By John Watkins, Capital Business Systems, Inc.
Whether you are looking for a new Voice over IP (VoIP) system for a client or for use at your own business, there are several things you should consider before even glancing at the PBX features list. These items will ensure the best quality and security for the solution and help you avoid pitfalls down the road.
The best VoIP service on the market can only preform as well as the pipe it runs on, so make sure your internet connection is up to the task. While VoIP uses very little bandwidth when compared to video or music streaming, it is much more sensitive to dips in the connection quality. Your YouTube video will pause a buffer if the connection drops out briefly, whereas when a VoIP call loses connection you will miss what was said on the other end (if the call doesn’t drop completely). Additionally, the “IP” part means if your internet does go down so do your phones, whereas an analog system would still be functional.
Redundant internet connections (from separate ISPs) are recommended in almost every business situation (even without the use of VoIP), but it is required for clients we have on our VoIP solution. This, combined with Uplink Balancing on our UTM devices, will keep the phones ringing when a backhoe takes out a fiber line used by one of the ISPs. For customers in remote offices where there is only a single ISP available we use 4G modems as a failover connection. Although they are slow, it can still allow an office to place and receive calls until their ISP connection is restored.
Keep in mind Uplink Balancing is quick, but not instant. If you lose an ISP while on a VoIP call you will notice degradation in the call quality while the UTM switches to the secondary ISP, if you don’t lose the call altogether. To get around this, we have been using SDWAN technology along with multiple ISP connections for larger clients and those that rely on their phones to make money (Insurance agencies, sales offices, call centers, etc.). We use SDWAN at our own office and have lost our primary ISP on multiple occasions for up to half a day without any dropped calls or quality degradation.
Security should be at the top of any MSPs list and VoIP solutions are no exception. Just like with any other endpoints you will need to make sure your VoIP devices stay up to day with the latest firmware. VoIP traffic should be isolated to its own vLAN at a minimum with isolated physical LANs with dedicated VoIP switches and dedicated structured cable runs being options for more secure setups if needed.
Work with your clients to plan out as much as possible before you cutover to the new VoIP system. You’ll find clients that want the features of a VoIP system, but don’t understand exactly how they want it to run. Address this up-front and walk your client through the entire process, show them how the menu will be setup, and let them listen to any greetings or menu options you create. If you don’t, you could be faced with a client who’s expecting something different from what you provide, even if they don’t know what that “something” is.
Come to terms with the fact some analog will have to stay in place. Things like the emergency phone in an elevator and fire alarm panels are required by law to be on analog lines, while other systems such as building security panels can be converted to use a cellular connection instead. Check your local laws and regulations before you start ripping out the 66 blocks at your next client.
Now that you have planned for your VoIP solutions and prepped the network it’s time to take a look at specific VoIP service providers. When comparing providers, it can be challenging to figure out which one is the better fit for your client or business. On the surface it can appear to be the same VoIP systems with different price tags, but when you take a closer look at the details it will often become apparent.
If you haven’t already, decide which path you want to take to providing VoIP solutions. You can take on the risk and responsibility of hosting and managing everything yourself, farm it all out to a third party, or take a hybrid approach where you manage the PBX a third party is hosting. There is no wrong path here, just make sure you know what you and your MSP is capable of before committing to hosting everything yourself.
Take a hard look at the pricing of various VoIP providers and you can clearly see how varied their methods are. Some charge a base fee and add minutes used on top while others charge you based on users or lines and include unlimited calling. You will see providers giving away phones for free and others selling them for $200 each. A contract may be required, or the service may be month-to-month and the features included also will vary, so be sure to read all fine print before signing up and negotiate accordingly.
As big as the VoIP space already is, it’s only going to continue to grow and if your MSP hasn’t taken a look into offering VoIP solutions already then now is the time.
About The Author
John Watkins is a seasoned expert in SMB technologies, having spent over a decade helping businesses grow by leveraging new technology and IT processes. While his focus has been primarily in IT Management, he is also well-versed in Unified Communications/VoIP, Cloud Technologies and Cyber Security. Currently, John works for Capital Business Systems, providing vCIO services to clients across the Midwestern United States. For more information visit www.NebraskaITServices.com.