As VoIP services become more popular the number of providers is growing. On the one hand, this is great because competition drives price down and choice up. On the downside, deciding on the right option for your needs can be devilishly tricky. Here are some of our tips for making a VOIP providers comparison.
It’s all about you
Before you go looking, think about yourself and what you need. Ask yourself these questions:
- How much am I willing to spend? Prices can vary considerably so set a clear budget.
- How many people will be using the service? How many callers will you need and will they be making calls at the same time? This will give you a good idea of your call requirements.
- What features will I want? VoIP offers all sorts of attractive features such as call forwarding, video conferencing, voicemail to email and integration with other services. You’ll be looking for VoIP providers who offer the right collection of services for your requirements.
- How quickly will it grow? Businesses evolve over time, so you’ll want to think about a system which not only works for the business as it looks today but can scale with it as it grows.
Armed with this information you can now plunge into the VoIP market to find a provider which best matches your needs.
Cloud-based hosted versus onsite PBX
One of the key comparisons will be between a cloud-based or on-premises service. Cloud services are generally much cheaper to install. There’s no need to buy hardware or manage the installation. All you’ll need is a voice gateway as well as headsets or phones, which may be provided as part of the package.
You will then pay an ongoing subscription fee based on the number of users you have and the features you want. Most will offer a tiered structure which sees you paying a little more in order to bolt on more advanced features. For example, basic options may cover fundamental call needs while the most expensive services may connect with other systems such as your administration system.
Packages can be flexible and will grow with your organisation. If your business expands you can add more users to your plan. Equally, if it scales down you can reduce users to ensure you’re never overpaying.
An onsite PBX, on the other hand, can be more expensive and you will be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the system. However, this gives you complete control over your telephony system locked within a private network. It can be more secure and also has lower running costs once it’s up and running.
Your decision may depend on where you are in your business lifecycle. If you’re a start-up with limited capacity for investment infrastructure, you may choose to outsource to a cloud-based provider. A larger business, on the other hand, may choose an onsite option.
One of the most important considerations will be call quality. This will depend, to a large part, on the quality of your overall internet connection. High bandwidth options will be able to handle all your traffic with no reduction of quality, but if you’re using a more basic ADSL connection, quality may be affected because you are sharing the data.
You could consider installing a separate internet connection dedicated only to your VoIP calls. This means call quality will not be impacted by other internet activity. Obviously, this will come at an additional cost.
You might also look at the technology which is used by the provider to transmit the data. The CODEC turns the analogue voice data into digital data which can travel over the internet. When it reaches its destination, it is then translated back into analogue data to complete the journey. The quality of CODEC being used will impact voice quality, but most should use the highest quality CODEC such as G711 to deliver high and consistent quality.
Uptime is also a good indication of quality. This denotes the amount of time the service is available. Ask to see historic data about their uptime performance to get an idea of how reliable the service might be.
Most providers will also make bold claims about the quality of the service they can offer, but this will not always translate into reality. All sorts of conditions may impact the real-world experience including the speed of your connection and local network characteristics. Equally, some providers may simply not be as good or as reliable as they advertise.
This is a problem if you sign a long-term contract because getting out of this could be expensive. You’ll be faced with a choice between soldiering on with a substandard service or paying a cancellation fee, so you want some reassurance that you’re going to get the level of service you’re promised.
There are various ways you can do this:
- An uptime guarantee: This commits a provider to offering the level of uptime they promise.
- Service level agreements (SLAs): You’ll sign an agreement committing the provider to deliver an agreed level of service. If they fail to do this they will be in breach of the agreement.
- Trial periods: Many providers will offer a trial period during which time you can cancel the service with no penalties. This is a sign of a company that is willing to stand by the quality of its service.
When things go wrong
If something goes wrong, you need a provider who will be there for you. Ask about what levels of support they provide and when they are available. If a problem hits you after 5pm, you want to feel comfortable you can get things working again before business opens on the next day. Check when it is available and what level of support they are willing to provide.
Redundancy measures will also be important to ensure you can continue making and receiving calls even if the internet connection fails. A good provider will allow for redundancy and ensure calls can continue if the connection fails. For example, they may forward calls to mobile phones or another line if the internet is unavailable.
VOIP providers comparisons
There are a host of factors which will influence your decision. You’re looking for a package that fits your budget and offers the range of features you need; a provider who is flexible around your requirements, is backed by good technology and will be there to help when things go wrong. By carrying out a VOIP providers comparison, you can give yourself the best chance of finding the ideal service for your business.