Before you can start considering a phone system, you need to figure out what it's going to be used for, and how much of your business will be involved. You need to look at your existing phone system and decide whether you're going to simply keep all of it and bolt some VoIP functionality on top, retain only part of it, or replace the whole thing. Frequently, a total replacement isn't in the cards if only because some parts of your existing phone system can't be easily changed over to softphones or even desktop VoIP phones. For example, if you have a heavy manufacturing environment with outdoor activities, such as a steel fabrication yard or even a landscaping company, your old outdoor phones may be exactly what you need. You also need to decide what features of the existing phone system are required, and what features of a future phone system you feel are necessary to carry into the future.
On the phone providers' side, since this review roundup was first published, some of the products listed here now belong to other companies and some have merged into new products. If you're planning to depend on your phone system over the course of the next decade, then you should consider a vendor that's stable enough to still be around when it's time to up upgrade.
Work When & Where You Want – One very popular and common feature of business VoIP systems is called “find me/follow me.” Instead of having separate numbers for your office, cell phone, and home office, you have one “virtual extension.” You can program the virtual business phone service to ring all of your extensions simultaneously, or in a specific order, and you decide how to handle a missed call. You decide if a call should go to your voicemail, or to another extension. When you make a call using your cloud phone system, the receiving caller ID will show your business phone number, regardless of which device you are calling from.
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.
It's also possible to switch a call from a mobile device to a desktop line or vice versa. Business products generally offer several pricing levels based on the number of lines needed, ranging from approximately $20 per line for large organizations to $35 per line for smaller groups. Even from an administrative perspective, you should be careful, however, when migrating to a new phone system. Whether you're an individual just buying a new land line or a business moving from an old-style PBX system, or even just switching to a different VoIP provider, the process should be approached carefully and only after thorough planning.
For instance, while AT&T offers landlines with unlimited phone calls for $33.99/month, with RingCentral you can get the Essentials plan, which includes unlimited phone calls starting at just $19.99 per person per month, and you can also enjoy a more extensive list of features. On Grasshopper, the introductory plan costs as little as $26/month, but that includes 3 extensions. With residential VoIP, you have a bundle of features you couldn't find with traditional landlines. Also, because of technology's continual advancements, the features continue to improve every year without a sharp rise in costs. VoIP for home use makes sense because you derive so much more value than what the traditional phone companies of today are offering.
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.
The following table provides a high level summary of how residential VoIP service compares to other alternative solutions for home phone service. The table compares this service to a regular landline, a bundled phone service from a cable company such as double or triple play, and a cell phone service. The cell phone is included as some people decide to just get rid of their wired phone and use their cell phone for all calls. Free services such as Skype are not included as they are not effective, like for like, landline replacements in our opinion.