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VoIP communications can mean the difference between your hybrid work strategy succeeding or failing. We evaluated the top cloud-based VoIP providers to assist you in selecting the best solution for your business.
The small to midsize business (SMB) telephone market is dominated by voice over IP (VoIP) systems, and it only grew stronger during the pandemic. They are more versatile than on-premises PBXs because they are less expensive and because they are essentially software. There's nothing an old-school PBX can't achieve, and there's a list of stuff you can't do about VoIP that the equipment can't.
VoIP systems, often known as cloud PBXes, allow you to manage all of your voice communications from a single online interface, regardless of how many extensions you have, where your workers are located, or what devices they use. Most systems also include video conferencing and team collaboration tools. When you combine everything with subscriber cost that is generally considerably lower than the traditional on-premises PBXs, VoIP is one of the finest communications investments any company can make, particularly in the event of a pandemic.
Still, COVID-19 will not last forever, and hybrid work may not be suitable for your company, so keeping core VoIP criteria in mind is critical. This includes providing voice communications at employees' desks once they begin returning to the office. VoIP systems may be needed to support a contact center for selling or customer support and link through to various other messaging services, such as video conferences, faxes, communications technology, texting, teleconferencing, and wireless phones.
Furthermore, sophisticated software features are commonly expected, including shared meeting participation, voice to mail transcription, and call record. Not to mention that many businesses still require a service that connects to the public switched telephone network (PSTN).
Because they operate across such a wide range of features and channels, many of today's phone systems are dubbed Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS). These are primarily cloud-based virtual PBXs (private branch exchanges) with at most one (usually numerous) application clients to improve operation on the web, pc, and, particularly, mobile devices. Even household VoIP systems provide functions that a traditional phone system does not have.
You must first establish how your firm will utilize a phone system before you can choose a brand. Examine your present phone system to see if you want to maintain it all together and put VoIP capabilities on top, keep only a piece of it, or replace it altogether. A complete replacement is frequently out of the question, if only because some components of your current phone system are challenging to convert to softphones or even desktop VoIP telephones.
If you operate in a heavy factory setting with outdoor activities, including a structural steelyard or a landscape company, your sturdy old outdoors phones might be just what you require. You must also select which aspects of the old telephone network are vital to keeping and which characteristics of a new phone system you believe are necessary.
When planning, it is critical to include stakeholders from all aspects of your business. Yes, because all voice services will now be information communications, including IT and data security workers. Employees who will use the system to accomplish activities, particularly those that produce money and engage consumers, must be included.
These individuals have invaluable insights into what is required as opposed to what is excellent and new. Understand that a VoIP system is more than just a fresh set of phones; such platforms have favorite real-time lists, and many of those functions might affect your overall pricing, so you must decide whatever you need and don't. Knowing what VoIP is really about is the very first step for corporate customers.
VoIP refers to digitizing voice signals and then sending the digital voice data via an IP network. To do this, the analog speech information is encoded using software known as a codec. Another codec is in charge of transforming the digital signal to analog so that it may be comprehended.
To function, a VoIP system needs a method to route calls between users or the outside world. In a cloud-based system, this is handled by a virtual PBX. Your VoIP provider manages this routing in the cloud, which is why you pay them. In exchange for your membership payments, whoever vendor is providing that is also running a big PBX operation someplace in a data center and slicing off a little piece of it to dedicate to your business.
You're sharing a vast PBX with the provider's other customers, but your PBX seems to be devoted to you since these firms utilize multi-tenant segmentation. This engine will manage call routing both within and outside of your VoIP network.
Many companies, however, require call routing via the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and other analog phones. This may be a PSTN gateway or a hybrid PBX in your business with at least a modest telephone switch. If this is needed, your VoIP vendor will notify you during the planning step. A PBX, except for an associated way of handling local and analog phones, now seems to be identical to the other servers in your data center.
Many small businesses, however, make every effort to avoid any on-premises PBX components. This is partly due to cost savings and the fact that the capabilities provided by all-cloud systems are more than adequate for their requirements. Some virtual cloud PBXs, for example, can handle PSTN connectivity without requiring any on-site hardware. Make sure to inquire about this with any potential VoIP service providers before committing.
Most VoIP solutions will necessitate consistent and stable internet connectivity in all your office locations where you will use VoIP. Your business phone system must, at the very least, have access to a business-class Internet connection, so discuss these requirements with your company's internet service provider (ISP). It should be a dedicated link over a dedicated router if you want your phone calls to seem like they're coming from a company rather than someone's home Skype connection. It will help if you have a router that can construct virtual LANs (VLANs) and encrypt your voice traffic at the absolute least. End-to-end VoIP security is now required for all calls.
Your current internet connection may not be adequate for larger systems or systems where security is critical, such as being compliant with vertical regulatory needs. The internet does not provide quality of service (QoS), and bandwidth is unreliable. Network congestion can derail a conference call, and activities such as DNS hijacking can jeopardize your company's reputation and data.
It may very well be ideal if you were sure that the LAN could manage your VoIP traffic, in any case, your web affiliation. VoIP network the board is troublesome because on the off chance you drop it onto your organization will handle the traffic equivalently to whatever other traffic, which could be your common bookkeeping application or those 20 gigabytes of records your associate just moved to the cloud.
The issue is that VoIP traffic is much more susceptible to network bumps and potholes than most general office traffic. This can result in garbled conversations, difficulty connecting to Wi-Fi, or (worst case scenario) dropped and lost calls. If your company is small and your network consists primarily of one or two wireless routers, your configuration and testing headaches may be minimal (though still there). These activities can be difficult and time-consuming for medium and more extensive networks, resulting in increased man-hour expenses.
Fortunately, the providers reviewed here have engineering staff who will contact you as part of the setup process to assist your IT staff in testing and optimizing your network before deployment. That is something we recommend, even if it is more expensive, but You may start preparing your LAN for VoIP right now to make the deployment process go more quickly.
For starters, ensure that you comprehend QoS. (mentioned above). This entails going beyond understanding the concept and moving on to how Your office's networking equipment – or, if you're still there, your workers' home offices – can deploy QoS. Because most business-grade networking gear can manage QoS in several ways, it's crucial to figure out which approach will handle voice traffic in your environment the best.
The next stage is to educate yourself about codecs. This technology gives each call its voice quality since it controls both bandwidth usage and audio data compression. There are various proprietary and open source voice codecs, so find out which ones your networking equipment supports. Then, ensure that your VoIP vendor supports those codecs, and then experiment with several types to discover which is the most efficient.
Finally, it would help if you examined your current network monitoring tools. Therefore, in the end, it will be these technologies that allow you to observe and manage that traffic throughout your network. Check that the tools you're using meet the needs of VoIP, particularly in terms of QoS, traffic analysis, and network congestion.
Once you've contracted with a VoIP provider, Their engineers will help you determine The overall service grade of your network (think of it as your network's core "VoIP readiness factor"), as well as how to alter and improve their service so VoIP may run smoothly throughout your infrastructure.
The pandemic has severely impacted most VoIP installations. That's because what we've talked about so far has been focused on optimizing one network, notably your principal office network, for VoIP traffic. These processes necessitate a significant amount of labor and time on the part of both your VoIP vendor's experts and your IT personnel.
COVID, on the other hand, has moved your VoIP system away from a single internal network with a single large and well-managed internet connection and out to dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of modest home routers where your home-working staff must now use their softphones. Maintaining high call quality has been one of the most challenging problems for IT professionals since 2020.
The issue is keeping control of your voice quality in so many different places. Even if you have several business-grade routers in several branch offices, this problem is manageable because (1) it's usually not too tricky to provision those branch office routers remotely, and (2) the routers at those locations were specifically chosen by your IT staff because they work well with the routers at your primary location. Home routers, on the other hand, do not have this limitation.
If you still have a legacy voice system, such as an on-site PBX with analog phones, the only accurate COVID response you'll get is call forwarding to your employees' home phones. Your workers may or may not find this acceptable, especially because many of them will no longer have access to an analog phone, forcing you to divert calls to a personal cell phone. If you have a VoIP system, you probably have one of the softphones mentioned above as part of that service; that's how most firms are meeting the COVID challenge, according to a poll performed last year by Spiceworks Ziff Davis:
Softphones are ideal for the epidemic because they allow your staff to boot up their laptop or mobile device, install the softphone, put on a headset, and they're ready to go. Potentially.
This is when you may have issues with voice quality. Your IT personnel will not only be unable to handle such home routers remotely, but they will also be unaware of their capabilities. These routers were either picked by the employee or by the employee's ISP, so there are hundreds of different kinds and models to choose from, even in a midsized organization. Some will include more advanced features, such as QoS, while others will not. Those who do may implement QoS and comparable characteristics in a variety of methods.
This complicates IT personnel's duty of configuring and managing home routers. However, they will still face it since if employees experience communication issues with their softphones, their first contact will be to the IT help desk. It's also not a good idea to send them to the VoIP provider or, worse, the ISP. Employees will be angry since such organizations will be unfamiliar with your firm and will reject or reply slowly.
In practice, because COVID is a transient issue, most firms handle it on a case-by-case basis. Most home networks can take the additional demand as long as the employee limits other latency-sensitive traffic, such as gaming or video streaming, during the hours they need to communicate. If some home routers fail, IT experts can make a line and manage them each in turn. Sometimes they'll have the option to get to the switch distantly with the representative's approval. On different occasions, they'll need to lead the worker through arrangement methodology to determine the issue. Unless the firm pays for a new router or a higher bandwidth tier from its ISP, the employee may have to put up with it.
Aside from COVID, VoIP is the most practical choice for the significant, more remarkable part of SMBs because membership costs are more affordable than purchasing nearby PBX gear. VoIP is the best way to keep awake with developing correspondence patterns.
However, because VoIP and UCaaS are built on integration, you can't purchase without thinking about the future. On the one hand, look at what each provider has done in product development and keeping up with VoIP and UCaaS advances over the past half-decade. On the other hand, consider what you'll require in the following five years.
Over the previous year, we've noticed two themes that almost all of the suppliers we've tested here recognized as essential to their clients. This means that in 2021 and 2022, these will be critical capabilities that suppliers will want to incorporate into their platforms:
While some VoIP services continue to provide mobile handsets, these devices appear to be on the decline. After all, why carry a hefty telephone when you can chat on your smartphone if you want to communicate while walking? To allow smooth voice switchover, one option is to employ geofencing. Consequently, if your smartphone detects that it is connected to your company's wireless network, it may simply engage your VoIP client through Wi-Fi rather than your cell connection, allowing you to make and receive calls from both your calling plan and your company's VoIP service. This often extends beyond ordinary phone calls to include texts, voicemail-to-email conversion, and collaborative online meetings.
A bit further down the road, though, is ubiquitous 5G. When this occurs, numerous VoIP vendors intend to connect their service to 5G so that employees may access their business VoIP service wherever they are and on any device that is 5G compatible. While some companies achieve this with existing mobile technology, the latency restrictions associated with 4G calling frequently make it a sub-optimal experience, not only for video and collaboration but also for simple voice traffic. 5G is the first provider that offers the necessary bandwidth for true mobile UC to become a reality.
As previously noted, SIP is the primary protocol for VoIP, and it was not developed with security in mind. This indicates that hackers are using a range of new attack methods. A denial of service (DoS) assault on phone service, rather than the network as a whole, is one example. This will cause your service to be garbled or dropped since it causes your connection quality to deteriorate, as well as high latency and system problems. Spoofing caller ID is also getting increasingly frequent.
Hackers can obtain sensitive information from employees by contacting them with a caller ID that appears to be from within the organization and convincing them that they can trust the person on the other end of the phone. Security was mentioned by every company we visited during this round of testing as an essential sales and development factor in the following years. Managed call encryption with minimal service interruptions, integration with identity management systems, and even artificial intelligence (AI) approaches for detecting and responding to assaults as they happen in all possibilities.
These innovations are expected to become significant selling factors in most VoIP vendor-customer presentations during the next two years. While this is admirable, please make sure that you fully comprehend what is being supplied and how the vendor intends to deliver it. Is a 5G deployment truly standards-based, or do specific proprietary hardware or software components remain? Does the vendor adequately meet the rising security demands in major industry regulations such as HIPAA and SOX, and how much will any new security measures impair overall voice performance?
If all of this appears to be a lot of work, remember that it is well worth it. A hosted phone, VoIP PBX solution may deliver nearly whatever a company needs from a phone or collaboration system—and at a cheaper cost than buying and maintaining your on-premises PBX. It's just a matter of selecting which option is best for your business.
MVP of RingCentral
The 8x8 X Series
365 Business Voice by Microsoft
Vonage Business Cloud.
Caller ID: Freshcaller
Mitel MiCloud Connect.
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