VoIP (pronounced “Voyp”) stands for “Voice over Internet Protocol” and to make a long story short—it allows you to make calls through your home internet connection. When you make a call with your VoIP system, your voice is converted into data and transmitted to the caller at the other end in the form of high-quality audio. The sound and connection typically are seamless enough to where you won’t even know the call you’ve received is from a VoIP line.
The service's we detail below, however, aren't triple play providers. Every service detailed here is an independent residential VoIP provider that you can use over any broadband internet connection. But while that means their pricing is probably somewhat more transparent than in a triple play scenario, some of them do still obscure the real number you'll wind up paying. This can happen in several ways.
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.
A critical part of the discussion with your IT staff will be whether your existing data network can handle the extra load that will be placed on it by the new phone system. You'll need a network that can handle more advanced network management capabilities, including tools to fight jitter and latency as well as to provide Quality of Service (QoS) and different kinds of network segmentation, especially virtual LANs (VLANs). Only tools like these can help free up your network from too much congestion, which can cause your call quality to decrease or even crash the VoIP system entirely.
Typically, price is one of the most important reasons people opt for residential VoIP. One of the most attractive is the "triple play" sales pitch we mentioned above made by almost every regional residential cable company and internet provider: Get your Internet, TV, and phone service all rolled into one monthly charge. Not only is that usually an attractive number, it also means a technician will hook everything up for you including your phone, and you'll probably be able to use the same phone you're using now instead of having to migrate to a VoIP phone.
Whether it's a dedicated bridge device or a special VoIP phone, you'll need something on the hardware side compatible with VoIP in order to access the technology's chief benefit: its software layer. It's at this layer where VoIP's advanced communication and collaboration features are enabled and how well the provider has leveraged those advantages will be directly reflected in how its proprietary hardware and back-end services are programmed. Whether it's a phone or a bridge, if you're worried about getting lost in technobabble when trying to setup your new phone service, remember that the best providers should be able to ship you pre-configured devices that shouldn't require much, if any, intervention on your part. With these, you simply plug them into your router or connect them to your Wi-Fi network and they'll go out and find the provider's network on their own. Just power them up, connect to your network, and wait for the light to turn green.
Be aware, however, that there are significant security implications regarding the use of mobile softphones on employee-owned devices. While it's possible for your employees to simply download the appropriate software from their respective app store, your IT department should be involved with allowing access while also confirming that necessary security steps are taken. Also be aware that there are important reasons not to allow soft phone installations on private devices of any type because you may not be able to remove that phone client if the employee leaves the company, and because local laws may impact how much control you have over the use of the device.
To get a better picture of the savings of VoIP for home use, here's a real life example: Long distance calls with a VoIP provider can be as little as $10 per month, if not less. Major telecommunications corporations typically charge more for such packages, even 2 or 3 times as much. If you look at this over the course of a year, that’s no small change.
SIP networks usually have a proxy server and a SIP gateway. The proxy sever helps lighten the functional requirements of SIP endpoints. It also acts as both client and server, but it adds functionality around call routing and policy-based management. SIP gateways handle the routing and connectivity requirements for connecting SIP calls to other networks. Typically, the advanced features of the VoIP vendors we review here are largely based on the proprietary management technology they build into their proxy servers and gateways. By offering VoIP solutions where these elements of a SIP solution are hosted in the cloud, the providers reviewed here have more flexibility in building advanced features since they have more control over deployment and reliability.
Overall, VoIP is simply the better option for the vast majority of customers. Dropping your landline means no more hidden fees or metered long distance calling charges. Everything is charged at one low rate by most providers and your ability to customize your phone service to exactly what you need is far greater. Unless you've got some highly unique circumstances that somehow mandate a landline, VoIP is simply the better choice.
That's the basics of UCaaS, but the concept is constantly evolving to include more communication and collaboration technologies. Those capabilities also get tweaked to provide new benefits, sometimes general, sometimes aimed at specific business use cases, like call centers or help desk operations, for example. The key is integration. Voice is becoming integrated with other back-end apps.
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Ooma also offers a lot of customer relationship management (CRM) integration features with its Enterprise plans. In other words, you get complete integration of your phone system into your existing customer relationship management software. This allows you to enjoy extra perks like transferring an entire customer workspace whenever you transfer a customer call within your workspace—that way, you don’t lose all the progress you made on your customer’s account just because you have to transfer them to another station.
One important advanced feature that's ubiquitous in the world of business VoIP services, and quickly growing in the residential market, is the softphone app. Imagine a piece of software that simply uses the network connection, speakers, and microphone of your computing device to turn that device into a phone. If that softphone is attached to your VoIP account, that software will ring whenever your home phone does and when you place calls on it, those calls will register as coming from your home phone number. Just by installing the software you'' be able to immediately place and receive voice calls over your home phone account on your PC, your Apple iPad, or even your smartphone. That last one is a gotcha, however.
On the higher end of this space, hosted PBX providers, such as RingCentral Office, will generally offer (sometimes even require) on-premises handset hardware, like desk or cordless VoIP phones that get sent to you pre-configured to work with their service. Plug the phones in, make sure they see an internet connection, and after some self-configuration time, your VoIP service goes live auto-magically.
Since Verizon is a massive company, customer service ratings are in line with what you’d usually read in the comments section—meaning, people are far more motivated to complain than praise. Navigating Verizon’s bundling plans for businesses may be like a choose-your-own-adventure odyssey, but its support lines are segregated well, with separate contacts for small, medium, and larger businesses. Verizon also offers competitive SLAs (service level agreements) for quality and service and 24/7 support via phone, email, and tickets.
This VoIP phone system for small business focuses primarily on delivering solutions for businesses operating on their mobile devices. Mitel plans start at $20.99 per month per line, which includes unlimited minutes, audioconferencing, videoconferencing, and integrations with Outlook and G Suite. Plus, Mitel is offering free service until 2021 to help businesses deal with the effects of coronavirus.
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).
Figure out how much you’re willing to spend on your VoIP and this will help you better hone in on the company that’s right for you. Your residential VoIP should cost less than your current landline, but it’s still smart to do some price comparison and see which companies offer special deals (for instance, many companies will offer you a better rate if you sign up for a year plan rather than a month-to-month plan). Take a look at your monthly phone bill and the features you’re paying for, and compare that side-by-side with what you’d be signing up for with a VoIP plan.
The Yealink W60P, being a high-performance SIP cordless phone system, is the ideal solution for any sized business. Paring with up to a total of 8 Yealink W52H/W56H DECT handsets, it allows you enjoy superb mobility and efficient flexibility immediately as well as significantly eliminates additional wiring troubles and charges. To provide a better and higher performance, this DECT IP phone not only supports up to 8 VoIP accounts and 8 concurrent calls, but also speeds up its startup and signal connection, slashes its upgrade downtime as well.
GoToConnect VoIP is a simple setup if you buy their preconfigured phones—which come from recognized names like Cisco, VTech, and Panasonic, so quality isn’t an issue. GoToConnect’s customer service is US-based, with 24/7 phone, live chat, and email options, as well as specific lines for small businesses, larger businesses, government entities, and education clients. GoToConnect also hosts an exhaustive YouTube channel dedicated to understanding phone systems and features.
Michael Muchmore is PC Magazine’s lead analyst for software and Web applications. A native New Yorker, he has at various times headed up PC Magazine’s coverage of Web development, enterprise software, and display technologies. Michael cowrote one of the first overviews of Web Services (pretty much the progenitor of Web 2.0) for a general audience. Before that he worked on PC Magazine’s Solutions section, which in those days covered programming techniques as well as tips on using popular office software. Most recently he covered Web 2.0 and other software for ExtremeTech.com.
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:
These include features like voicemail-to-email (and/or fax to email) which will automatically take your voicemail messages and send them as audio files to your email, making you much less likely to miss important messages. Many companies can also provide you with voicemail transcription to text, which will automatically convert the messages to text in an email, saving you even more time.
Most of these VoIP solutions will require stable and consistent internet connectivity at every location where wired phones are to be used. At the very least, your business phone system must have access to a business class internet link to the cloud. This should be a dedicated link through a dedicated router if you expect your phone calls to sound as if they were coming from a business and not someone's home Skype connection. But it's important to know that you will also need a router that can create a virtual LAN (VLAN), and one that has the ability to encrypt voice traffic, and only your voice traffic. VoIP security from end to end for all calls is now a business necessity.
Grasshopper isn’t technically a VoIP and it isn’t technically for residential customers, but it offers basically the same service for a competitive price. Technically speaking, Grasshopper is a cloud-hosted system that works on top of your existing landline or cell service so voice quality doesn’t suffer. While there’s a technical distinction, customers shouldn’t notice the difference. Grasshopper is built for entrepreneurs and small business owners who work from home. The Partner package is suitable for families, as it includes 3 separate contact numbers with up to 6 extensions.
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.