Should your business switch to internet telephony

Switching your business calls to run over the internet instead of a landline, could save money. Technology Editor Guy Matthews explains

Does your business still rely on making and receiving phone calls over traditional hard-wired landlines? If so then you’re opting out of the potential of internet telephony. Technically known as ‘voice over IP’ (VoIP), internet telephony bypasses landline connections and routes calls through an adapter device linked to your regular broadband connection. For small businesses, IP telephony typically offers a reasonably high level of service quality, with a host of features thrown in and all at a cost likely to be competitive when contrasted with common alternatives.

So what are the options? If you have a VoIP connection through Skype, now owned by Microsoft, you can call other Skype users anywhere in the world for free, paying only when you want to call outside the network, which you can do for substantially less money than over an ordinary phone line. Video calls are also offered as part of the basic service. No expensive handsets or additional hardware is needed, as all calls are routed through your computer.

“A measurable drop in telephony costs should certainly be perceptible right away. If your business makes a lot of international calls, this saving will be especially obvious.”

Call quality

The quality of calls on Skype can vary from crystal clear to muffled. For this reason it is seen by many as sufficient for domestic use, but unsuitable for a customer-facing small business. A hosted IP telephony service may be a more appropriate solution here. In this case, the service provider gives you everything you need for a monthly charge. You can also opt to have a solution installed in your office. The seller can also show you how it works and come and fix it if it malfunctions.

Services such as Vonage allow you to call using any device in any broadband-connected location for a monthly rate. In this way, you can use your smartphone to make low-cost international calls over the office Wi-Fi. If you currently operate a company switchboard or PBX (private branch exchange), then a VoIP service provider may let you scrap it in favour of PBX functionality hosted as a software service in the cloud. This makes it easy to add new extensions or bring a new office online. Indeed, with ‘softphone’ functionality, you can make your VoIP calls from any location in which your computer can get an internet connection. In theory, this will allow you to virtualise your business and run it from anywhere.

Cost savings and other benefits

Most adopters of internet telephony will be doing so for the cost savings, and a measurable drop in telephony costs should certainly be perceptible right away. If your business makes a lot of international calls, this saving will be especially obvious. There is also the matter of simplicity and inclusivity. Thrown in with a basic subscription should be features like caller ID, call recording, call waiting, call forwarding, internet forwarding, three-way calling and call return. There is also potential for more advanced features like unified messaging, that is, the integration of telephony with email, file-sharing and video conferencing.

This richness in features can play a part in helping a small business appear bigger, an important trick when you are starting up. It also bestows flexibility, such as the freedom to make calls from wherever there is an internet connection. This can make a VoIP service more ubiquitous than even mobile telephony. In short, IP telephony can change the way you run your business.

The benefits of a landline

But it is important to consider the negatives too. In its early days, VoIP was seen as offering poor line quality with a proneness to drop important calls at key moments. Quality of calls and of equipment has improved, but the fallibility of your internet connection may still be a weakness. If your connection is taken down or if the power in your office fails, taking its computers offline, then your ability to make calls goes with it. A standard landline powers itself, so carries on regardless.

If your business needs to make regular calls of a sensitive nature, then be warned that a telephone system that uses the public internet is not automatically secure. If these negatives don’t daunt you, however, then you should start evaluating your internet telephony options immediately.

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK