Planning the jump to IP telephony? Here are the top 4 things to consider making a decision for a VoIP system.
There's no disputing that IP telephony is now the go-to platform for business and personal telecommunications. Although there's a slightly higher outlay of cash upfront for hardware and setup if you choose an on-site IP system over a digital system, the overall savings and increased efficiency provide a higher ROI. Other advantages include:
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- Greater mobility
- Lower maintenance cost
- Lower overhead expenses
- Lower cost per call
- Multi-media teleconferencing capabilities
- Better sound quality
If you haven't yet made the switch from a digital to an IP-based telecommunications system, or you just want to upgrade your current system, here are the five things you need to look at before choosing a system or service provider.
WHY AM I SWITCHING?
There's no doubt that savings and increased productivity are the main benefits to choosing a VoIP system, but making an informed decision requires you to look a little deeper before making that commitment. Are you increasing your mobile workforce or expanding regionally? Are you opening up your market overseas? Is cost a factor? How you answer these questions will help you decide which type of service and features you need, and it may affect your overall cost as well.
HOSTED OR ON-PREMISES?
As with many web hosting services, VoIP service providers also divide up their services into three basic categories: hosted systems, managed systems and on-premises systems.
With a hosted system, your company buys the actual IP phones, and leases all other equipment from the service provider. This is usually the budget option, as it requires a minimal investment up-front, no maintenance worries and lower initial monthly expenses overall. The disadvantage is that you will be responsible for the cost of upgrades and you have less flexibility. This is considered the avenue of choice for small business owners.
Purchasing all of the equipment and installing the infrastructure for on-premises system will increase your up-front costs, and you will also be responsible for all system maintenance, as well as hardware and software upgrades. The benefits include customization and lower cost over the life of the service. If you have a large corporation or extraordinary communications requirements, this is the most cost-effective way to go in the end.
This an intelligent 3rd-way choice that offers the customization of an on-premises system without the financial and staff burden of system maintenance, upgrades and administration. With this option, you still have to invest in purchasing the equipment, but the service provider is responsible for keeping it running.
CUSTOMER SUPPORT AND THE FINE PRINT
Aside from the ratio of cost versus maintenance, and who is responsible for what, you should also look at the customer support details that vary widely from provider to provider. For example, does the company allow you try to service before signing a contract, and how long is the free trial? Is there a fee attached for canceling the service, and is that fee for any time during the contract period, or only up to the first 30 days? Is there a penalty for cancellation? Will you have to pay off the entire contract if you decide to cancel after a certain period of time? Is help desk support included, and when is it available? These are things you need to know before you agree to a provider.
Although every company that offers VoIP service has different packages for different levels of service, the availability of features in their standard packages differs greatly. Nearly all of the major VoIP service providers offer the same basic features: emergency calling, call forwarding and call waiting. However, if you need additional features, like mobile service, phone software/upgrades and SIP support, you should be aware that only about half of the top providers offer these services as standard with their basic contract, some will give you certain features as add-ons with an additional fee, and only one or two of the most popular services offer all of them. Just two providers include SMS in their standard plan, and only half of the providers rated offered call recording, voicemail transcription and speed dialing.
Another example of the differences in standard service: of the top 10 IP telephony services providers rated by PC Magazine, all of them have a maximum limit on group call participants that ranges from 3 to 1,000; which of these services you choose depends on the type of business you own and the average number of participants you teleconference with on a regular basis. If you host online or remote seminars as part of your service, you'll need a system that can accommodate a larger volume; if you meet with a small sales force at irregular intervals, you can go with less.
Donald Burns on Medium is an example of how telecommunications companies are reaching out to customers to continually improve the quality of their products and services. VoIP systems are setting the standard for efficient, seamless communications for home or office. There are a lot of systems and service providers on the market, but knowing your requirements ahead of time will help you narrow down your options considerably.
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