VoIP Phone Systems: The Ultimate Guide [2021]

VoIP Phone Systems

The good news is you’re probably already using a VoIP phone system! ‘VoIP’ is the catch-all word for a number of different voice calling technologies. Very soon it will be the only way to call somebody, whether you’re aware of it or not.

There are advantages and disadvantages to VoIP phone systems (but mostly it’s advantages!) Let’s take a look.

What is VoIP? What does it do?

Voice over Internet Protocol is a way of making calls over the internet. Put very simply, Internet Protocol is how devices connect across the internet. Just as we can send spreadsheets, recipes and animated GIFs via the net, we can also send phone calls. Have you ever used WhatsApp to make a voice call? That’s VoIP.

In the same way you would approach BT for a traditional phone line, you approach a VoIP provider, or host, for your VoIP service. You may see services for ‘hosted calling’ or ‘cloud calling’ – this is still just VoIP. Most have built-in call-queues, auto-attendant, voicemail and call recording, and these are the bits that are ‘hosted’. An auto-attendant is the feature that allows your clients to ‘press 1 for this, press 2 for that’. It will also manage hold music and the routing of calls to the right people, all of which is usually set up in a browser.

Your VoIP ‘network’ doesn’t necessarily need to be in the same building or even the same country. VoIP systems will let you, for example, transfer a call to a colleague in a completely separate site, in another town. Some systems will let you do this across international borders as if you were in the same room.

A VoIP phone system will let you call anyone with a phone number, just like a standard phone system. Call fees will vary, but call plans generally provide local and national calls for ‘free’. There is also an option to let users call premium and international numbers for a fee. Or you can choose to bar premium calls per user, or entirely. It’s up to you.

What equipment do I need?

You can use a dedicated unit that looks and acts like a traditional desk phone – a lot of businesses do. These devices are familiar and unintimidating to everyone, and all of the basic features of VoIP are available on them. These units are usually bought up-front, or paid for monthly as part of your VoIP service.

However, a VoIP system can also run on your laptop or desktop computer as a ‘softphone’. It can also run as an app on your smartphone, or as a combination of all of these. Softphones on a desktop machine, with a headset plugged in, are fantastic in a call-centre environment, for receptionists, or for businesses that deal with a lot of calls. The same service on a smartphone app is perfect for those that are out and about.

Both of these solutions will present you with the familiar dial-pad, speed-dial options and call/hang-up buttons, but as software on your computer monitor or phone screen rather than the physical buttons of a desk phone.

VoIP is also used in conferencing and board-meeting environments and can be installed as part of a full multimedia solution, with wall-mounted video-screens and arrays of microphones and speakers. These kinds of setups can be tailored for businesses both large and small. Captain Jean-Luc Picard chatting to Worf on the big screen on the bridge of the Enterprise? Still VoIP! (Probably.)

All of this can probably run on the broadband internet connection you already have. A small business of fewer than a dozen people should be able to get by on an older ADSL (copper wire) connection. A broadband or fibre internet connection will happily handle calls from an office of 50, 70 or more.

Smartphone apps

VoIP apps on smartphones are the next big movement in VoIP, and many businesses are taking advantage of the flexibility of providing a mobile business call system that can be scaled up and down very quickly.

A typical mobile phone contract will tie you in for at least 16 months, but a VoIP user can be allocated a phone number instantaneously. That same number can be decommissioned just as quickly should it no longer be required. This is incredibly handy for businesses that employ staff on short terms, or for organisations that require pop-up, temporary offices.

As a result, VoIP on a smartphone app will give you all the benefits of an office-based phone network, with modern flexibility and mobility.

Pros and cons

The only real con is VoIP’s reliability on your internet connection. Like much of the modern office, it relies on your broadband, and if the internet goes down, your phones go down too. If your internet is patchy, then maybe VoIP isn’t the way to go just yet.

VoIP vs landline, the biggest pro by far is cost – your business can save a heck of a lot of money on calls, and on equipment. VoIP for small businesses, and large, is very good value for money.

The next biggest pro is flexibility. Your VoIP system can be scaled up or down easily, and you don’t have to wait for lines to be installed or for numbers to be made available. Internal call costs are essentially eliminated, and premium calls costs can be tightly controlled.

Like other cloud services, mobility is key, especially as we’re a year into home working and with no immediate change on the horizon. Your office goes wherever you do, and is not tied to a geographic location. A whole office can move and be up-and-running on the same day. Temporary offices can be set up, for whatever reason. You can take business calls on the office number from your kitchen table!

How to get set up

Dependent on your chosen host, a VoIP phone system can be set up in a matter of hours, a couple of days or a little longer if you have to port your existing number.

Plan IT Support can take a look at your current system. Next, we can work with you to get a better idea of what you need (and what you don’t need!) and put together a plan for your business. In most cases, you can take your existing number with you. Plan IT Support can get your VoIP phone system migrated with very little disruption, whether your organisation is big or small.

Speak to a member of our team or request a call-back. We install VoIP phone systems in London and Essex, helping businesses to stay connected in these challenging times.