VoIP or Voice over Internet Protocol, is a phone service that operates over the Internet. It creates a digital signal from an incoming or outgoing call. After this, it converts that signal to reach members who are not using VoIP. This cloud-based solution allows you to receive calls from a VoIP phone, any phone with a VoIP adaptor, mobile hotspot, or computer.
There are two basic kinds of softphone: a "fat" phone that's coded to run only on a full-fledged PC be that a Windows, Mac, or Linux machine. This software needs a real desktop or laptop CPU and all the other accouterments associated with a full-on PC in order to perform its functions. The other kind of softphone is one designed for a mobile device. Mobile VoIP clients are "slimmer" than a desktop softphone, which really just means they're designed to look a little different and probably have a few less features since mobile devices aren't as powerful as desktop machines. But if you're looking to run your home phone off your mobile phone wherever you are, then a mobile softphone is definitely the ticket; so be sure to investigate whether you residential VoIP provider offers a dedicated mobile client, whether that client will run on your mobile device, and how much it'll add to your monthly service charge.
On the physical side, you'll also need to plan for providing Ethernet drops to any new desktop phones you'll be placing on user desks, or even adding capacity to your Wi-Fi network should you decide to use wireless calling. For many organizations a separate network is often winds up being the preferred solution. If that's what happens in your case, you'll need a separate VoIP gateway. You'll also need security that understands voice protocols, and you'll need to have switches and routers that understand VoIP, too. By the time you've covered all those bases, a separate network is often the more effective solution rather than attempting to not only install but also integrate that much new equipment into an existing LAN.
Fortunately, most of the providers reviewed here have engineering staff that will contact you as part of your setup process to help your IT staffers test and optimize your network prior to deploying their solutions. That's definitely something we recommend, but there are steps you can take now to prep your LAN for VoIP and make the deployment process that much easier.
Our editors have researched and tested hundreds of systems, filtering out industry leading business phone services with the highest levels of reliability, backed by unparalleled customer service, and aggressive price points. The small business VoIP providers we've featured below offer custom packages for any budget, dedicated support reps, competitive pricing, and a fully managed, hands-on approach to getting your new business VoIP system up and running in the shortest possible time. Compare these providers below, some of which are from our partners, to find the right one for you.
If you're wondering what you get with a softphone that you won't with a standard phone handset, then that depends on the service. Business-class softphones offer all kinds of features related to online meeting collaboration, call routing, multi-line conference calling, and more. From a residential VoIP perspective, you'll most often find video conferencing (though more and more this is becoming a separate product from most providers), a voicemail-to-text converter, detailed call records, and user controls for users other than yourself. Some services also offer faxing, text chat, and call metering so you can see how much you're spending.
Now that so many people are working from home, keeping your business' voice communications organized and centralized can be tricky. Fortunately, that's where cloud-served voice over IP (VoIP) providers can shine. With cloud VoIP (sometimes called a cloud PBX system), you can move direct extensions to new geographical locations simply by clicking a mouse. Devices can also change with similar ease either with a software download or simply by re-configuring call forwarding. With many of these systems also adding a wide variety of team collaboration features, cloud VoIP is probably the best COVID-19 investment a business can make.
However, you may also want features like on-hold music, call queues, voicemail to email translation, and automatic answering and forwarding of calls. If all of the employees are working out of the office, you can use the automatic attendant to determine which employee should receive the call. The attendant then can route the call to that employee’s mobile phone.
Still the pandemic won't last forever so keeping in mind core VoIP criteria is important, too. That means providing voice communications for employees at their desks. VoIP systems may also need to support a call center for sales, customer service, and support; and they often need to connect with and through a host of other communications channels, such as fax machines, video conferencing, conference calling, mobile communications, wireless handsets, and text messaging. On top of that, they're often expected to provide more advanced functionality through software, like shared meeting collaboration, voicemail to email transcription, and call recording. And lest we forget, many businesses still need a service that will connect to public switched telephone network (PSTN).
Unless you’re running a major business out of your house, chances are you won’t need or be interested in the ability to do video conferencing with dozens of people at the same time. The same goes for an auto attendant and business software integrations. First decide which features are priorities for you (unlimited calling, voicemail-to-email, international calling plans, etc.) and then take a look at what each company offers. After all, there’s no sense in paying for features that you don’t need.
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.