Elvis Costello once wrote, "I'm not a telephone Junky. I thought I told you that when we were just good friends." Well, now you're business partners, so, junky or not, you've got to get on that phone. The problem is that a business phone plan can get pricey. You're already paying for your office space and/or store front, your employees and other overheads, like internet. What's that? You've got the internet? Well, then you can save a boatload on your phone service with a VoIP, or Voiceover Internet Protocol. It works the same as a regular phone service, but it uses your existing internet connection to move your voice to the customer or client on the other end of the line–whether they're on a LAN line, a cell phone, or a VoIP of their own.
A Different Way To Charge
With Phonepower's simple system tiers, you pay for your VoIP service by number of extensions and years contracted. So, you can spend a little more to test their network, or go all in and save big. Whatever plan you choose, Phonepower offers unlimited minutes, a free second line, voicemail to text, and support seven days a week, all for as little as $22.99/month.
There's a great iPhone app, as well, that allows you to access all the features of your VoIP service from the road. Got an Android device, or worse yet, a Windows phone? Well, you're out of luck for now, as Phonepower only has an app for Apple users.
A Fork In The Road Should Only Have Two Prongs
Who needs tiers when you can offer two options, and two options alone? Viatalk doesn't waste your time having you compare and contrast a million different plans. Instead, they offer every feature with each of their two platforms, the only difference being a 1500 minute package or a package with unlimited minutes. If you know your business averages under 1500 minutes each month, you get a ton of great features for a great price. If you're close to 1500 minutes, the 1.9 cent per minute charge after that might just push you into the unlimited level.
Among those great features available at both levels are web call logs, remote voicemail access, call recording, a free second line, and a feature that automatically forwards calls to a designated cell phone if your internet or power ever goes down.
A Rather Bewitching Idea For A Phone System
Picture John Proctor bellowing the line "It is my name!" in Arthur Miller's Witch Hunt allegory The Crucible. The man did not want to sacrifice his identity, even to save his life. So, too, do you not want to sacrifice the phone number with which you've built your business. It's a part of your identity, though no one's going to hang you if you refuse to give up your phone number.
But you shouldn't have to give up your number, and one of the great things about Grasshopper's VoIP service is that you can keep your old number for free. You get multiple extensions, transcribed voicemail, conference calling, custom vanity numbers (if you do choose to save your neck and sacrifice your number), all with a 30-day guarantee.
The catch? The only plans with a reasonable amount of minutes are much more expensive than the competition, including some LAN line toll free services that offer comparable features.
Big Time Features, Small Time Minutes
A few VoIP providers boast some interesting proprietary software, and Phone.com has a cool little piece of tech called Communicator. Basically, it can turn any desktop into a fully functional phone, so you don't need to have that big ugly brick of an SIP-enabled phone taking up valuable desk real estate.
Standard features like custom greetings, voicemail to email, and others are all accounted for, but Phone.com fails to offer a sustainable package for larger businesses. Their highest level only offers 1000 minutes per month, with a 3.9 cent per minute charge after that.
How Many Lines Can You Carry?
If you're new to the VoIP setup, you might have no idea what the internet bandwidth in your business can actually handle. That's why Ringcentral offers you the use of their connection capacity utility, which is specifically designed to let you know how many VoIP lines you can operate at once with your current internet speed.
If that wasn't enough, the prices from Ringcentral can't be beaten. You get the same amount of minutes here for $45 monthly that you'd pay $200 for from other providers. The standard features you've come to expect are all here, as well as call parking and transferring, dial-by-name directory, and great integration for Google, Outlook, and Skype, all with a 30-day free trial.
Be careful about which plan you grab depending on your business size, though. There are hidden user limitations in the fine print.
Nearing Perfection By Keeping It Simple
If Cloud Phone is known for anything, it's their simplicity. They offer very straightforward pricing and setup, as well as a simple, effective app for iPhone and Android platforms. Any and all on-network calls are always free, and you can connect desktop phones to mobile devices through a simultaneous ring function. That way, if you're away from your desk on a bathroom break, you can still answer an important call. Just make sure you wash your hands before answering.
If there's a drawback in Cloud Phone's system, it's that you only get one voicemail box to connect to an email address. Provided you have more than one important person in your company receiving emails on the go, you're going to have to incur additional costs to get them connected.
Business VOIP Services: In-Depth
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, and maybe I’m clinging to vestiges of a soon-to-be forgotten present, but I’m of a mind that business is best conducted through a medium that conveys some level of human emotional context. Of course, a VoIP system requires an internet connection to provide that human emotional context, but that’s perfectly okay. The means are far less important than the contact itself.
There are, however, a few noteworthy concerns about VoIP systems that are worth tackling as we go about the business of getting you in touch with the right provider.
A common misconception about Murphy’s Law is the notion that it’s a negative principal. It’s usually quoted as, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” That makes for a great standard if you’re trying to write an action film script, but it’d be a real pain in the neck if it were a truth in our daily existence. Still...
- What if the internet goes down?
- What if the power goes out?
- Do I need to buy all new phones?
- Can my internet handle the system?
These are all reasonable fears, so let’s tackle them in a way that can guide us toward finding the perfect VoIP fit for your business.
The Office In Your Pocket
Let’s talk about failure, baby. Let’s talk about you and me…and the rest of your clients all of whom are trying to contact you in the middle of a massive power outage. Without the internet, do these systems simply fail?
Well, that wouldn’t be a very good business model for them, especially in competition with phone companies who never fail with your power unless the office that’s linked to your home also loses power.
As long as the phone company has power, it will supply your telephone with the menial 6-12 volts at about 30 milliamps it needs to operate.
To prevent this from being a big competitive advantage for the phone company, VoIP providers regularly ping your system to test for its responsiveness. If it suddenly doesn’t respond due to a power outage or simply a break in the internet company’s provision, they will automatically forward your calls to one or more designated cell phones, or at least provide customers with an outgoing message apologizing for the temporary delay in contact.
That’s not where the use of your mobile device stops either. Comprehensive call logs, voicemail to email, and call parking are just some of the features included with certain provider's mobile apps. Be careful here, though, as at least one of the providers on our list only caters to iPhone and iPad users, with no app currently available for Android and Windows phone folks. Yes, Windows phone is still a thing…for now.
Necessary Upgrades: Unnecessary Evil
New technologies often come with mandatory hardware adaptations on the user end.
But that doesn’t mean change is always necessary. Depending on the size of your business and the provider you choose, you might not have to acquaint yourself with what’s called a Session Initiation Protocol, or SIP-enabled phone. Basically these phones are prepped and ready to have a VoIP provider assign them a specific address for routing purposes between the VoIP’s internet protocol (IP) and the business’ private branch exchange (PBX).
Now, that applies more to on-site VoIP stuff where extra hardware is installed on the premises of the business to ensure greater speed and reliability. As bandwidth possibilities and speeds have increased over the years, most providers (every one on our top six, for example) have switched to hosting all the hardware themselves.
That means you can choose a provider from the top spots on our list and they will not force you into buying any additional gear. You can use any touch-tone phone you have at your disposal, though a phone designed around the VoIP interface much more easily accesses certain VoIP features. If you want to get your hands on one of those phones, VoIP providers tend to offer package deals with hardware included.
And The Bandwidth Played On
Even with my old world patience, I get antsy when all those bits of data take their sweet time traveling through all those internet tubes.
You might be concerned that your internet speed isn’t fast enough to handle the kind of traffic a VoIP system would kick up. It’s true that such a system does require a portion of your overall internet picture, but I think you’ll find it pretty agreeable. One of our listed providers even has a calculator that can tell you how many lines can operate at once, even in conjunction with active streaming sites like YouTube or Netflix.
At the end of the day, VoIP systems offer you the same features as any LAN-based system can, often with additional information provided in ways only the internet can. What’s more, it’s almost always less expensive than the plans offered by phone company competition. So, get online and start talking.