In the early to mid 1990’s, the Internet was a cool thing. Unfortunately, extremely slow and unreliable Internet Service Providers made it little more than a gimmick for most people. Not too long ago, smartphones with web browsers gave us a glimpse at portable computing, but it took the iPhone and high-speed wireless data plans to integrate them into the mainstream. VoIP is another technology that has taken many years to mature, but its time has finally come. Smartphones and VoIP are rapidly pushing traditional phone lines out of our homes, and all the signs point to the same happening in the business world.
I’ve been reviewing business technology products for the past seven years, and I started paying attention to VoIP services targeting business in 2009. At the time, my office was using a traditional Nortel phone system with AT&T phone lines, and I absolutely hated all of it. The phones were stupidly expensive and the functions were counter-intuitive. We also had to pay an IT guy to setup a new phone every time we made a new hire. When I read that business VoIP phones were less expensive, more flexible, easier to use and required no special IT skills to configure, I was excited to try them out. Unfortunately, when we started testing the products, the reliability and call quality was so poor that we couldn’t justify making the switch in our own office, let alone recommend other business owners purchase the products.
Over the next two years, the business VoIP companies invested heavily in their data infrastructures as well as the VoIP technology itself. The data compression technology that the companies developed dramatically decreased the amount of bandwidth that the phones needed to provide clear reception. Some companies also started creating redundancies with their servers and data, so if systems failed in one location, a backup would automatically take its place. These and other technological and process improvements dramatically improved VoIP’s call quality and reliability.
Our company finally made the switch to business VoIP in 2011. Everything worked as advertised and the features and cost savings were substantial. However, as we grew, we found that the lower equipment costs and monthly per line costs were eventually offset by the fact that every phone had to have it’s own dedicated line. Rather than paying for 4 rollover lines with AT&T, we were paying for 20 lines with our business VoIP carrier (one line for each employee and 2 conference rooms), but most of our employees only needed the phone a few times per week.
Over the last six to nine months, VoIP companies like Nextiva have started to offer customized plans based on each individual company’s needs. You can get dedicated lines, shared minute plans (VoIP’s equivalent to rollover lines), virtual extensions for mobile employees, and any combination of these in order to pay only for what you need.
Like high-speed wireless and smartphones, VoIP technology isn’t perfect. VoIP phone service still isn’t as reliable as a traditional landline, but its dramatically improved reliability combined with flexible pricing plans, incredible features and flexibility have leveled the playing field. The telecom industry recognizes that VoIP is where businesses are heading and the quality is only going to get better. For many businesses, it’s already a much better option than old school landlines.
Leo Welder is the Founder of Zilker Ventures, which owns and operates a family of websites focused on business technology. The company’s latest website is FindAFax.com, which is dedicated to online fax and Internet based communications.