Voice over IP or VoIP phone systems have been around for some time now. They promise a myriad of features from real-time presence to unified communications to help make businesses more efficient. I have, for some time, been a huge advocate of leaving the old multiline phones and basic key systems behind and moving even the smallest business to VoIP systems because of their flexibility. Recently, I have seen a shift in the market for the smaller business market. Where features and hardware for these systems were becoming more and more accessible to smaller offices, suddenly providers like Cisco are now pulling out of the small office phone system market, catering to offices with at least 50 – 100 users. The prescribed solution for these smaller offices is to employ a hosted solution where the only hardware in the office is the phone sitting on the desk. This isn’t a new concept. In the past, I have stayed away from hosted VoIP, not because there is a problem with it but because in WV in many areas reliable Internet access has been, well unreliable. Internet services in the Kanawha valley have improved, though there are still some occasional pain points. Cities like Charleston and Huntington are beginning to see Metro Ethernet services being delivered that provide internet speeds nearly as fast as what internal network speeds average. So with that, I think it is time to take a closer look at what a hosted phone service can do.
I have recently partnered with a company called Digium that provides a VoIP phone system that claims to be one size fits all. For one price, users get all the enterprise features that other vendors want to provide as add-on services. Not only does Digium provide on-site systems, they also offer hosted solutions in the cloud. Some of the features include voice mail to e-mail, detailed call reporting, personal call routing rules, auto-attendant, user switchboards, and many more. Digium isn’t the only player in town: 8×8, Shore Tel, Ring Central, and Megapath are a few of the other hosted providers you will find, if you do a quick Google search — all with many of the same features. But I am not writing this article to sell a VoIP service. I want to make you aware of the viability of using this in a small office. Most of these services cost anywhere from $20-$40 per month for each user. For a 10 user office that could be upwards of nearly $500 a month. That might seem like a lot, but consider that leasing a similar system will cost almost as much with only the most basic features. Already there is a cost benefit. Don’t get me wrong. There will still be some set up cost involved. Most users will need physical phone hardware that will run $100-$600 per phone, depending on features and the number of lines the phone needs to support.
If you are worried about your internet going down or power outages, redundant systems can be installed; and, because everything is in the cloud if you need to send everyone to work from home for an extended period of time, all they would need would be the phone off their desk and an internet connection and phone calls would resume as normal. Battery backup or generators could be put in place to keep phones and other systems running during an outage. I told you VoIP is flexible. If your phone system has gotten old or you want to be more flexible when it comes to communication, I recommend that you look into VoIP. And, if you have 10 or fewer people I think today hosted VoIP is worth checking out.