How to: Choosing the right VoIP provider

Your how-to guide on choosing the right VoIP provider for your small business or enterprise

VoIP's main claim to fame is the remarkable amount of money a small or medium-sized-business can save on its communications bills. So what is the right provider for you?

VoIP has been around of a number of years and is hugely popular amongst the technically minded, but it is only in the last year or two that it is seeing far more widespread adoption at the business and enterprise level.

For a reasonably small outlay of cash, individual users can get good quality VoIP services through a number of providers that have sprung up over the last few years, the most popular being the likes of Engin, Faktorel, Mynetfone and Pennytel. These providers have also branched out into the SMB space, and some of the larger providers, such as Internode, Telstra and iiNet, are now offering enterprise- level VoIP services.

So why go with VoIP now? The main reason is, of course, cost. Most providers offer far cheaper local and international calls than fixed line telephone providers, and in a lot of cases minimal hardware is required – just a VoIP-enabled gateway device and away you go. Issues still remain with call quality for larger businesses looking at multiple lines, but this problem is slowly being ironed out with services such as the Australian-designed Voxalot, which offers increased features to current VoIP users at a low cost, as well as SIP trunking. SIP trunking can be used as an ISDN primary rate replacement for outgoing calls, allowing you to use whichever carrier you like.

For small business looking to get into VoIP, the business case is clear, according to Internode's product manager, Jim Kellett. “It's pretty much cost,” he says. “It can take a huge chunk out of a medium or small business' communication bill, which is largely phone and mobile. Internet is only a small proportion of most companies' bills. The ability to have free calls between branches and timed calls will save a bucket of money.”

Kellett says cost is the initial attraction of VoIP, but over the last year or so it has started to move up the food chain to do things that weren't previously possible for a small business.

“For instance, running everyone's extensions off the one PBX rather than having discrete landlines scattered around the countryside,” he says. “That degree of consolidation and allowing people to communicate with each other within the network can be a lot more friendly than doing it over a traditional system. You can't get much more cost effective.”

For medium-sized-business and even at the enterprise level, very cost effective packages are available. Internode's NodePhone Business Trunks is an SIP trunking service specifically designed for business users, offering up to 100-number in dial and with the ability to connect several IP PBXs and support direct extension dialling and multiple concurrent calls.

Internode recommends that larger business looking to use trunking services also consult a good systems integrator who specialises in the different IP PBX systems such as Cisco, Asterisk and Mitel.

iiNet is also working at the enterprise level, offering a SIP trunking solution that lets you choose the best balance of concurrently available lines. For its Multiline package, iiNet charges $9.95 for up to two lines, $7.95 for each line after that up to 10 lines, and will design a package for users requiring more than 10 lines. Prices for calls are similar to most of the other VoIP providers – 15c untimed calls locally and nationally, 29c per minute to mobiles, charged per 30 second block, and international calls for 5c per minute.

There are some cheaper deals out there – the popular Engin ePPX package for small to medium-sized-businesses charges a monthly fee of $9.50 per user, with local calls charged at 10c untimed, mobile calls at 17c per minute and international calls from 1.9c per minute.

However, depending on the average length or the number of calls made, a differential system might be more cost effective. Mynetphone charges a higher monthly fee – $60 per month for two lines with unlimited users – but includes 250 local or national calls and then charges 10c untimed above that.

One of the main problems with VoIP is that it is entirely dependent on the quality of your broadband connection. When voice traffic is high, data traffic can be delayed. “On a good day you can't really notice the difference but on a bad day you might notice the difference in quality,” Internode's Kellett says. Like Internode, some providers who own their own network are able to “groom” traffic to ensure disruption is minimised.

Converting to VoIP makes a great deal of sense for small businesses particularly if they are moving into new premises. In addition to traditional PBXs not being required, many providers can offer a free 1300 number, PSTN porting and pretty much all offer Quality of Service (QoS). Most are now bundling their VoIP products with their broadband offering.

If you are undecided about which provider to use – and some of the most popular, like Freshtel, have had major problems recently – then some of the best advice is to make a test call using their service to confirm the quality is good, or ask them to provide a testimonial. The good news for small business owners is that you can try out a number of different VoIP services and choose the best one for you.

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