutely clear: VoIP is NOT Skype. Skype is great for keeping in touch with your family and friends when quality isn’t a major issue. It is even fine in many business environments, again, when guaranteed quality is not a major concern. However, in a professional business environment where your communication needs to be of the highest possible standard, it just doesn’t cut it.
Secondly, don’t consider VoIP on the premise it is going to be free; it isn’t. Neither is it always cheap, although that will depend on what your definition of cheap is. It is true that there are cheap (and usually not-so-cheerful) VoIP services out there but by and large, these are the ones which provide the bad experiences I have all too often encountered. No, to be 100% up-front, a good Internet telephony service can attract a reasonably-sized investment in hardware and configuration charges if you are going to get it right. Defining what is ‘right’ for your business is the important first step.
From here on, I am going to stop using the term VoIP – mainly due to the negative press it has received but also because it under-values what this technology can actually do for your business. Instead, I am going to use the term ‘Hosted IP Telephony’.
In days gone by there were three main routes for business telephone services:
- Use a single, standard (PSTN) line (or multiple single lines) into a single building/location which could effectively be used to make and receive calls but not to transfer calls to other phones within or outside of the business.
- Subscribe to a service such as BT FeatureLine or Virgin Media Centrex which enabled multiple, single lines into a single location and allowed calls to be transferred between ‘extensions’; facilities such as ‘call pickup’ and ‘call divert’; and even allowed the same facilities to extend to other buildings free-of-charge provided that the other building(s) were connected to the same physical BT telephone exchange and the same phone service – not a great deal of use if your other offices were located in other towns!
- Install your own PBX (Private Branch Exchange), typically with multiple lines, usually ISDN2e or ISDN30. This would enable you to have multiple phones and extensions connected to the locally installed PBX which would distribute calls within the building. As with FeatureLine and Centrex, you could also transfer calls outside of the building but only by incurring additional calls charges. To obtain free ‘internal’, office-to-office calls, one had to install expensive leased lines between your various office locations; not an ideal situation for small businesses working to a modest budget!
This is where Hosted IP Telephony can really produce some amazing benefits. Without having to buy expensive PBXs or install equally expensive site-to-site leased lines, you can transfer calls between locations anywhere in the world providing they are subscribed to the same service or the same Hosted IP Telephony provider. You can move the phones to another location whenever you need to; you can divert calls to other users on the system; other users on ‘traditional’ telephone systems; to mobile users or even to an App running on your PC, tablet or smartphone. Whichever you choose, the flexibility it provides to your business is astounding. Some of these call transfers will be free and some will be chargeable, the main difference is, the chargeable ones will normally cost you a lot less than a plain old telephone system (POTS)!
One of our long-term partners, Created in Bath, who produce beautiful website from the world heritage city of Bath, recently moved offices. During the course of this move, there was a time when they would have no access to the old offices or the new. No problem. Using Hosted IP Telephony they were able to work from a variety of locations without any disruption to their business operations and there were absolutely no additional charges involved, they simply took the phones with them to their temporary ‘homes’, plugged them in and started making and receiving calls just as before. Imagine trying to achieve that with a POTS – impossible or, at best, very expensive!
Another key benefit of this type of service is the business model. Everything can be provided within one monthly cost without the need for long-term contracts, capital expenditure or hire-purchase agreements. Users can be added and removed as and when required and with the service providing everything you can think of by way of added-value services, such as: call pick-up, call hunt groups, call divert, music on hold, voicemail, voicemail to email, call recording, auto attendant, call queuing – the feature list is staggering – your business will benefit from facilities which were until recently, the preserve of the wealthiest companies. And in the event of a disaster befalling your office block, or snow preventing you getting to work, or flood rendering your office inaccessible, or maybe even the loss of your Internet connection – one simple call or click on a web page and all your business calls can be instantly diverted to pre-defined numbers on a per-user basis. Now try and get that from your existing (non-hosted) system!
So what about that quality issue?
Of course, if you have poor Internet connectivity, it is possible you will have less than ideal voice quality. But that is easy to resolve – just hook up with a good quality broadband provider. If you have more than a few Hosted IP Telephony connections, consider a dedicated broadband connection for the voice services. Get someone who knows what they are doing to apply Quality of Service to your router – this will ‘reserve’ a portion of the broadband line for voice traffic so that anyone trying to ‘hog’ a big portion of the broadband line for data download will not affect the speech side of things. Ask your Hosted IP Telephony providers to look at the ‘codecs’ being used – these are the standards applied to the quality of the speech. There is a tendency to opt for the codec which is meant to provide the highest quality, however this also requires three times the bandwidth than the lower standard codec. In most cases, the so-called lower standard will provide perfectly acceptable quality of voice reproduction and you will get more simultaneous calls over the same physical broadband connection.
I am not going to say that quality is not an issue at all, but with the right planning and the right service provider, your customers and trading partners need never know that you’ve made the switch to Hosted IP Telephony.
So if it isn’t cheaper, why bother?
I didn’t say it wasn’t cheaper than traditional telephony, I just said it wasn’t cheap. A good quality Hosted IP Telephony service should cost-in well under a ‘traditional’ system that provides like-for-like services. Coupled with the huge improvements to be gained with the way you manage your business telephony and the impressively low call-charges – can you imagine calling a mobile phone in the USA for 2.5 pence per minute? Hosted IP Telephony has a great deal going for it, whether the need is for a single phone or a multi-user, multi-site configuration.
What to do next?
One final, great advantage of Hosted IP Telephony is that you can try it for free providing you already have a connection to the Internet – or at least you should be able to. Ask your provider for a time-limited trial. Offer to pay for the calls you use, although a good provider will allow you a free trial (subject to spending limits on the calls you make). You can then see – or is that hear? – for yourself how good the speech quality is and if it doesn’t meet your expectations or requirements, then it won’t have cost you a penny!
Find out more about Cloud Heroes’ Hosted Ip Telephone (or VoIP) solutions here. Or contact us today to set up a free trial. What have you got to lose?