For many years it’s been taken as read to run a business means buying or renting a telephone system with telephone lines, either ISDN or analogue.

I remember when ISDN arrived, it was so flaky we set up another business to promote ISDN connected telephone systems, just in case it was a flop !. With millions of taxpayer pounds put into the development it eventually refined down to the product we know today. 

Like ISDN (due to start phasing out around 2020) for me, VoIP was an embryonic product in 2006. Back then Portel were lucky enough to be in a position to start developing our ‘flavour’ of the service, eventually producing a commercial system by 2008.

ISDN and traditional analogue lines are a tough act to follow, especially when clients start getting wrapped up in the technology rather than the benefits of VoIP. Voice over the Internet Protocol phone systems have been produced in the main by the ‘community’ rather than some huge corporation. The take up was initially ragged especially as some systems were rushed to market incomplete. Now everyone’s on the bandwagon many giving the impression they are the market leaders and developers of the product which is patently not true. It’s been a Worldwide effort to get the protocol just right and I’m pleased to say it’s been right for quite some time.

The biggest failure of VoIP is down to Broadband providers, in the past they could get away with poor quality BB with lots of drop-outs. VoIP needs a 100% service all of the time forcing the providers to actually deliver what clients were paying for. Cable Companies have led the way, they (usually) provide fast reliable service connecting customers via new end to end fibre rather than trying to push service down fifty-year-old copper cables.

Why buy VoIP ? quite simply it’s down to cost. If you run 8 phone lines the cost can be anywhere from £500 to £1000 per annum before you put a key in the door, it could mean having to sell £5000 worth of goods and services just to pay a year’s line rentals, not a great proposition but something we business folk have had to suck up over the years. With VoIP, you only need a Broadband connection, this may be an existing BB or a new one just for phones, that’s down to the engineer you will need to talk to before doing anything. Notice I said engineer not salesperson, there is a difference !.

The Technical Bit

Each phone takes about 130 Kb/s of space on the broadband, if your service has an ‘up-speed’ bandwidth of 5 Mb/s you could fit about 38 concurrent telephone calls up the one broadband, the equivalent of renting 38 telephone lines that’s avoiding paying just under £5000 (at the top end) in traditional line rentals, now is it starting to make sense ?. You can check your own up-speed bandwidth using one of the free web based services such as speedtest.net, you are not interested in the down speed just the up speed of the link. If you are a one-person business it’s an easy step to add a VoIP phone to your existing BB and start working immediately.

What’s required

Any VoIP provider worth their salt offers a Cloud & Office based service. As a rough rule of thumb if you are looking for five or less handsets then Cloud based is probably going to be for you. Anything more, it’s wise to have a VoIP system installed into your own offices, again talk to a qualified engineer first

Two different methods of being connected, in reality, they’re exactly the same, instead of all the phones chatting to the Cloud system they chat to the on-site system so reducing the need for a big up speed / bandwidth.

Direct Cloud Connection

Excellent if the number of phones does not exceed the bandwidth available as each phone needs to talk to ‘mother’ all the time, if your call sounds like Norman Collier, all broken up, it’s due to the bandwidth being insufficient for the amount of phones (and computers) using the broadband at that moment in time. It’s cheaper to use the Cloud service as there’s no on-site unit to pay for (plus an annual maintenance contract), if you can, go Cloud. It may mean investing in a separate broadband just for the phones but it’s still less than renting lots of traditional phone lines or having a ‘box’ on site.

On-Site System

A school will have lots of telephones but only a few will be in use all the time, snag is all the phones need to chat to the Cloud based system all the time so have a unit on site (five phone rule) as then the phones chat to the on-site box and only the phones making calls to landline or mobile numbers are using up bandwidth.

Surgeries MUST have a unit on site, if the broadband fails departments can still talk to each other internally or have analogue drop-back lines built into the unit so ‘business’ as usual. If you work in a surgery do not entertain Cloud-only connections its lethal, a hybrid system must be used, ignore this advice at your cost !.

Obviously if your school, surgery or business is using less than five phones then probably the direct Cloud connection is for you, if the broadband fails you can shout to each other !.

Cost

Now we are getting to the main part ! A Cloud connection should cost nothing you should only pay for any numbers you have hosted. A business with twenty telephones making no outbound calls should receive a monthly invoice for one hosted number of exactly £3.00 + VAT. Most providers offer you between ten and fifty telephone lines for free, you should not be paying per-line, per-seat charges, if you are, switch providers.

Examples: You are a home based business with one VoIP phone plugged into your home broadband taking incoming calls only, you have one phone number attached so the monthly bill will be £3.60. 

You are a business with eighty phones attached to a unit based in your main offices, you make lots of internal calls as your phones are spread over many offices / home offices around the UK or maybe abroad. You have two phone numbers and make no outgoing calls your bill should be £7.20 including VAT. You will also be paying for annual on-site maintenance on the phone system which should include all visits to site.

Obviously we all make ‘outside’ calls, expect to pay around a penny per minute for 01,02 & 03 numbers and around 6ppm to talk to UK mobiles, it varies from supplier to supplier some offer cheaper calls but nip you with a line or per seat charge, remember £5.00 line/seat charge is the equivalent of 500 one minute calls !. Some offer a bundle including ‘free’ minutes but as we say ‘oop North’ you don’t get a quart in a pint pot (go figure the metric for that one !).

 

Points to check before ordering

1.    Is your existing broadband good enough to use for calls as well as computers

2.   Ask for a monthly total cost excluding ‘outside’ call costs

3.   Check the length of the contract, things change fast, don’t get tied into a long contract unless there’s a financial advantage 12 to 60 months max

4.   At the end of the period who owns the equipment

5.   Cost of maintenance for the on-site equipment, including site visits

6.   What’s the cost of any additional visits to site / do you have to do the fixes

7.   If your business is a Surgery or other critical service check to see what the disaster recovery set up is, for example the on-site system drop’s back to analogue lines or a 4G connection to allow continuation of service. DR is most critical, get it wrong and you could be left holding your P45 get it right and you will a hero, actually they just expect you to get it right every time !

So now you know everything about VoIP, it’s here, your competitors already use it (oh yes they do !) and now you need to make time to reduce overheads whilst decreasing the gap between you and your customers, so get cosy with Voice over the Internet Protocol as it’s here to stay…well until the next ‘big thing’ arrives !!

If you need to know what the next steps are please give me a call, as LinkedIn just told me I have been with the company since 1981 so I do know a bit about telecoms !!