Market musings

What to Look for When Shopping for a VoIP Phone

by Nina Quasebarth
October 27, 2017

Voice over IP (VoIP) is rapidly becoming the standard for business phone systems. However, choosing the right VoIP phone for your company starts with a basic understanding of how VoIP services work. Ultimately, you want to match the VoIP phone to the VoIP service with the features you need.

VoIP offers a variety of advantages to business users. Tech.co reports that businesses see big savings from VoIP—as much as 40 percent on local calls and 90 percent on international calls. As a result, VoIP continues to grow in popularity, especially among business users. VoIP subscribers are growing at an average rate of 14 percent per year, and the VoIP services market is expected to grow to more than $140 billion by 2021. The number of mobile VoIP users is booming as well and is expected to reach 1 billion this year, according to Juniper Research.

(Virtually) Free Phone Service

VoIP phone services are growing in popularity due to their low cost and advanced features. VoIP is based on the Internet Protocol (IP), so it can operate over any computer network connection. That translates into virtually free internet calls, as well as cost-effective internal calls over the company’s local area network. It also means that additional digital services and features can be delivered using the same infrastructure.

VoIP eliminates the need for expensive phone lines, elaborate handsets, and the underlying routing hardware that older phone systems require.

All you need for a VoIP phone is a device that can handle the IP data traffic. In fact, all you really need is a reliable, high-speed network connection, an internet link, and a computer equipped with a sound card, microphone, and speakers or a headset.

Any computer can become a VoIP phone with the right softphone client software. Skype, for example, has become a popular communications tool that uses VoIP. Skype is a software client that can run on your PC or smartphone and allows you to make voice calls across the internet. Skype also offers other services, such as file transfer and texting, as well as making video calls, conference calls, and group video calls.

Most businesses prefer not to standardize on desktop computers for making VoIP calls, because of the unreliable nature of their internet connection. If you are making a call from your laptop in a coffee shop, for example, you can’t be sure of your connection quality—or internet security for that matter. Plus, you need a really good headset for voice quality, and softphone clients don’t have the same telephone features as a dedicated VoIP service.

The Value of VoIP Is in Its Services

With a VoIP service provider, you get better-quality telephone service, as well as all the features you have come to expect from your business phone service. VoIP phone services offer crystal-clear voice quality—because it is sent as bits and bytes you don’t get the background noise of an analog phone connection, although a poor connection can cause dropouts. More important, you get a variety of digital phone features that are valuable for business communications. Common VoIP service features include:

Auto attendant – Most VoIP services offer an interactive menu that allows the user to choose an action, such as “Press 1 for sales.” It’s like having an automated receptionist.

Find-me/follow-me routing – Incoming calls can be rerouted to any phone number you choose, including your cell phone.

Voicemail with email transcription – Voicemail messages are automatically transcribed as text and sent via email.

Music on hold – You may not think that music on hold is a big deal, but it reassures callers they are still connected; it’s better than silence.

Call screening – VoIP not only shows caller ID, but it also lets you choose how to handle calls (e.g., send to voicemail, route to another number, or disconnect).

Conference calling – Setting up group conference calls isn’t new, but with VoIP, you get features such as monitoring callers, muting individuals, and “hand raises.”

Do not disturb – If you are in a meeting or on an important call, you can make yourself “unavailable” for as long as you need to.

These are only some common VoIP features. When choosing a VoIP phone, you want to determine what device will support the features your business needs to promote productivity and deliver better customer service.

Smartphones as VoIP Phones

Smartphones can serve as an ideal extension to any VoIP service. Smartphones can handle VoIP softphone clients, such as Skype. They also can be used as part of a find-me/follow-me strategy, where incoming VoIP calls are rerouted to your smartphone so that you can receive calls anywhere.

The limitation of a follow-me VoIP strategy is that many of the value-added features associated with a VoIP phone don’t extend themselves to a remote handset.

Voicemail, auto attendant, directory services, and other features remain part of the office-bound VoIP phone system. While remote smartphone users can still take advantage of features such as voicemail transcribed and delivered as email, they still need to dial in remotely to access native VoIP service features.

Spoke eliminates that problem by turning smartphones into VoIP phones. Spoke is not a VoIP service, but it does connect your smartphone directly to the office switchboard so that you get the same VoIP features delivered via your wireless carrier. Calls to your office extension are routed directly to your smartphone so that you receive incoming calls directly, and Spoke provides all the features you expect from your office phone system: auto attendant, voicemail, call routing, group calling, hunt groups, and more.

When shopping for a VoIP phone, remember that VoIP services offer more value as they leverage the internet to reach you anywhere. Your office VoIP handset may not go with you, but your VoIP service can, so consider those features and functions that are most valuable to you both in the office and on the road. You may find your smartphone may be your best VoIP phone.

Selecting and Implementing a Business Phone System
A Simplified Guide to Choosing A New Business Phone System