You know the cost savings of Voice over IP phone service, but only about 17 percent of small to midsize businesses have made the switch to VoIP, according to a survey by technology consultancy Savatar. Why? Because most Internet phone services don’t offer communications packages designed for small businesses. Now that’s changing, with a variety of tiered services that can fit nearly any business model.
There are two basic types of VoIP service. The first is designed to replace your existing landline phone with VoIP. Such services are offered by traditional phone companies (AT&T’s CallVantage and Verizon’s VoiceWing), cable companies (Time Warner Cable’s Digital Phone and Comcast’s Digital Voice), and VoIP pioneers such as Vonage and Packet8.
Vonage is at the forefront. Its $49.99 Small Business Unlimited Premium package includes unlimited local and long-distance calls anywhere in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico, as well as a dedicated fax line, unlimited call forwarding, and the ability to send all voice mail to an e-mail account. Additional lines cost just $12.99 for 500 minutes.
The second type of VoIP service is the free or nearly free services, such as Yahoo! Messenger with Voice, GoogleTalk, and Skype. These software applications let you place calls from a PC or connected handset to other users of the same service at no charge. Most also let you call out to regular phone numbers for just a couple of cents a minute.
The leader in this category is Skype, which even allows you to purchase a regular phone number so that people with traditional phones can call you. Skype also offers free conference calls, file transfers during calls, call forwarding, and several for-pay features. Skype for Business includes free software that lets group administrators purchase Skype credits and then track and distribute them to employees, who can use them for Skype premium services such as calls to regular phone numbers and voice mail.
VoIP isn’t a perfect solution. The issue of 911 service has yet to be satisfactorily resolved, calls are sometimes dropped, audio quality is occasionally inferior, and when the power goes out, so does the phone service. But according to the Savatar survey, 91 percent of SMBs that have adopted VoIP would recommend or highly recommend it to others.