Business VoIP Providers for 2022
Even with some state governments and municipalities choosing to loosen restrictions for the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend toward hybrid work shows no signs of slowing. Even before the virus struck, many companies were already moving toward policies that allowed employees to work from home, even if only some of the time. This shift means many workers will be beyond the scope of a traditional, on-premises PBX phone system. For these and other reasons, a growing majority of businesses have been turning to Voice over IP (VoIP) as their go-to communications solution.
VoIP systems rose to prominence not just because they’re less expensive than on-premises PBX (private branch exchange) systems, but because they’re mostly software, making them far more flexible. There’s nothing an old-fashioned PBX can do that a VoIP system can’t, but there’s a very long list of things you can do with VoIP that aren’t possible using on-premises hardware. Even residential VoIP includes features that are impossible with conventional telephone systems.
With a VoIP system, you can manage all your voice communications from a central web console no matter how many extensions you have, where your employees are, or even what devices they’re using. In addition, most systems also offer features like call recording, video conferencing, and team collaboration.
Even more advanced VoIP solutions provide additional functionality through software.They integrate other channels, including conference calls, mobile communications, a quick phone call via VoIP, text messaging, video conferencing, and social media, earning them the classification of Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS). These systems are generally cloud-based, virtual PBXes that take VoIP a step further by integrating with other software systems to enhance business processes.
When you combine these capabilities with pricing that’s generally much less expensive than an old-fashioned PBX and which requires little to no up-front capital expenditure, VoIP is a clear winner.0 seconds of 2 minutes, 49 secondsVolume 0% .
Moving to VoIP
How to get started? Your first step should be to figure out exactly how you want your business to use a phone system. If you have an existing PBX, replacing it entirely might not be a viable option, if only because some parts of the system can’t be easily changed over to softphones or even desktop VoIP handsets.
For example, suppose you have a heavy manufacturing environment with outdoor activities, such as a steel fabrication yard or a landscaping company. In that case, your rugged old outdoor phones may be just what you need there, and VoIP should only be deployed for office and remote workers. It would be best if you also decided which capabilities of the old system you’ll need to keep and what features you think will be necessary for the future.
When planning, it’s important to include stakeholders from all the critical parts of your business. Naturally, this includes the IT staff and the data security folks, since your voice calls will now be data communications. But the workers who will be using the system to get work done should have their say, too, especially those whose work directly drives revenue and engages customers.
Remember, a VoIP system is much more than just a new set of phones. VoIP platforms, and especially UCaaS systems, can have very long feature lists. But you’ll pay for those features, and some systems may pack in more than you’ll ever need. Think carefully about which features would add real value to your organization.
Bringing Channels Together With UCaaS
So far we’ve talked about replacing traditional PBX systems with VoIP, but simply switching from analog voice to digital offers only marginal cost savings. The real value of software-based communications comes from opportunities for flexibility and integration that you can’t get any other way—which takes us to the fast-evolving UCaaS paradigm mentioned above.
The features offered in any particular UCaaS solution vary widely from vendor to vendor. Still, most include options for video conferencing, shared meeting and online collaboration tools, integrated faxing, and mobile VoIP integration. Most also offer device-independent softphone clients, which are software that essentially turns your PC or smart device into an extension on the VoIP system. For remote workers, that’s a game-changer. And softphones are often the only tool for workers in call centers because they’re the front-end window to any CRM or help desk integration, which is a must-have for that job.
A softphone can also combine telephone conversations with text chat and screen sharing. This creates a collaboration session where the group shares screens, documents, and data—no prep, no reserved lines, just button clicks. In the case of a CRM integration, the system might recognize the customer’s phone number or some other identifier and automatically pull up the customer’s record for the technician or salesperson answering the call. It could even alert a manager to monitor the call if it’s a critical client.
These are the basics of UCaaS, but the concept is constantly evolving to include more communication and collaboration technologies. For example, some vendors offer industry-specific features for certain verticals, such as healthcare. These backend software integrations explain the significant growth in the UCaaS market over the last several years, as recent research from Statista bears out.
Is Your LAN Ready for VoIP?
Don’t ignore the fact that VoIP can also increase pressure on your local area network (LAN). If you simply drop VoIP onto your network, that traffic will be processed the same as any other traffic. Your shared accounting application, or that employee who’s moving 20 gigabytes of files to the cloud, will get the same priority as a phone call.
The problem is that VoIP traffic is much more sensitive to network bumps and potholes than most general office traffic. When a VoIP system is starved for bandwidth, that translates to garbled conversations, difficulty connecting, or dropped and lost calls. If your business is small and your network consists of one or two wireless routers, then your configuration and testing headaches might be fairly easy. These tasks can be complex and time-consuming for medium and larger networks, which translates into added cost.
Fortunately, most of the providers we reviewed have engineering staff that will contact you as part of your setup process to help your IT staffers test and optimize your network prior to deployment. That’s definitely something we recommend, even if it costs extra, but there are steps you can take now to prep your LAN for VoIP and make the deployment process that much easier.