Why Use VoIP Services for Your Business Phone?

January 20, 2009

in communication

by David Strom

If you have a cable modem or DSL line, you already have most of what you need to set up what is called a voice over IP (VoIP) line. This is a new kind of phone service that works over the Internet. All you need is to subscribe to one of the service providers — Vonage is probably the most well-known — for a small monthly fee of around $30.

The providers send you a small box that you connect first to your network, and then to an ordinary telephone. Some of the boxes support two lines, if that is important to you.

I like my VoIP line for two simple reasons: First, I can carry it with me, wherever I live or work. I now live in St. Louis, but have a line with a 310 area code that shows that I started my office in California. You can actually have multiple numbers with different area codes all ring the same physical phone line for an additional small monthly fee, if you have clients all around the country and want to offer them the convenience of a local inbound call.

Second, you have unlimited local and North American long distance calls using these lines. Some even offer cheap international calls as well. There are no extra or hidden fees that will surprise you on your monthly bill!

Finally, you get a whole bunch of features that you normally have to pay the local phone company extra for – things like call forwarding, voicemail, call waiting, caller ID with name display – and all at no additional charge. You also get a bunch of services that previously were only available for business users such as your phone ringing in multiple locations, so an incoming call can be answered where it is most convenient, having your voice mail sent as an email attachment, and “follow me” services where an incoming call can be routed to particular numbers in a particular sequence.

There are three different types of business VoIP service. The first is the most basic and inexpensive, and just basically what any consumer can get for one or two phone lines. Packet8.com and Vonage.com have plans here.

The next step up from these plans are ones from what is called a “hosted service” that is provided by VirtualPBX.com, M5Net.com, Bandwidth.com and numerous others. Basically, those providers rent you space on their systems and connect up your offices via high-speed Internet lines. They typically start at several hundred dollars a month but also include a high-speed Internet connection that you can use for other applications such as Web and email.

The most expensive level is buying your own Internet voice PBX, or phone switch. That can cost more than $1,000 for the switch, and more than $500 a month for the various plans, and is designed for larger offices. D-Link offers less expensive switches but require configuration and help from a consultant.

David Strom is an expert on Internet and networking technologies who was the former editor-in-chief at Network Computing, Tom’s Hardware.com, and DigitalLanding.com. He currently writes regularly for PC World, Baseline Magazine, and the New York Times and is also a professional speaker, podcaster and blogs at strominator.com and WebInformant.tv.