by Peter Alexander, Entreprenuer.com
Voice over internet protocol technology cuts telecommunications costs
and improves productivity. But is it right for your business?
You're at an internet cafe; and get an important business call -- on
your laptop. You're on the road and receive an urgent voice mail -- in
your e-mail inbox. Your business has a phone number with a Florida
area code -- even though your office is in California.
Welcome to the world of voice over internet protocol (VoIP). With VoIP
service, your phone calls travel over the internet as data, just as
e-mail does. This type of service can dramatically lower your
telecommunications costs while increasing your productivity. It also
provides useful features and capabilities that conventional phone
technology can't offer.
Though VoIP is quickly gaining popularity, some small businesses are
still on the sidelines, concerned that VoIP audio quality is
substandard, that the technology is difficult or costly to implement,
or that their phone service will be interrupted if their electricity
The truth is, VoIP's benefits far outweigh any potential drawbacks.
Here's what you need to know about VoIP to decide if it's right for your
business -- plus tips for making the most out of VoIP service.
1. Since its inception, the quality of VoIP service has come a long
way. Early VoIP products required both parties in a conversation to
be at a computer. Not only was this extremely limiting, but the sound
quality was often poor. Today's VoIP service has evolved and allows
you to make and receive calls using standard phones or, even better,
feature-rich IP phones. Sound quality has vastly improved, too--in
fact, many businesses today have abandoned traditional phone systems
in favor of VoIP. Many of these businesses have the ability to
leverage their own data network to carry phone calls originating and
terminating within their office with additional savings and benefits.
2. Using VoIP can significantly reduce your telecommunications costs.
Operating costs for VoIP service providers are significantly lower
than for traditional phone companies, which must contend with the
existing, expensive-to-maintain phone infrastructure and costly
industry regulations. With lower expenses, VoIP providers can charge
much less than their competitors.
And with VoIP, businesses no longer have to maintain separate networks
for phones and data -- another significant money saver. Also, the
costs associated with employee moves, adds and changes -- which can
cost $100 or more per occurrence -- are virtually eliminated. All you
have to do is move your IP phone (or traditional phone with a VoIP
adapter) to a different broadband network jack and plug it in. Many
times, your VoIP adapter can be connected through a 'switchboard'
arrangement, making it even more flexible.
3. VoIP service makes your phone system highly flexible. VoIP systems
allow you to do things that are simply not possible with traditional
phone technology. For example, you can:
a .. Take your phone system with you. As long as you have access to a
broadband connection, you can use your VoIP system anywhere, such as in
a hotel room or at a friend's home. Customers and employees can stay in
touch just by calling your regular business phone number -- they don't
need to call your cell phone, which means you can save precious cell
a.. Talk on your laptop. Many VoIP systems include telephony software
that enables you to send and receive calls using a headphone/microphone
unit connected to your computer. Now you won't miss an urgent call from
a client, even when you're hanging out with your laptop at an internet
a.. Get voice mail and faxes with your e-mail. Many VoIP services
allow you to have voice mail and faxes automatically forwarded to your
regular e-mail inbox. You get all your messages in one place, and your
voice mail and faxes can be easily archived or forwarded to
others. Users can also get their e-mails "read" to voice mail.
a.. Get virtual phone numbers. Your phone number can have any
available area code, not just the one assigned to your region, that
telco says you are stuck with. For example, a business based in
California could have a phone number with a Florida area code --
particularly advantageous if your business has (or wants) customers in
a.. Increase productivity. Many VoIP phone numbers can be configured
to simultaneously ring on multiple devices -- such as your cell and
landline phones -- before going to voice mail, thus eliminating
time-consuming "phone tag." In a recent survey conducted by Sage
Research, the increased productivity enabled by internet telephony
added up to 3.9 hours per week, per employee.
With all the benefits VoIP has to offer, if you're now considering a
switch to VoIP service, these tips will help you overcome any
potential hurdles and make the most of a VoIP system:
a.. When in doubt, hire an expert. An off-the-shelf VoIP system for a
business with a few employees is fairly straightforward to implement.
But larger VoIP systems may work best if installed and configured by
experts. Ask your network equipment vendor about VoIP services
tailored for small businesses.
a.. Test it out. Rather than switch everyone at once, test a VoIP
service first with just a few users. Once you're satisfied with the
service, then you can roll it out to other employees. (You might want
to keep your traditional phone system up and running during the
transition as a backup.)
a.. Use call forwarding. If the power goes out, your computer network
may go down -- taking your VoIP service with it (unless you have a
generator or other alternative power source). For backup, configure
your VoIP service to automatically forward unanswered calls to a cell
or landline number.
a.. Secure your network. VoIP's growing popularity is attracting the
attention of hackers, and users are concerned that hackers may
digitally intercept VoIP calls or bring down a company's VoIP system
using denial-of-service attacks. The solution? Make sure your network
security is thorough and up to date. For more information, see my
earlier article, "Is Your Business Safe from Internet Security
Threats?." One thing's for sure: VoIP technology is continually
evolving, with compelling new benefits being developed for small
businesses. For example, some new wireless PDA/phone combination
devices allow you to use your VoIP service whenever you're near a
Wi-Fi network and use your cell phone service when you're not. Among
the advantages: a dramatic increase in mobility and a sharp decrease
in your cell phone charges.
For larger small businesses, having a single IP network for both voice
and data can provide other advantages, too. For example, an IP network
can also support real-time, high-quality, affordable
videoconferencing, call center applications and more.
No matter the size of your business, VoIP is a surprisingly flexible,
affordable technology that offers the same, sophisticated
communication tools your enterprise-size competitors have.
Copyright 2005 Entrepreneur.com, Inc.
copyright 2005 MSNBC.com
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I have always been quite pleased with
my Vonage VoIP service, and for maximum flexibility, I have it
connected as a 'trunk line' on my internal PBX here at my home/office.
I am able to make outgoing calls via VoIP from any extension or
recieve incoming VoIP calls at any extension. Using VoIP has made a
_huge_ savings on my already inexpensive phone costs. (I use a local
carrier, Prairie Stream rather than the more expensive and less useful
SBC.)And you know what? I have had no SBC in this house now for over
a year and don't miss it at all; they keep sending me letters every
week or two to please re-consider and take them back, of course. PAT]