VoIP for Small Business
: By Maureen Alley :
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is a software technology that uses a high-speed broadband Internet connection and power, to transmit conversations over the Internet instead of traditional land lines. And many small businesses are drawn to VoIP because of its ease of use, functionality and cost savings.
Various VoIP solutions are available, depending on the size of the network and the amount of employees that will be using the system. Skype or the revamped Google Voice makes sense for small business owners without employees because they don’t need various extensions, and there’s no need for extra hardware. However, while users can forward calls to an actual phone, the functionality is limited. Users can’t create extensions, manage a large number of calls or have an automated attendant, as is the case with other VoIP solutions.
For businesses looking to do more with their communication, there are other VoIP solutions with extensive business plans. These plans include management of multiple phone number extensions, automated attendants, call forwarding, call conferencing, call recording and voicemail that is delivered to the user’s e-mail inbox. The automated attendants offer day and night mode schedule, dial by name, virtual departments, greetings and music while callers are on hold — all to give businesses professional reputations. In addition, users can have the same area code as the corporate office in New York while their home office is in California.
Pricing of plans vary depending on the provider and how extensive it is; many providers offer limited, unlimited and metered (per minute) plans.
• Nextiva’s unlimited plan ($34.95) offers all the capabilities listed above and has unlimited local calling whereas its limited plan ($24.95) has the same capabilities but restricts calls to 1,000 per month.
• Packet8 has packages ranging from $114.99 per month of its highest tier to $24.99 on the low tier. Pricing increases with more minutes and type of calling (local, inbound and international).
• Vocalocity includes an unlimited plan ($39.99 per month), metered ($14.99 plus 0.03 cents per minute), and virtual (inbound calls only for $14.99).
VoIP does have serious drawbacks that users need to consider before implementing the technology into their businesses. One of the largest is its requirement of power. If the power goes out, so does the call. A battery backup such as an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is strongly suggested so you don’t experience dropped calls.
Because VoIP relies on the Internet, speed is also a factor. If the speed isn’t fast enough to accommodate all the activity taking place online, sound quality will be affected. Nextiva offers online testing to its users at http://speedtest.nextiva.com. They suggest at least 200Kbps to maintain sound quality. Packet 8 suggests at least 64kb/s for best quality. Users can also test their speed for free at http://www.voipreview.org/voipspeedtester.aspx.
Overall the technology has advanced enough to be reliable in most cases — once a UPS is added, and speed is checked. For many businesses the benefits outweigh the negatives — particularly in the opportunity to add money to the bottom line when it’s more pertinent than ever.
Essential VoIP Services, Mashups, and Widgets
VoIP Spear: VoIP Spear (free for personal use) is an online service that monitors VoIP quality and alerts users of problems. Internet connections are monitored around-the-clock creating display charts that reveal how QoS (quality of service) changes over time — even sending e-mail alerts when it drops too low. It uses packet loss, latency and jitter values to calculate an industry-standard MOS (mean opinion score)
Nimbuzz: Nimbuzz is a mobile social messenger that combines instant messaging, (geo) presence and VoIP across popular communities, including Skype, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, ICQ, GoogleTalk, AIM, Facebook and MySpace. The free application is available on mobile, Web and PC, instant messaging, location sharing, (group) calling, file sharing and chat rooms.
Jaxtr: Jaxtr is a VoIP service that connects users to their online communities via a widget they place on their blog or Web page. Others can then call the user for free by entering their phone number. Users can also bypass international phone charges because it provides free local numbers in the countries users call. Premium memberships are available at different levels depending on international calling needs: $2.95 for up to 350 minutes per month all the way to $19.95 for up to 2,500 minutes per month.