Everything you need to know about switching to VOIP

Switching from old-style landlines to new Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones can save money and modernise your business communications.

There’s no doubt that traditional phone services are better value now than in the bad old days, when we had very limited competition. However, you may be able to get an even better deal with a service that uses VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology.

Once an exotic service for techies, VoIP is now a mainstream way of cutting communications costs. How much you save depends on your call destinations, times and frequency, but it can be significant. For example, Telstra’s BusinessLine Basic includes all local calls for A$60 per month (national and mobile calls are extra). By comparison, iiNet’s BizPhone VoIP plan includes unlimited local, national and Australian mobile calls for A$29.95 per month.

VoIP depends on broadband, so you need to factor in that cost, too. However, VoIP-plus-broadband bundles generally cost less, or offer more value, than comparable bundles with traditional public switched telephone network (PSTN) technology.

"You can use software to add more flexibility and functions to your calls."

High-end features on a budget

VoIP isn’t just about cost savings; it can also modernise your business’s communications.

VoIP works by converting analogue audio signals into digital data that can be transmitted over the internet, and that digital technology means you can use software to add more flexibility and functions to your calls. 

As a result, VoIP services can offer advanced features that were previously only affordable in large organisations. These features can improve your business’s productivity and customer service, and may include:

  • voicemail, with the ability to forward messages to your email
  • selective diversion, allowing you to route out-of-hours calls to whoever is on call, for example
  • auto attendant, a voice menu that can make it quicker for customers to reach the right person
  • hunt groups, where calls to, say, a sales number can be automatically routed to team members sequentially, increasing the chances of the caller reaching a person rather than an answering machine
  • follow me, where your incoming calls can be automatically forwarded to another phone, such as your mobile
  • call waiting, hold, park and transfer
  • music on hold
  • conference calls
  • call recording, and more
There are some downsides to VoIP. The first is that small offices running one or two PSTN lines could find it complicated to set up. The second is that not all VoIP providers support calls to 000. The third point to note is that, although VoIP may now be mainstream, it is not always trouble-free. At the very least, it will fall over if you have either a power cut or a broadband outage.

However, any reliability problems are far more likely to occur at your end than at the provider’s, and you can avoid or at least alleviate potential problems if you set up your VoIP service the right way.

Setting up VoIP

A basic VoIP set-up is pretty simple. You sign up with a VoIP provider and they provide either new internet protocol (IP) phones or a device called an analogue telephone adaptor (ATA) that plugs into your router, if you prefer to keep your old PSTN phones.

An ATA might seem the simpler and cheaper option, particularly if your existing router has 

ATA functionality built in. However, IP phones are arguably the better option, because they make it easier to access the features that we discussed earlier.

A broadband router with quality of service (QoS) can help ensure your VoIP service is reliable by prioritising VoIP data over other types of internet traffic. However, QoS won’t help much if your broadband service isn’t up to scratch. VoIP isn’t overly data-hungry compared to, say, streaming video, but you may need to upgrade if your broadband connection is slow or you have a low data allowance.

How can you protect your business against power and broadband outages? Your mobile phones could be a sufficient backup, but if not, you could consider investing in:

  • an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for your modem/router and ATA or IP phones – it’s essentially a big battery that will keep the system going for a while during a blackout
  • a backup mobile broadband service that can keep VoIP running if you have an outage
  • a backup PSTN line for making outgoing calls during an outage

Multi-line options

Most business VoIP plans make it relatively easy to add phone numbers and lines. This type of service is sometimes known as a virtual private branch exchange (PBX), because it replaces a traditional on-site PBX.

Note that business VoIP plans often offer more phone numbers than lines, due to the assumption that only a certain proportion of phone numbers are used at the one time. 

However, this isn’t the only option for businesses wanting to move to digital telephony. Larger businesses that want to keep equipment on site can do so with an IP PBX, or they can outsource it with a hosted IP PBX.

A technology called “session initiation protocol (SIP) trunking” is also gaining momentum. Used with VoIP, SIP trunking allows larger organisations to gain the benefits of IP telephony with an existing phone system or to deploy a new unified communications (UC) system.

Systems such as Cisco’s UC solutions or Microsoft Skype for Business (or Lync) integrate voice calls, video conferencing, online meetings and other tools into the one application.

ATAs such as the Cisco SPA112 allow you to use your existing phones with a VoIP service.

IP phones come in cordless DECT models, such as the Yealink W52H.

Polycom VVX-410
IP phones such as the Polycom VVX-410 provide easy access to advanced VoIP features.

VoIP providers

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