Cost savings and/or added functionality are the two main selling points of most VOIP solutions. Ranging from free computer to computer services like Skype to full-fledged multi-site business systems, it seems like there is something for everyone.
Cost savings – VOIP offerings are typically cheaper than a traditional land line for a comparable set of features. In most cases, you won’t pay for long distance with a VOIP service and with many this even includes international calling. While traditional phone service is going to cost you $30-$40 a month on at least a 12 month contract, most VOIP services are contract-free and start as low as $10 a month for low-minute packages.
Small businesses can get enterprise phone features on the cheap with a VOIP service. For instance, our small office has a package that offers unlimited calling, voicemail, voicemail to email, auto-attendant, hold music, auto changeover for after hours and holidays, and other features including unlimited US calling for about $35/month. In addition we have 3 phones at 2 different sites and options to ring through to cell phones.
Computer to computer – Skype is the best known service of this type. You install the program on your PC or Mac and make calls to other Skype users. Calls are free when made inside the Skype system, but you will need to purchase minutes to call POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) numbers, and pay to have a real phone number associated with your Skype account.
Adapters – Many providers like Vonage try to make the switch to VOIP as easy as possible by providing adapters to let you use your current phones on their services. You sign up, plug their adapter into your router, your phone into the adapter, and make calls as normal.
Ethernet phones – Most of the business oriented systems use Ethernet phones. These phones plug directly into your network, or daisy-chain with your computer.
There are dozens, if not hundreds of VOIP providers out there. For our purposes, I will mention a few of the more popular, US based services and costs for common plans.
Vonage – Most home users will want the $25/month plan which includes unlimited calling and free long distance (including 60 countries). Business users will look toward the $50/month plan offering free US long distance (plus 5 other countries) and an included fax line.
Skype – Most commonly used to call other Skype users, this service is free. The ability to make calls from Skype to landline or mobile phones will cost you about $0.02/minute and includes are real phone number.
Nextiva – This is the service we use at Don’t Panic. They offer several packages and phone options. You can purchase an adapter for $55 to use an existing phone, or buy an IP phone starting at $85. I would recommend getting a true IP phone for business use, as it will give you all the features available and work seamlessly with the service. Service packages start at $35/month for phone service with many business features, free long distance, voicemail, fax, etc. A 4-line package is also available for about $100/month.
Since VOIP runs through your internet connection, you will need quality internet service for any of these to work well. Most any high speed connection will suffice, though the lag inherent in satellite internet services will make VOIP all but unusable. DSL, cable and even most terrestrial-based wireless providers will provide plenty of bandwidth. Some systems might require some QoS (Quality of Service) configuration to your network hardware to maximize call quality. You will probably want to give us a call, or talk to your local IT service provider if this is needed.
If you decide to make the jump to VOIP, I would recommend running it side-by-side with your existing service for a couple of weeks or months before having your phone number ported over to make sure that the service is as good as expected.