Voice over IP (VoIP) is a technology that seems tailor-made for small businesses, especially now that IP networks are as common as landline telephones, and broadband Internet access is within anyone’s budget. And the benefits of VoIP for small businesses are many, including reduced phone expenses, improved customer service, and enhanced employee productivity.
Small business VoIP solutions include hardware and software dedicated to handling voice traffic and offer a variety of calling features previously out of reach for smaller companies using a traditional PSTN (public switched telephone network) phone system. VoIP systems are designed to be flexible and scalable. So whichever system you choose now will grow along with your business, allowing you to easily add users, upgrade features, and expand into more sophisticated modules as you need them.
If you already have an IP network and a high-speed Internet connection, you can implement a VoIP phone system—and you can do it in three steps.
Step 1: Assess your needs and choose your solution
You have two choices when implementing a VoIP system. You can install an IP voice system (or, IP PBX [private branch exchange]) that will handle all aspects of your phone system. Or, if you don’t want to completely replace your traditional PBX, you can install a voice gateway that works with your analog equipment to add Internet calling to your existing phone system.
Once that decision’s made, you have to determine how many extensions and IP handsets you’ll need. For instance, if you choose to install a voice gateway, you need to know how many of your existing analog phones you want to connect along with new IP phones. Cisco’s SPA8000 voice gateway, for example, can connect as many as eight analog phones to your IP network.
If you opt for an IP voice system, you’ll have a lot more decisions to make about calling features, such as automated attendant, music on hold, and integrated voicemail, in addition to how many phones you’ll need to connect. For example, Cisco’s Small Business Communications 500 Series, supports all of these features and connects up to 100 IP phones.
It’s important to figure in the cost of IP phones or softphones (desktop clients that allow users to make calls through their computers) when you’re determining the scope of your VoIP installation.
Step 2: Prepare your network
Adding voice traffic to your network can be a significant additional load for your network to carry. You need to make sure it can handle the additional traffic smoothly, with no audible delay during a conversation (referred to as “jitters”) or dropped calls. You want your IP calls to sound as clear and be as reliable as calls placed on the PSTN.
Voice traffic must be given a higher priority on the network than data traffic. This is called Quality of Service (QoS), and it cuts down on jitters and dropped IP calls. To determine whether your network can handle this additional traffic, it’s important to conduct some performance tests. If you do need morebandwidth, consider setting up a virtual LAN (VLAN) for voice traffic on your network.
Step 3: Install the voice products
This is the trickiest part. Deploying an IP PBX system or adding a voice gateway to your network is no small undertaking; it affects your entire network, from capacity to performance. Working with an IT partnerwill ensure you get the right solution to fit your business needs. In addition, a partner can implement a VoIP system with as little disruption to your business as possible.
Has your company made the switch to an IP phone system? Share your experience!
See how Thurston Kitchen of Colorado improved its customer service with a Cisco small business phone system.
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