Less and less businesses are buying phone systems these days, and instead are choosing Hosted or Cloud based VoIP phone systems that provide more modern system capabilities and change what was a major capital expense into a minor recurring operational expense. Not all Hosted VoIP System provider solutions are equal however, and furthermore, with literally hundreds of providers now offering these services, you really need to do some research into their strengths and weaknesses before selecting a provider for this critical business service. To identify the best of the best when it comes to providers you need to first understand why not all VoIP system providers are created equal. The rest of this article looks at four major differentiator between Hosted VoIP System providers, namely:
– Hosted VoIP solutionfeatures
– Hosted VoIP solution pricing models
– Hosted VoIP solution networking requirements
– Hosted VoIP solution implementation and support
Hosted VoIP solution features
While the market is filled with hundreds of providers, many of those providers use the same core platforms (for example Broadsoft and MetaSwitch) and thus bring the same core functionalities to the business marketplace. There are however a small number of Hosted VoIP or Hosted Unified Communications specialists who have developed their own platforms in order to be able to adapt more quickly to the increasing requirements of their business clients (for example Thinking Phone Networks, Panterra Networks and Shoretel Sky).
For businesses needing just basic phone system capabilities then any one of the hundreds of providers will be able to meet their needs, however as requirements expand to include programming portals for admins and individual users to update how their call are routed, or to provide other productivity-based functionality including user mobility, CRM integration (such as with Outlook or Salesforce) or fully integrated instant messaging, desk sharing, audio conferencing, web conferencing, and even video conferencing, then your choice of providers shrinks quickly.
USA Voice & Data recommends a thorough analysis of how each of your employees uses their phones today and an exploration of what productivity advances could be realized by your businesses by using more modern system capabilities.
Hosted VoIP solution pricing models
As you can imagine, one way in which providers differentiate themselves is through their pricing models.
Naturally based upon the functionality included for each phone (often referred to as “Seat Type”) the price varies, so an “extension only” phone with basic dial tone will be inexpensive, a phone with voicemail more expensive, and a phone with all the integration, mobility, unified communications capabilities included the most expensive.
At the same time, besides the functionality included impacting the price, the usage included depending on the amount of calling included for each phone the seat prices will vary from being inexpensive if you are charged on a per minute basis for local or long distance calling is included, to being relatively expensive if unlimited local, long distance and even international calling is included.
USA Voice & Data recommends a thorough analysis of the outbound call volume of each of your employees before finalizing what seat usage plan makes the most sense for them, and if in doubt contract for the lower usage volume plan as you can always upgrade to a higher usage plan whereas it is tougher to downgrade from a more expensive plan that has been contracted to.
uses their phones today and an exploration of what productivity advances could be realized by your businesses by using more modern system capabilities.
Hosted VoIP solution networking requirements
A quality Hosted VoIP solution requires quality IP connectivity and an “acceptable” quality for a small business that does not rely heavily on its phones might not be acceptable at all for a larger business nor a business that relies heavily on its phones.
Higher end Hosted VoIP solution providers recognize the only way to guarantee a quality IP connection between their clients’ premises and their IP phone switches is to connect the two via a dedicated circuit such that none of the voice traffic passes over the public internet where routing and Quality of Service or “QoS” cannot be guaranteed. These providers will not provide services to businesses unwilling to pay for such a direct connection as they don’t want their customer care departments inundated with calls related to call quality issues outside of their control. By providing a dedicated connection the solution provider can guarantee QoS all the way to each individual handset and this is therefore the preferred network arrangement for most businesses, who will also want to have automated failover enabled to a second alternate internet circuit should that dedicated connection go down.
Other providers, particularly those without a dedicated network of their own, will happily provide service over another provider’s connection, this is commonly referred to a BYOB or ”Bring Your Own Bandwidth connectivity model and is very popular with the small or micro business marketplace whom cannot afford the additional expense of dedicated circuit.
USA Voice & Data recommends dedicated network solutions to all but their smallest business clients, as we know a poor quality voice connection (such as a high latency cable connection) can jeopardize one’s business and that by making the Hosted VoIP solution provider 100% responsible for the end-to-end quality of their service we totally avoid any finger pointing and increase our clients’ satisfaction.
Hosted VoIP solution implementation and support
Implementing the premise equipment for a Hosted VoIP solution isn’t rocket science but can it does require some basic IP networking and VLAN programming capabilities. Most of the programming takes place in the cloud, either by the service provider engineers or by your own system administrator using an admin portal, however each phone user will need to complete some training on basic programming and phone usage and will have to record their greeting and voicemail messages.
Providers do a very mixed job of documenting how you want your phone system programmed, how you need to connect and program the different premise equipment and how your business and individual users want their calls handled when they come in. This lack of quality documentation, often accompanied by poor communication with the technician sent out (if one is in fact sent out) to install the equipment often results in very mixed experiences during the install. Training is also very haphazardly delivered.
Some providers’ documentation, technician installs and communication during an install definitely differentiates them from others. USA Voice & Data recommends you request sample design documentation and a detailed description of the implementation process from any provider you are considering ordering services from. We also recommend you request a training schedule and any training documentation.
With Hosted VoIP solutions post-install support is probably as important as the support received during the initial implementation. Make sure you understand what support is offered and standard response time for simple changes to existing services or additions and subtractions to your existing services. Some of the best providers provide immediate 24 x 7 support using Instant Messaging however the majority just respond to phone, email or online form support requests. The best solutions also provide you with user and administrative portals that you can make changes on the fly yourself, however other solution providers require all changes to be made by their customer service teams, which even though it can help you avoid programming errors can also delay the changes you want being implemented.
The Hosted VoIP System marketplace is a crowded one and with your phones still being the lifeblood of most businesses it is critical you do a thorough job analyzing which provider and which solution best fits your business needs. Making sure you understand the different features, pricing models, networking requirements as well as the implementation and support offered by each provider is critical if your business wants to make this major change to a Hosted (or Cloud) VoIP solution.
Contact us for additional assistance in planning your change to a Hosted VoIP System.
Call 312-604-3070 today or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to leverage our advisory services to identify the best fitting solution and ensure you are engaging the most appropriate provider to meet your specific business needs.