Evaluating VOIP For Business Use

Voice Over IP (VOIP) has been around for several years but is just starting to gain traction in the business environment. Regular readers may remember that ITS has a long history of selling and supporting the excellent TeleVantage phone system, but we also work with VOIP providers that provide hosted solutions with very little on-site equipment to purchase. Here are some tips on how to evaluate VOIP technology.

What VOIP Is

VOIP is a technology for transmitting voice over a network rather than over wires to the phone company. VOIP providers receive these signals and then connect to the traditional phone network to complete the call to non-VOIP phones.

VOIP can also be used for free intra-office communications over a company's private network, rather than making an actual phone call between two offices.

What VOIP Is Not

VOIP technology is not inherently less expensive, though with hosted solutions and increased competition it can be much less expensive than a traditional phone system. Many VOIP providers offer options for fixed monthly fees for unlimited local and/or long distance calling. VOIP is not an "end" in and of itself but can be a means to an end by enabling improved communication solutions. VOIP is simply a technology.

Business Drivers

A next-generation phone system, whether or not is it based on VOIP, opens the door for network convergence, or the ability to tie software together with the phone system. This allows for everything from screen pops that display caller information to click-to-dial capability from Outlook or other contact managers. Call centers can use call statistics to track average call time, calls per agent, and the like. Incoming and outgoing phone calls can be logged and recorded. Voice mails can be delivered via e-mail for workers on the road.

Next-generation phone systems also allow for inexpensive "virtual office" solutions where traveling workers can make and receive calls to and from customers regardless of their location.

What To Look For In A VOIP Provider

ITS suggests readers interested in VOIP look for a provider that provides both the VOIP service and the Internet (broadband) connection. This way, the VOIP network packets can be given priority (termed Quality of Service, or QOS) from the office phone all the way to the provider's network operations center. Otherwise, you may find that downloading a big file, or even high Internet traffic by other users on your ISP's network, may impact call quality. For example, one of our favorite DSL and T1 providers, Speakeasy, provides a hosted VOIP solution.

A "hosted" VOIP solution like Speakeasy's centralizes the "brains" of the VOIP phone system in the provider's network operations center. This allows for lower expense for on-premise equipment, instant upgrades for new features, and virtual headquarters as well as disaster recovery (employees can make and receive calls from any phone in the world).

Our web site has more information on Speakeasy Hosted VOIP and our other phone service solutions.

October 2006

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