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Best VoIP Phone Systems

This guide will offer a comprehensive look at VoIP phone systems, exploring what exactly they are and how they operate. As well as that the best systems will be compared and benefits offered for how VoIP phones can improve the productivity and efficiency of your business.

Contents
What is a VoIP Phone?
How VoIP Works
Advantages of VoIP
Growing Popularity
Potential Drawbacks

What is a VoIP Phone?

VoIP stands for "Voice over Internet Protocol", which is the technical term for describing a telephone connection taking place over the internet.

A VoIP phone system takes analog audio signals like those used by a standard telephone system and turns them into the type of digital data that can be transferred online.

By doing this VoIP technology offers many key benefits. Firstly, it means you no longer have to use the telephone network of your service provider to make calls. This immediately reduces expenditure and business outgoing that would otherwise be spent on costs related to traditional phone lines.

Another benefit of IP phones is the ability to keep your existing number. Regardless of where you use your IP phone, whether at your desk, on a business trip or at home the phone will function exactly the same as a traditional system.

 

With Voice over Internet Protocol technology there is not just one way to place a call. There are currently three types of VoIP services in common use:

1. Analog Telephone Adaptor (ATA)

This is one of the most common and simplest methods. An ATA is simply an analog-to-digital convertor, and allows you to connect your standard phone to your computer or use your Internet connection for VoIP. Some ATAs come with additional software that needs to be loaded in order to configure the system, but many just require you to insert the telephone cable that's normally plugged into the socket at the wall.

2. Internet Protocol Phones (IP Phones)

IP Phones look just like normal phones but have a Registered Jack 45 (RJ45) - a connector for network cables like those used in Ethernet networks, instead of the standard RJ11 connector which is primarily used to connect telephone equipment in the United States.

This allows connection to your router and the handling of the IP call via the IP Phone's onboard software.

3. Computer to Computer

Obviously you need to have a computer connected to the Internet with adequate bandwidth of at least 100kbps for good quality voice communication. You will also need the necessary hardware to speak and listen, i.e. speakers and a microphone or suitable headset.

The voice communication software you will require with this type of VoIP is generally offered for free or at very low cost. Apart from your usual monthly ISP fee, there's usually no charge for computer to computer calls, irrespective of distance, so this could be an ideal solution if you make regular long distance calls.

How VoIP Works

Even if your business doesn’t yet have a VoIP server or phone system installed there is a high possibly that you’re already utilising VoIP when making long distance calls. Many phone companies already take advantage of VoIP, particularly its benefits for long distance or international calls to improve their networks.

The reason for this is the fundamental way in which VoIP works and the differences between traditional circuit switching and packet switching in relation to VoIP technology.

Circuit switching has been used by telephone networks for over 100 years. The traditional concept means when a call is the connection is maintained throughout the duration of the call. Packet switching in comparison opens brief connections, just enough to send small amounts of data, called packets from one system to another. This is the same way in which all types of data is sent using the internet and how your organization can take advantage of VoIP calls to improve your business.

IP gateways are used to reduce bandwidth, compressing the data at one end and then reassembling the same data into its original state when it is received at the intended computer.

This system means small packets of data will travel along the cheapest and least congested lines, saving both money and time. It also means the two computers communicating with each other are free to accept information from other computers at the same time as well, improving efficiency.

VoIP phone system illustration

With a VoIP phone system you have two types of phone.

  • Hardphone - This is an IP phone that looks like any other desk phone handset with built in computer technology that allows it to connect with your VoIP server.
  • Softphone - An application based phone that can be installed on your computer or smartphone device, allowing access to the VoIP service and dedicated VoIP accounts.

VoIP server can be based on premise or hosted and maintained by your VoIP provider in the cloud. IP gateways are than used to connect your VoIP servers with outside lines as well as convert certain types of VoIP such as skype calls with protocols such as SIP.

Compare the best VoIP phone system providers by filling in the form at the top of the page.

Advantages of VoIP Phone Systems

VoIP benefits

Cost

Legacy phone systems for larger companies require separate PBX tie lines. These, in turn, require more maintenance, which requires more manpower. By contrast, VoIP phone systems can be integrated into the company's existing digital network.

Prices and services vary considerably so it's wise to shop around for the best deal to suit your business requirements. As the technology develops, the options and price plans change too.

For example, a few years back, Vonage seemed a reasonable alternative to AT&T at around $30 a month but now other, less expensive, home & business phone solutions are being made available. Systems from RingCentral, 8x8 and others now start as low as $19 a month.

This means that VoIP telephone systems are now often the cheapest option for small and medium sized businesses.

Simpler Payment Plans

The payment plans offered by most VoIP companies are structured like cell phone bills but usually without the unregulated charges and offering a range of features for free that would normally incur extra charges with most phone companies, for instance, caller ID, call waiting, call transfer, repeat dial, return and three-way calling.

Some carriers offer advanced call filtering capabilities, enabling you to choose how calls from a particular number are handled. You can arrange for a call to be automatically forwarded to another number or voicemail, and even respond with a busy signal.

More Features

Because VoIP systems are digital, they also have the advantage of coming with a whole host of options one simply cannot replicate in a legacy phone system. For example most VoIP systems include a GUI (or "Graphical User Interface").

With VoIP it is easy to add new features as and when you need them. This is a lot more difficult with a traditional phone system.

Increased Portability

VoIP systems don't depend on a specific line to manage call traffic. As a result, an individual employee's extension isn't tied to their desk, but to their phone.

Easy Integration

VoIP services can easily be integrated to work with other digital services your office uses. For example, voice mail messages can be transcribed and delivered via email.

Improved Tracking

VoIP makes it easier than it's ever been to track valuable communication information. All calls are logged. Hold times are tracked. You can even grant employees the ability to record specific calls on the fly.

Growing Popularity

It's easy to see why VoIP phone technology is growing in popularity, fast becoming the preferred communication system for more and more business as well as making its way into our homes.

This is mainly due to the savings that can be made but the flexibility of the service is also a big factor. It's possible to make calls from anywhere with broadband or WiFi connectivity.

There is client software available known as softphone enabling you to load your VoIP service onto your computer desktop or laptop. You don't have to be at home to enjoy the benefits of your low cost plan either.

Some VoIP providers have apps you can download to your mobile that allow you to register right from the app and, once signed in, you will be able to make calls to all the places included in your calling plan at no extra charge.

For business people on the move they can take their phones or ATAs with them, enabling them to always have access to their home phone. There are also features that allow you to check voicemail via the web, and more.

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Potential Drawbacks

With all the benefits to be had with a VoIP phone system, it's tempting to wonder if it would be worthwhile replacing your existing phone system altogether.

However, there are a couple of things that do need careful consideration and some issues that manufacturers and related industries need to address before VoIP phone systems can truly take over from traditional telephones.

Here are two important things to consider:

1. Dependability

VoIP phone systems use Internet connections and are therefore susceptible to all the challenges currently associated with broadband services and the limitations of the average computer.

This means you could be talking on your softphone one minute, something could sap your PC's processor the next, and the best result you could hope for would be some voice distortion. At worst, you would lose connection in the middle of an important conversation.

2. Emergencies

VoIP systems accesses phone numbers via IP addresses so this could cause problems if someone calls 911 from one.

Unlike numbers from a traditional phone that can give emergency services an exact location, IP address numbers cannot. So if the caller is unable to tell the operator his location that could pose a real problem.

Overall though it definitely makes sense to switch your business communications to a VoIP solution. There are so many benefits it can bring to your business, and a large number of top providers to choose from so now is a great time to make the switch.