Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) is a recent communication technology that allows individuals to make "phone calls" over the Internet using a broadband connection in place of a phone line or cellular signal. VOIP services are now reliable and transmit clear signals and have several advantages over traditional phone services. The costs for VOIP phones are usually much less than other phone services, and they allow conferencing and international calls at rates that are often included in the monthly fees.
Another key advantage is that communications are easier to manage. From an IT perspective, troubleshooting is simpler with fewer physical cables, and from a managerial perspective, it is easier to manage voice-mail, email and faxes from a single hub on your computer than multiple devices. From this single location the various communications can easily be saved, archived, forwarded or deleted.
Choosing a Provider
When selecting a VOIP provider, the main criteria for deciding which service is needed will be the plan details and the costs. Some providers allow for unlimited long distance calls, free Webinars or various online support services. It is important to review these and then compare them to the monthly fees which will range from about $8-$40. Taking into account other factors such as the whether the customer service is based in the US or what locations are considered long distance can save some headaches when the monthly bill arrives.
If your business is very small, it may worth considering a residential VOIP service which, may still include many features including multiple lines or generous long distance services. Jive, ITP, Vocalocity, Aptela and Nextiva are popular service providers for business and residential VOIP, and their various plans are worth comparing.
Additionally, other communication services may be viable supplements or replacements. Video chat is emerging as a new standard and free services like iChat or Google Chat allow for video communication with a free account. The only additional equipment needed for these is a webcam which may be cheaper than the VOIP phone that would be needed for VOIP services.
If a small business is looking to save costs on overhead, a simple choice is to restructure the communication services through the Internet. As long as the broadband connection is fast, centralizing the services will lead to a dramatic increase in efficiency and a substantial decrease in expenses.