Is it a noun? Is it a verb? Do you have to VoIP? Do you order one VoIP please?
As the changed workplace we find ourselves settles into a normality, the way we communicate has changed dramatically. Once the preserve of self-conscious family conversations over a social media platform at Christmas, internet-based phone calls have become the norm.
As the heavy, complex machine that is BT grinds towards switching off the traditional UK phone network in 2025, most large companies are looking seriously at their telecoms contracts. With this in mind, we will briefly run over the top things to bear in mind when starting discussions with new providers, and give some background of the VoIP sector.
You may have heard the acronym, but not known what it stood for – VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. Although the current circumstances of remote and hybrid working due to the pandemic, combined with the UK national infrastructure changing, means many are now paying attention, the underpinning technology isn’t actually all that new. The very first VoIP phone call was made in 1973. It was delivered over ARPANET, the fore-runner to the modern internet, which was created as a research project in the late 60’s.
One of the main differences between the ‘traditional’ phone set up, and a VoIP, ‘internet-based’ phone set up, is in the delivery. The ‘traditional’ UK phone service delivers calls over copper wires, from a physical device located at one geographical location, to another device, at another location. A VoIP service uses internet connectivity in place of copper wires, and essentially delivers calls from one internet user to another. There doesn’t need to be a physical device ‘in the loop’. Many people use a softphone, which is an app running on a smartphone or desktop PC. If there is a physical VoIP phone, it is not tied to any particular geographical location. It can be picked up and moved anywhere. As long as it has an internet connection, it will function exactly the same, no matter where it is.
VoIP converts the sound of your voice into a digital signal, transmitted over the internet in packets to the other person. This removes the need for a physical, copper wire connection between the two users. The introduction of the first mainstream VoIP phone systems in the mid to late 90’s started a revolution in communications. But it wasn’t perfect. It did offer a move from traditional phones to using downloadable software, but it required that users all use the same software for making and receiving calls. If you wanted to call someone who didn’t have the same set up as you then the call would fail.
Things have moved on since then. A VoIP user can call landline and mobile numbers, and call from one VoIP Provider to another.
Not only did VoIP reach a comparison with traditional phones, it arguably surpassed them. Certainly from a cost perspective, it made calls less expensive. If you made a lot of international calls, it saved you even more. It can also save the costs of hardware, if you opt for a softphone. These cost a lot less than a physical phone.
As internet is now a business essential, a good connection is a top priority, and using this for your phone calls as well simplifies things. Using the same supplier for both pairs down your supply chain, with fewer contacts, invoices and contracts to worry about.
So – I’ve convinced you, and you are now ready to rush out and grab the nearest VoIP Provider you can find.
Before you do so, there are some questions you should have in mind.
1) Does the Provider support a variety of types of hardware?
It is not uncommon for providers to be tied to a particular brand or make, however this greatly reduces your choices as a customer. When they advise you of the best choice for your hardware, they may be choosing the best choice available to them, and not the best choice available to you.
Unless there is an over-riding need pushing towards a proprietary set up, we advise looking for something more independent. It simply gives you more options.
2) Do they provide assistance with set up?
If you are a non-technical person, this is something you should pay attention to. Like anything IT related, or in fact, any field where you require a qualification to work in, there are bound to be issues which you won’t think about, and probably won’t know about until you find out the hard way.
Something which will be helpful to you, whether or not you know your way round IT, is hardware being preconfigured. Going round desks inputting settings into lots of phones, or worse yet, having to travel between staff working remotely, is really going to ruin your week.
Having hardware preconfigured ready for users is an important point, and should be one of the things you check as you go through the enquiry process.
3) Do they provide ongoing support?
Again, this is particularly useful for non-technical people, but is handy for everyone. Does the Provider give access to any kind of technical support or advice? How accessible is this, if the provide it? Do you have to email in, or can you discuss issues in a phone call? What about if their office is closed for the day? Do you have any options? This is worth bearing in mind – after all, your own customer phone calls rely on your new VoIP system. If this fails you are effectively cutting off a major communications avenue for your customers.
4) Do they help you port any existing numbers?
If you already have a phone number that’s known to your customers, then you will want to retain this with your new phone system. The process of transferring this number between Providers is known as ‘Porting’. By using your existing number, your customers will be able to contact you on the number they know and associate with your company, and your company won’t need to change business cards, website info or stationery. Porting can be bit of a minefield for the uninitiated, so make sure they will assist you with this.
5) How reliable is their service?
This is a question which seems straight forward, but actually touches on a number of deeper issues.
Firstly, do they actually tell you how reliable their service is? In facts and figures? A Provider which publishes an ‘Uptime’ report on their website is being transparent, and has nothing to hide. Whereas, a Provider who can’t tell you the figures either doesn’t know, or doesn’t want you to know. Either of these should ring an alarm bell when checking out prospective Providers.
Secondly, this gives an indication of their ‘behind-the-scenes’ network. How robust is the system that is delivering your phone calls? This is a perfectly valid question to ask. Your phone calls are a valuable resource. Not answering a call may not allow you to communicate, but it does send a message. The message is ‘try somewhere else’. Anything that is ‘business’-critical’ has to be treated seriously. You want your phone calls to be delivered over a robust infrastructure, with quality and resilience built-in. Don’t be afraid to ask about the Provider’s network when your discussing a potential service with them.
So – there we have it. A brief rundown of the background of the technology, and 5 simple questions.
If you are looking at VoIP for your company, or even your own home, you’ll be in a better place to judge what’s on offer with this handy guide.