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Guide to VOIP Providers for UK Businesses

More and more businesses are switching to Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP as the technology is becoming more developed over time. High-speed Internet is also becoming cheaper so there is no reason for small businesses not to make the switch.

For most people, VoIP is somewhat too good to be true. But it is good and it is true. It is more flexible than any conventional system out there. It has more features and best of all, it is way cheaper than traditional telephone systems and rates.

Are you convinced yet? Not yet? Well then, journey with us as we walk you through the basic things you should know about VoIP, its advantages and disadvantages and some of the best options for your small business. By the end of this post, you will be an informed buyer, ready to tackle your different options and select the best one for your business.

VoIP Basics

VoIP is pretty much a hosted service and that means all the work is done in your provider’s side. You can expect calls to be delivered to you without much hassle. Most providers give plug and play phones so really, the only effort that you make is plugging the phone into your system. After that, you’re pretty much ready to make and receive calls.

The beauty of VoIP is that you don’t have to invest a significant portion of your capital into hardware. You don’t need them in your office. You only need to set aside some space for your phones and a small box of hardware somewhere in your office. Sounds good, right? It gets even better.

Like we said, VoIP is flexible. You can also choose to have a self-hosted, on-site version of it but be ready for the extra work. First, you need an IP-based, VoIP-friendly version of the PBX system to route your calls to the appropriate phones on your network. You also need a PSTN gateway that sits between the IP-PBX software and the analogue signals off the public switched phone network. This converts calls to and from digital signals as necessary.  If you choose this setup, you need to hire a dedicated IT team to manage it. Troubleshooting might be a problem if your team is not knowledgeable enough with this kind of setting. With a hosted service, your provider will take care of troubleshooting and any other problems that may arise during your contract.

Whatever option you choose, the basic principle of using VoIP stays the same. You will be able to handle, change or customize the basic settings of your phone lines and extensions. For more advanced options, you need the help of your provider.

The Components of VoIP

VoIP requires very little hardware and infrastructure. You should take an inventory of what you already have. You might be surprised that making the switch will only cost you a very small amount of money. The amount of your investment in VoIP is largely based on the number of users you have. Other costs are for the hardware and features that you need. There are many providers that will be happy to work within your budget so don’t be afraid if you do not have anything set up.

 

Next is a good broadband Internet connection. VoIP uses the Internet to convert data into voice and vice versa so it is very obvious that a fast internet connection is needed to avoid choppy calls and dropped calls. The more users you have who need to simultaneously use the phones, the more bandwidth you need. If you are a one-man show, working from a home office, you don’t have much to worry about. The same goes if you only have a few employees. Usually, a good connection can handle 11 simultaneous calls so if you are a start-up business, you have some legroom to work on. Aside from these calls, you can also do your usual browsing, checking emails, etc.

Another area to consider is your internal network. This includes routers and switches. They should be able to handle your call requirements too. A router with configurable Quality of Service settings is what most providers suggest. You also want a router that assigns VoIP traffic high priority so that you can maximize call quality.

Remember that most Internet service providers have a bandwidth cap. You should keep a close eye on your data usage to avoid exceeding your bandwidth cap. In reality though, you should be able to use VoIP simultaneously in your office without having to worry about hitting the cap but then again, just be careful. One way to avoid this problem is by getting your Internet and VoIP from the same provider. Most VoIP providers today offer a good bundled plan for both. They will be able to prioritize your VoIP traffic from data traffic so you can be sure that call quality is at its highest. Also, you do not have to worry about several bills monthly. You get one bill from one provider. They will also offer you discounts if you get both services from them.

Cloud VoIP is also becoming more common. If you choose to subscribe to a cloud-based service, make sure that your phones can communicate over VoIP. You need an SIP-enabled phone to make calls. It’s a bad idea to use your analogue phones and just plug it into an adapter because you won’t be able to use many of the advanced features of a VoIP phone. Why make the switch to a higher level system if you don’t want to give up your old school phones? It’s pretty much a waste of time and money. VoIP phones aren’t that expensive. As a matter of fact, most providers hold several sales during the year. Check online for great bundles and discounts. They usually do this before a new phone is released to get rid of old stock. Old stocks are not too far behind from the new ones as these new ones regularly come out anyway. Be smart when buying phones. You don’t need the latest, most expensive phones in the market. Just get the ones that you really need at a price you can afford.

Advantages of VoIP

Businesses are so attracted to VoIP because of its low cost. Even if you are getting a business service, the prices are still significantly cheaper than traditional telephone services. For one, you have much, much less hardware to buy. You also have the option of leasing the hardware. Most new systems do not even require a new hardware installation or investment. For instances when you do need hardware, you typically just need an SIP-based phone. You don’t need to buy products that are tied to a particular service provider.

Monthly subscription fees are lower and services are mostly contract-free.

If you have remote workers or staff that work in far locations, you can greatly benefit from VoIP. Calls made from the same network only travel inside that data network. They don’t need to go to the public telephone lines so they are much cheaper than a traditional landline. As a matter of fact, most VoIP providers will not charge you for calls made inside the network, even if you are miles away from the other person. For DIY options, IP-PBX servers can also handle remote employees.

Another great thing about this system is the mobility it allows you. Many providers offer mobile apps that let you make and receive calls even when you are on the road by using your data connection. You can also adjust the apps so that when a call comes in, your office phone and mobile phone will ring simultaneously. It can also act as a stand-alone extension.

These systems allow you to program how the network will route calls. Some systems allow you to set up auto macros based on characteristics that you specify.

VoIP is scalable. You don’t need to buy and install costly hardware if you need to expand your system. You just need to plug SIP-enabled phones to your network and make a call to your provider. After that, wait a few minutes and start making calls. If you host your own system, you need to change some software settings.

In terms of features, you can get a lot from a VoIP or even an IP-PBX software package. They have many robust features that your small business can benefit from. You get all the basic features such as voicemail, Internet fax, conference and caller ID. As an added bonus, most VoIP services come with greeting functionality and virtual receptionists. You will also be able to customize advanced call screening and forwarding rules. You can forward voicemail to your mobile phone or read them as text in your email. You can also integrate your system with office software and CRM. Many providers will offer you these advanced features as part of your subscription. Yes, you do have to pay extra but the cost is still significantly less than traditional phone features.

Disadvantages

The biggest problem of VoIP is when the power goes out, so does your VoIP service. If the Internet goes out, so does your VoIP. What providers do in order to solve this problem is they immediately or automatically push incoming calls to voicemail. They can also reroute calls to a mobile phone in the event of a service disruption. But, even with these solutions, the fact still remains that you won’t be able to use your office phones so a good contingency plan is in order.

Another disadvantage is that emergency calling is usually not offered. If you do find one that offers it, they charge extra for the service or impose a high-base subscription fee. These two problems are the main reasons why experts suggest that you still retain a basic traditional phone line in case your VoIP goes down.

Most providers offer unlimited calling within your country and sometimes another country but if you need to call mobile phones or special lines then you might be charged extra. Connecting to a VoIP phone in another country that does not have the same level of technology as your country can also be a problem. Still, a lot of businesses choose VoIP because international calls are cheap. Companies that frequently call abroad can save a lot of money. To be sure, read the fine print before signing anything.

Call quality has greatly improved over the years but if you have a crowded network, this could still affect the quality of your calls. If you have a slow network, you can also get bad quality calls. You may even experience call drop outs.

VoIP Packages

RingCentral

RingCentral customers can enjoy full-featured VoIP phone service with unified communications. You can be sure to get powerful and professional VoIP service that is customised to your business requirements.

Features

This VoIP system is customisable. It is an internet-based voice and fax platform that eliminates the need to buy and install bulky PBX hardware. Clients can quickly and easily add phones, extensions, numbers and locations as they need.

The company offers Mobile Apps that integrate remote users and mobile devices seamlessly into your communications network. Aside from the computer, you can also use tablets and smartphones for calls, notifications, faxes, etc. Employees can adjust their own settings too. These apps make it possible for all your users to access the network from anywhere, any time and with any device.

RingCentral will provide you with Softphones so that you can make and receive calls using your computer. RingCentral works with Polycom and Cisco.  Your phones will arrive in your office with Plug and Ring capability. You will not be charged for setup or activation fees. Just plug these fully configured phones into your existing Internet connection and you can start doing business.

If you want to use your existing analogue desk phones, you can do so by using an ATA or analogue telephone adapter. You can also use SIP-compatible devices with the ATA.

You can port your existing business numbers to the company’s platform. You can also add numbers and 0800/0808 numbers.

Features that are included are conferencing, call management and online meetings. You also get mobile minutes. You can also use CRM in conjunction with your VoIP.

Benefits

With this system, you will be able to manage and customise your entire business communication easily. Even if you have multiple locations, you will not have any difficulties because you will use a user-friendly web interface. You can easily make account configuration changes by using any device that is connected to the Internet.

You save money because you don’t need PBX hardware. Your IT team has reduced workload. No need for maintenance contracts and technical experts to manage your daily communications processes.

Create online profiles in order to effectively manage your teams, locations and your remote employees.

Set up call handling rules according to business hours, department responsibilities, employee schedules, caller ID, etc. Calls will be automatically routed to the correct destination. With just a few clicks, you will be able to create call queues and ring groups.

Your agents will be able to configure their own settings, greetings, call handling, etc.

Price

 

There are 4 packages available to choose from – Entry, Standard, Premium and Enterprise. They each have different features and benefits. Entry starts at £9.99. Standard is £16.99, Premium is priced at £24.99 and Enterprise starts at £34.99. The prices are for each user per month. You can also avail of a 30-day free trial. A demo is available in their website.

iNet Telecoms (Voipfone)              

The company was founded in 2004. They utilize cutting edge technology for their products. They offer modern telephone solutions to their customers. They are actually one of the pioneers of VoIP technology in the UK. Although they remain to be a virtual company, they are a founding member of the ITSPA and have even won several awards over the years. All their employees are remote workers who use their products.

You can expect honest pricing as well as a high level of customer service from this brand. All their solutions and products are developed in-house so if you have any problems, they will be able to easily fix them. They can also customise solutions quickly.

Services

Small businesses can enjoy their cloud-based services but start-ups, growing or established businesses can also benefit from these services.

Their services include:

  • New phone numbers
  • Home workers and remote workers support
  • SIP trunks
  • Replacement of existing PBX or switchboard
  • Moving phone services to the cloud
  • Broadband Internet
  • SMS and mobile
  • Directory
  • Fax
  • Landline
  • Porting

 

A hosted phone system is easy to set up. It is also maintenance free.

Hardware

All equipment that iNet sells work well with their network. You can choose from a range of Plug & Go Hardware that are guaranteed to work with the network straight from the box.

All telephones and adapters are pre-configured with UK dial tones and ring tones. They also come with their own optimum network settings. If you have already given your account details, then you can expect them to already be configured in the phones. Plug the phones into your network and start doing business.

All devices can be remotely adjusted. This ensures that they are always updated. The company can also perform remote diagnostics or even maintenance if required. You can be assured that your equipment are running at top level at all times.

All phones and adapters are ensured to work well with the system. However, they are also not locked so you can easily change the configurations should you wish to work with other providers.

You can get a VoIP phone, headset, phone adapter and accessories such as power supplies and extension keypads.

Features

All telephones come with these standard features:

  • Call transfer and forwarding
  • Music on hold
  • Multiple lines
  • Voicemail sent by email

Price

You can make and receive simultaneous calls for free. You don’t need to rent another phone line if you just need another phone number.

Packages start at only £2 per month. This already includes a number and several free features.

Vonage

Vonage gives you great flexibility and savings. You can use your existing Internet connection to connect to landlines, mobiles and other VoIP systems. You don’t even need a headset or turn your PC on in order to make a call. You can also use your normal home phone but you need an adapter that connects to your router or modem. You can call local and international numbers using your home phone.

You can keep your number even if you replace your current cable landline with a Vonage line.

Hardware

All you need is a Vonage box in order to get started. You can use your existing Internet router and telephones. Your regular broadband is transformed into a high quality business phone line.

Features

There are several features that come as a standard on every plan. Ultimately, you can choose the features that you need. Here are some of those features.

  • Vonage Extensions – ability to add 2 smartphones to the Vonage account; allows you to make calls at the same rate as your plan
  • 1471 – ring back to the last caller at a normal rate
  • Call waiting
  • Caller display – view who is calling, withhold caller ID, block anonymous callers, call barring for international calls and keep your private number when you ring out

Price

Clients can choose from different monthly call plans that are guaranteed to be affordable. They can choose from unlimited calls or landline calls and international mobile calls. Clients also have the option of changing plans any time.

You will be charged a small amount when you shift to Vonage. In return, they will give you superior call quality, better than free PC to PC VoIP promotions out there. By using the bandwidth saver, you can adjust call quality.

Activation price is £9.99. You will be charged £8.99 for delivery and set up charge is £18.99. The equipment is free of charge. Plans start at £7 per month.

Author: Yazz

Yazz is a trained telecommunications engineer with a diploma in telecommunications. He has spent the last 15 years working for Telefonica, one of the largest telephone operators and mobile network providers in the world.