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How to choose the right business VoIP provider

You’ve decided that a VoIP solution is right for your business. Now you face the next big decision – who will provide the service. You will have a choice of many different providers because VoIP’s growing popularity is attracting many new entrants to the market, all making great claims about their service.

At first, the choice can be bewildering, so how do you cut through the hype and find the information and the VoIP provider that meets the needs of your business?

Have a search plan

When you start visiting the websites of business VoIP providers, you’ll find vast amounts of information presented in different ways that can make it difficult to compare like for like. To make your search easier, draw up a list of the information you need to make your decision. Generally, a list would contain topics like this:

• Features and services

• Service delivery – on premise or in the cloud

• Charges and calling costs

• Call quality and reliability

• Security

• Contracts

What features and services do you need?

VoIP solutions come in many different packages, with services suitable for businesses of all sizes from start-ups to large enterprises with many different sites. Standard VoIP services include voice, voicemail, unified messaging with all your messages in a single inbox, call forwarding, presence which lets you know when people are available to take calls and conferencing facilities. More advanced packages might include facilities to integrate business applications with phones or collaboration tools like web or video conferencing.

Draw up lists of available services by visiting a number of websites and then narrow the choice down to the services most important to you.

Do you want the service on your premises or in the cloud?

With VoIP, you have a choice of setting up the essential infrastructure on your own premises and connecting it to a service provider that will link you to the telephone network, or paying a monthly charge to a hosting provider to use infrastructure in the cloud.

The choice depends on many factors. The most important is whether you want to incur capital expenditure and operating costs to run your own system, or pay someone else to take care of all that, putting the cost into OPEX rather than CAPEX. Check that the service provider offers the option you prefer.

Compare charges and calling costs

Naturally, price will be an important factor in your decision and here’s where it can be difficult to compare like for like. If you want a hosted solution, compare the monthly fee for the services you want, as well as the calling charges. Service providers offer different call packages, so it’s important to select one that matches your own calling patterns.

If you make a lot of long distance calls in North America, a package that includes unlimited calls would make a good choice. International call packages would be useful if your company regularly calls specific countries or regions.

Check call quality and reliability

Call quality and reliability are essential for business VoIP, so check the provider’s credentials. VoIP providers maintain their infrastructure in data centers and typically set up a number of sites so that they can switch resources if there are problems on one of the sites.

They invest in robust reliable systems with sophisticated monitoring systems to control and manage their service. Check the provider’s description of their networks. They should be carrier-grade with options to reroute calls automatically if there are problems on part of the network. A provider should be able to guarantee service up to 99.9% or higher.

Although VoIP travels over digital IP networks, rather than the legacy PSTN telephone network, the “last mile” is generally outside the provider’s control. Some providers offer an all-IP service that covers the last mile and offers digital quality end-to-end.

Ask about security

Call security is also important. Hackers and cybercriminals can put your business at risk by intercepting confidential company data or personal information, or disrupting communications. Some VoIP services travel over the public Internet for all or part of the transmission. Other providers may set up private connections that travel over private Internet circuits, with stringent security measures integrated into all points of the service.

Look for flexible contracts

VoIP provides a great opportunity to get away from long-term contracts and keep up with the latest developments in telecommunications technology. Increasing competition in the VoIP market means service providers and equipment manufacturers have to differentiate themselves through both quality and innovation.

You can make your supplier selection based on the best available technology. And, with short-term contracts becoming increasingly popular, it’s easy for businesses to move a hosted service to another cloud service provider offering a more advanced system.