Market musings

Is There Such a Thing as Free VOIP?

by Nina Quasebarth
August 26, 2017

Everyone loves free stuff. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get your business telephone service for free? That’s what a lot of small to medium-sized business (SMB) owners are looking for when they try free voice-over-IP (VoIP) services. There are dozens of free VoIP services available, including VoipGate, FreelyCall, OnSIP, and Sipmobile, to name only a few. For computer users and smartphone users with Wi-Fi access, Skype remains one of the most popular free VoIP services, offering voice calls, chat, and file transfer.

However, as with just about anything that’s available at no cost, free VoIP comes with hidden expenses that all business owners should consider before canceling their phone service.

Eliminate the Carrier to Cut Costs

The secret to getting free phone service is cutting out the telephone company. Since Alexander Graham Bell first invented the telephone, phone companies have been responsible for delivering telephone service and maintaining the infrastructure, including the wires, the switching system, and even the handsets. As telecommunications became more sophisticated (and with the breakup of AT&T), telephone service became decentralized and more competitive. For business users, this meant more service selection and adoption of more private branch exchange (PBX) systems where the customer owns the in-house phone system and uses external trunk lines for telephone service. The cost of phone service continues to drop, but it is still far from free.

With the coming of IP telephony, customers could finally eliminate the phone company, using direct Internet access to support telecommunications. Digital telephone services and adoption of SIP, the session initiation protocol, made it possible to use the Internet for long-distance phone calls. Since the Internet is free, the only cost was to set up an in-house telephone system, such as an IP PBX or VoIP system, and pay for Internet access. If you have Internet access as part of your enterprise network, then you essentially get free VoIP; VoIP eliminates the phone company.

The Hidden Cost of Free

However, the problem with free phone service is that there is no telephone company to support the service. Before the coming of SIP and VoIP, we could rely on the phone company to maintain the telephone service. Even though we often would complain about the poor quality of service in the days of Ma Bell, there was at least a telephone company to provide support.

With free VoIP, there is no service company, and for business users that can be disastrous.

The Internet is not a wholly reliable data transmission system, which means it can be even less reliable for services such as voice. By their very nature, data networks use varying rates of data transmission. The TCP/IP protocol, which is the basis for all Internet traffic, is designed to handle “bursty” data traffic, ensuring that each data packet is accounted for and delivered. Data transmissions may become slow, but unless there is an extreme bottleneck or failure, the data gets through. Voice communications is a different problem. In order to eliminate audio dropouts or lost voice transmissions, voice data packets need to receive transmission priority using quality of service (QoS). If any point between the connections becomes congested or there is a delay or loss of packet traffic, the quality of the voice transmission deteriorates to unacceptable levels, with dropouts and delays.

If you are using the Internet as your primary phone system, then you can’t be assured of reliable service. Choke points and problems such as denial-of-service attacks are common and create conditions that make reliable VoIP service impossible. You can’t call a technician to fix the Internet, and you can’t run a business with unreliable phone service.

Cut the Cord, Go Mobile

One of the attractive aspects of VoIP services for business is mobility. The forecast for the mobile VoIP market shows an aggressive projected growth rate of 28 percent from 2016 to 2020. Much of that growth is being driven by mobile business users and telecommuters. In 2017, 37 percent of Americans claim to telecommute at least part of the time, and mobile workers save an average of 40 minutes each day and 3.5 days per year. One of the VoIP features that business owners find very attractive is find me/follow me, which reroutes calls anywhere there is a phone line, including to mobile devices.

With smartphone adoption at an all-time high—95 percent of Americans have a cellphone and 77 percent use smartphonesmore U.S. workers are on the move and using their mobile phones for work. That’s why more than 74 percent of businesses are adopting a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy. Combining VoIP with smartphones keeps workers connected to the office at all times.

Combining VoIP and smartphones for business is a cost-effective alternative for business telephone services. A VoIP line can keep the office connected to both customers and vendors, as well as remote workers. With services such as Spoke, it’s possible to eliminate VoIP costs altogether.

The Spoke app converts employees’ mobile phones into a single business phone system, interconnecting smartphones as if they were wireless office extensions. Spoke includes all the features you need from an office phone systemauto-attendant, call routing, voice mail, group calling, conference calling, and more. It also offers features you expect with sophisticated VoIP services, such as presence and calendar integration. However, Spoke doesn’t require a VoIP connection. It uses the same phone service employees already are paying for, and they still get all the features they are used to on their cellphone.

While there is no such thing as truly free VoIP, there are ways to dramatically cut your phone costs.

You can opt for a single phone or VoIP line for your business, or eliminate the phone company altogether and connect your team using Spoke for pennies per user. Maybe it’s time your company cut the phone cord and went completely wireless.

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