Questions to ask when negotiating hosted VoIP deal for your business

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  • January 11, 2013

Questions to ask voip providerBuying a business phone system for your company is an important decision and one that must be made with a lot of thought and consideration. Understanding your business needs and then examining the different types of phone systems would help in making the right decision. There are three main types of phone systems currently available in the market. These are the PBX system, Key system and KSU-less system. The system you opt for would depend largely on the number of lines and the features that you need for your business operations. However, there is a fourth option, which is VoIP. This technology provides voice calling through the Internet and can prove considerably cheaper, in addition to other benefits.

The Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology facilitates making and receiving calls through the Internet. VoIP offers cost savings plus innovative features. There is the consumer VoIP and the business phone system, where remote offices are linked to a single phone system and have extension-to-extension connections. Improvement in audio quality and reduced cost of technology has accelerated the growth of VoIP in business operations. As reliability improves and prices fall, it is likely VoIP phone systems will replace traditional phone networks in the future, making it an extremely suitable option for both small and large companies.

With the increased usage in a business enterprise, it makes sense to opt for a VoIP phone service. Businesses are saving up to 80% on their monthly telephone bills by moving to a VoIP phone service plus getting several additional features as well. Features, compatibility and functions may differ among the many business phones and you will have to decide what kind of phone would support the day-to-day needs of your organization.

Advantages
The advanced features of a business VoIP phone service could include desk-to-desk calling, which translates into connecting all your remote offices in various locations with a single telephone service. Most VoIP service providers also offer conference calling, automated attendants, music on hold and much more. Plus, it all comes with a high-speed Internet connection, which gives your calls perfect clarity and total security.

The advances in Internet technology have added to the many benefits of a VoIP phone service. Business owners can now enhance their telephone communications with the help of features like voicemail to email, auto attendance, call waiting and forwarding, multiple lines and much more. The advantage here is that unlike the conventional telephone service, these additional features come with the VoIP phone service and customers are not charged separately for each feature. The VoIP phone service is a feature-rich and low-cost telephone solution and switching to it would substantially reduce your telephone bills. Costs of international calls using the VoIP phone service are much lower than the PSTN system and you would have a global number which can be used anywhere in the world and is not restricted to your location.

Hosted PBX or Virtual PBX services are a very cost-efficient way for small business enterprises to utilize the best business VoIP phone service.

Hosted PBX
The hosted PBX service has all the advantages of using business VoIP phone service and does not require a large investment to purchase network equipment. The equipment remains with the service provider, which ensures that problems with the service are resolved remotely by the provider. The hosted service also helps you to take advantage of any redundancy and backups that otherwise would require more money if they were on premise. Phones need to be bought or leased only when needed and your system can grow with your future needs. System changes and updates are taken care of by the service provider, who also provides all the necessary support, so there is no additional staff recruitment for this purpose.

Managed PBX
In the managed PBX service, you can outsource the management of your PBX system. You get a total system solution for the payment of a monthly fee. Your voice and data solutions are all maintained and service hitches are all managed remotely. If the technician needs to come to your office or location, the service provider is totally responsible for solving the existing problem. The managed services can also give you reports and statistics vital for your business operations. Managed PBX services normally charge according to the number of lines, making this the ideal solution for small businesses. In a managed service agreement, a technical specialist is assigned to each customer. This representative keeps an eye on the account, maintains it and resolves all problems.

SIP Trunking
SIP trunking can enable a business enterprise to make optimum use of the installed IP-PBX’s and connect over IP not only on the business premises, but also outside it. The SIP trunk is provided by the VoIP service provider to link up with the PSTN system. This is a versatile and cost-effective method that gives you all the benefits of a business VoIP phone service, but your existing IP PBX system remains together with the Internet connection for voice and data. You can take steps to streamline your existing communications system while moving to a hosted VoIP service.

Features and Cost
There are several VoIP providers and it is important to get all the information before making a decision. This involves getting multiple quotations and comparison of all the features being offered as well as what kind of VoIP system your organization needs to streamline its telephone and communication systems. The system you choose would depend on the number of employees and your specific needs.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the VoIP telephone system offers substantial cost savings over the traditional PSTN system. There are several add-on features besides the normal telephone features which are usually offered free of cost by the provider.

VoIP vs. PSTN network
The PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) is the traditional telephone system used by almost everyone until VoIP technology entered the scene. The PTSN is based on a circuit switched network and is not a very efficient or cost-effective method of making calls, but people and business enterprises had no alternative. The movement towards VoIP business phone solutions has been significant in the last few years and the advantages over the traditional system of telephony are many. Some of these are:

• There is no need for a PBX, which is an expensive equipment used by companies to connect their internal lines to the PSTN. There is neither capital outlay nor operational expenses involved in a PBX installation when you opt for VoIP. All that you need is broadband Internet access and a router that routes your calls to the Internet. The service provider is responsible for all the services and maintenance of the VoIP business solutions that come with it.
• The VoIP is a digital packet-based system where several calls can be made simultaneously and sent through the same LAN (Local Area Network) that is available for your computer data needs. Therefore, it is a much cheaper telephone system than the PSTN.
• The calls (voice) travel through the Internet and not over the PSTN, so calls are much cheaper. The Internet is not as regulated a network and business VoIP providers simply charge a monthly fee for the services that would include calls to any destination.

• Multiple locations in the country or overseas become irrelevant in the VoIP system. An employee in the USA can call an associate in London through a simple 4-digit extension and it is free. This is because the call travels over the company network on the Internet and not on the traditional long-distance network. This single feature alone can result in a huge reduction in telephone bills in any company.
• A large array of special features comes along with the VoIP service. These include Internet fax, regular fax and voicemail via email or with a web browser, conference calling, caller ID and call forwarding.
• If you travel on business, you can take along your IP phone or Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA) and your number goes with you or you can configure your phone to call-forward. ATA is configured for Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). You can move your phone anywhere and still keep the same phone number since it will receive an IP address dynamically. It is estimated that it can cost hundreds of dollars to move a telephone in a regular circuit switched network, but these are not incurred in a Business VoIP system since the IP network does not care about your location.

Questions you should ask
When you are having a discussion on what VoIP plan/package you would like to have, there are certain pertinent questions that you need to ask the service provider. The answers to these questions would help you in making a considered decision.

1. How long have you been in business and how many customers you currently have (which gives an idea of size and company stability)? This information is essential, as it would delineate your needs. The number of employees, infrastructure and customer base would enable the service provider to offer you the suitable plans for your kind of business.
2. Is there any special equipment I need? If you are taking a hosted plan, you do not need any
special equipment. The hosted PBX service does not need a large investment for purchase of network equipment. The equipment remains with the service provider, which ensures that problems with the service are resolved remotely by the provider. If you are opting for the managed PBX service, you need to outsource the management of your PBX system, where the service engineer would come to repair any problems with your equipment.
3. Is there a contract length? Some companies usually have a minimum contract of at least one
year and they can be longer periods of contact if desired. You need to examine the contract carefully and also enquire about the termination policy. You might want to end the contract if you are not satisfied with the service or for some other reason. Some companies even have a penalty payment if you decide to terminate the agreement before the contract period. You have to find out all the details before signing the contract.
4. What is the timeframe for the system to be up and running? This can happen within a few hours or take a few weeks, depending on your needs. The provider needs to analyze your requirements such as the number of phones needed and also take the time to configure them for use before they are brought to the premises. The number of employees, offices and customers also are taken into consideration. There is also a time difference between a hosted and a managed solution.
5. What is your reliability and quality? Quality and reliability are crucial to the VoIP setup, as the call must be clear and the signal must be reliable. Bandwidth connectivity affects quality and reliability and in VoIP, the transmission rate or speed affects bandwidth. A cable or a
DSL connection is the preferred technology and you have to ensure that your Internet
connection is a good one.
6. Is my Internet connection good enough? It is important to test your Internet connection ahead of time, if you are planning to get a VoIP service. This gives you an idea of whether a good VoIP connection is possible. There are websites that test your computer system for VoIP functionality and also test the speed of your Internet connection. If you have a slow
connection, you may experience intermittent call dropping or a static connection.
7. Should I have a POTS (landline) phone for backup? Since the VoIP phones will not work in the case of a power failure, it is a good idea to keep one backup landline or mobile phone in case of emergencies.
8. How easy is it to add new phones or features – both physically and how expensive is it?
Features come with the setup and are generally free of cost, apart from the monthly service charged by the provider. Additional phones would have to be paid for depending on the brand and model. The installation is completely easy and is taken care of by the service provider.
9. Get a written quote with prices detailed making sure they show monthly charges plus any one-time fees. After all the talks are over, it is vital to get a written quotation on the company letterhead so that it is official. You must make sure that apart from the monthly charge, the service provider has shown any extra fees that need to be paid during installation and running of the VoIP system. You do not want to be surprised later on by any inflated charges levied by the service provider.
10. Let them know you are getting a couple of other quotes and ask if that is their best deal. Is there any wiggle room? Just like any sales process, it is always good to ask. It is wise to get a number of quotations from various providers to make a comparison and a proper choice. You should also inform the particular company, so that you get the best deal possible. In a normal sales pitch, where there is competition, you may get a lower price.

When you sign a contract with a VoIP service provider, you are not just investing money but also the reputation of your company. It could be catastrophic if the service company went bankrupt or closed down, leaving you in the lurch, so to speak. Therefore, it would be wise to ensure that the company providing you with VoIP services is a reliable and stable one, which can guarantee you quality of service for at least a few years.

Price is not the only factor in the choice of a service provider. You may save a few hundred dollars, but if the company you are dealing with is not trustworthy you could end up losing far more than that. You must also remember that the streamlined telephone and communication systems of your business depend on the service company and choose with great care and consideration.

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