Traditional business telephone systems are slowly being replaced by modern VoIP (voice over internet protocol) systems.
These telephone systems route calls across the internet rather than using standard telephone lines. They’re flexible and can be much cheaper.
VoIP can be an excellent option, but there are some pitfalls to avoid. Dave Millett from telecoms brokers Equinox say these are the ten key questions to ask any potential supplier.
1. Are you part of the Telecoms Ombudsman?
Being part of the Telecoms Ombudsman scheme demonstrates that the supplier is willing to accept independent, binding arbitration in the event anything goes wrong
Many providers will be part of the Internet Telephony Services Providers’ Association (ITSPA). This trade body aims to promote competition and self-regulation, and therefore does not offer the same protection.
2. What is your VoIP system built on?
Ideally, you want to use a VoIP system that’s built on large, carrier-grade platforms. These scale easily, providing confidence that the supplier can cope as demand for its services increases.
Any conversation about your VoIP provider’s platform could get technical quickly, so don’t be afraid to ask them to explain things in simple terms.
Look for a provider that your hosts its system from several locations, so you know there’s a backup in case one suffers problems.
3. How are calls routed?
Calls that are routed across the public internet can be more vulnerable to delays and quality problems caused by network congestion. It’s better if your provider has its own dedicated network for calls.
Also check how regularly they measure the quality of their connections (in technical terms, this is how often they check the ‘latency’ and ‘packet loss’ of calls).
If they’re monitoring these items constantly, they’ll be able to identify and fix problems faster.
4. Do you issue telephone numbers?
Check whether the VoIP provider can issue phone numbers itself, or whether it sources them from another operator.
If the numbers are sourced from elsewhere, taking numbers to another provider in future could be more complicated.
It’s easy to look up the issuer of a phone number online.
5. Are you reselling another company’s solution?
Many VoIP providers simply sell on a service that is run by another company. It’s hard to tell when this is the case, except by asking outright.
In general, it’s best to have direct contact with the company that actually runs the service. It can take longer to resolve problems if you buy through a reseller, because you always have to deal with a middleman.
6. What phones will be supplied?
These days, most VoIP services can be hooked up to desk phones, so your employees can dial out and receive calls as normal. They don’t need to know that calls are being routed over the internet.
Most suppliers will provide phones from reputable manufacturers like Cisco, Polycom and Mitel. Watch for companies that supply phones that are poor quality or soon to be superseded. These can be harder to replace if they break.
7. What are the call rates?
As a guide, it should cost less than 1p a minute to call UK landlines. UK mobiles should come in below 6p per minute.
For most businesses, it’s best to find a provider offering no minimum charges, no call set up fees, and with per-second billing.
If a provider’s rates seem very low, check who carries the call traffic. Some super-cheap services use lower-quality call carriers. And that can result in lower-quality calls.
8. How long is the contract?
There’s not much point in signing for more than 12 months unless there is a significant financial advantage.
The VoIP market is still moving fairly quickly, so if you lock in for longer you could miss out if services that are more affordable or with better features become available.
9. Can we add or remove users?
VoIP is meant to be flexible, and that should extend to the number of people using it. If your business grows, it’s important you can add extra people to the system.
And if things go the other way — or you operate a seasonal business — you won’t want to be paying for capacity you’re not using.
10. What does the control panel look like?
Most VoIP systems will offer an online control panel (they might call it a ‘portal’). You can sign in to this to set up the system the way you want it.
Ask the provider to give you a proper demonstration of this control panel before you sign up. If it’s easy to use, this can be a good indication that you’re dealing with a supplier willing to invest in its customer experience.
On the other hand, if it’s hard to achieve even simple tasks, think twice before committing.
Overall, VoIP is an attractive prospect for many businesses. But as with any major investment, it pays to ask the right questions.
Finally, always remember that the cheapest package may not be best for your business in the long term.
Copyright © 2014 Dave Millet, Equinox