Voicemail routing can take multiple forms, but they're basically rules you can apply to incoming calls that will automatically route them to voicemail without even causing a ring. For example, if calls come in with Caller ID blocked, those can be routed directly to voicemail. Or if you're simply not into talking to anyone, you can hang out a digital Do Not Disturb sign and route all calls to voicemail, perhaps until you're feeling more social or every day between the hours of 9 PM and 7 AM.
Phone Power is another home VoIP provider that runs its service using an on-premises device. This is called the Home Adapter and like other services, it sits between your phones and your Internet connection, though no other network is required. It can even function as a router on its own. While it's not the cheapest home VoIP solution we found, it's certainly well-regarded and mature with a wide variety of options and capabilities.
Like the rest of us, you probably don't like to get hassled with unwanted phone calls when you’re at home. You can also implement “enhanced call forwarding” to reroute and block the numbers that you specify, without the caller having any idea. You also can set up your phone to block international and directory assistance calls, so they don’t bother you at home.
If that all is starting to sound more complex than it's worth, remember that turning your PBX into a software solution means significant opportunity for flexibility and integration that you simply can't get any other way. After all, programmers can now treat your phone like an app. Where that's taken us is to the fast-changing UCaaS paradigm (more on that below). Here, traditional VoIP providers, like the ones we review as part of this review roundup, provide additional software capabilities that are all implemented and managed from a single, unified console.
The caveat there is the proverbial fine print, usually located just below the really attractive dollar figure. This small print generally details exactly how many months that nice number will remain in effect before the bloom comes off the rose and you start getting billed a much higher number that represents the service's actual cost. Many providers don't even print this higher number on their websites, so be sure to ask the sales guy on the phone before you sign up. The nice number that pulled you in can often double or more once the introductory period wears off. Some providers even attach a minimum length of time that you'll need to suffer these higher costs before you can change or modify the service without getting hit with an additional early-termination penalty fee.
Softphones are increasing in importance in VoIP offerings to the point that for some they're the only choice. They are a critical part of UCaaS and are as common on mobile phones and tablets as they are on desktop PCs. For workers in call centers, softphones are a common tool because of they're the front-end window of any CRM or help desk integration. So, for example, a softphone can combine a telephone conversation with text chat and screen sharing, which means a conversation between two employees can seamlessly add more participants, handle private text chats between those participants while the call is still going on, and extend to a collaboration session in which the group shares screens, documents, and data—no prep, no reserved lines, just button clicks.
Some of that software is running on the provider's servers, but parts of it will be running on your devices, whether that's a PC a mobile phone or a VoIP phone. It's this software layer that provides the rich feature fabric, which along with its lower price, is what's drawing residential customers to the technology. Some of the more popular advanced features you'll find available in a residential service, include:
RingCentral’s VoIP service isn’t the cheapest option right out of the box, but it does include features that other providers charge extra for (such as generous toll-free minutes and unlimited video conferencing). Plus, RingCentral offers price matching on plans with less than 50 lines, so you can rest easy knowing you’re getting the best possible price for your service.
That being said, Grasshopper doesn’t offer any conferencing tools. For that, you’ll have to sign up for join.me—Grasshopper’s sister company. This service offers both video and audioconferencing, but it does cost an extra $10–$30 per month. That’s another strike against Grasshopper, since most providers in Grasshopper’s price range include conferencing features.
PhonePower is one of a handful of VoIP providers that actually specialize in residential VoIP rather than business VoIP. Although PhonePower has many plans, it’s best for calling within the US (including Puerto Rico) and Canada. That’s because it has possibly the cheapest prices in residential VoIP, providing you’re calling solely on local numbers. PhonePower also enables calls abroad, although there are cheaper options such as Vonage if you’re planning on making more than an hour’s worth of calls internationally each month.
That situation is for fairly pristine network and business conditions, however. Companies with legacy equipment or unique business needs may need a hybrid PBX, in which a portion of the voice network remains in the analog world, while the rest is converted to cloud-based VoIP. This could happen if you occupy an older building without the necessary Ethernet infrastructure to support VoIP or if you had custom software built a long time ago that simply isn't compatible with newer phone technologies.
With all the features and functionality Nextiva includes, the fact that no plan exceeds 60 bucks a month is notable. A micro-sized office could get by easily with the bare-bones Office Pro setup, but the advanced features of Office Pro Plus and Office Enterprise are tempting for a few dollars more: the Nextiva mobile voice and video app and the Team Presence status indicator (both included in Office Pro Plus) are useful upgrades, as are call recording and the number-meshing Nextiva Anywhere app (Office Enterprise).
While understanding the basics of VoIP and SIP is important, setting one of these systems up will require some general network knowledge, too. For the best quality, you will need to meet a minimum upstream and downstream data throughput requirement. In addition, you'll also need to meet a minimum latency number (that is, the time between when a signal leaves a remote computer and when your system receives it), typically measured in milliseconds. It is possible to test your network connection to see if it will support a VoIP service. RingCentral offers this service from their website, other vendors like to have their service engineers do it for you.
The products and services in this review roundup are focused on business use and because of this either provide some PBX features or serve as full-on virtual PBXes. This may mean, among other things, that they provide service to telephone sets on your employees' desks. Most also support electronic faxing in some fashion, either directly (which can be a significant challenge for some VoIP services) or by simply integrating an incoming fax with your email system. Other popular features are video conferencing and shared meeting software (so meeting attendees not only hear each other but can present presentations or documents in a shared work space).
One of the most exciting and clear differences between a cloud PBX provider and a standard telephone system is software. Your IT staff will find a host of new software tools to help monitor and manage the system. But what catches most business operators' eyes are two key capabilities that software provides: back-end integration and softphones. The latter is exactly what the name implies, a phone that's rendered entirely in software allowing any compatible device to become a phone as long as it has an internet connection, a speaker, and a microphone. More on that below.
In addition to making sure your internet service can handle your VoIP traffic, you also need to make sure your local area network (LAN) can handle it. What makes network management tricky with VoIP is that if you simply drop it onto your network, that traffic will get processed the same as any other traffic, meaning your shared accounting application or those 20 gigabytes worth of files your assistant just stored in the cloud.
There are some solutions to this issue if you have concerns. The most obvious is to utilize Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS) for those short outages, or a generator if you live somewhere where outages are more common (and for your fridge!). With so many people having cell phones these days most people will not be too concerned with this issue, especially when they consider the money they are saving. Most services include a call forwarding feature so you can always set that up to go to your cell phone so you do not miss important calls.