If your business has decided to go with VoIP for your office communications, there are some factors that can influence your choice of vendor and the type of service you’ll need. Here are some considerations in choosing and planning for the right VoIP setup.
Once you’ve decided how to configure your VoIP service, check with your local telephone company to see what kind of lines you have (for example: loop start, ground start, etc.) and make sure your VoIP vendor operates with your lines.
How Quickly Can You Get a VoIP System Installed?
Your VoIP choice may not just depend on the setup you’d like, but also on the amount of time you have to switch to a new system. The ideal timeframe for installing a new private telephone exchange (PBX) is six months or more because it gives you sufficient time to test and juxtapose the current and new systems side-by-side and work out any potential bugs.
If you’re installing a new service at a new location, you’ll need to allot a month or more to get the connection from the phone company, and an additional month or so to test the system and isolate any problems.
If you have an existing Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) connection and need to deploy a new phone system immediately (to replace a failing system, for example), then you should seriously consider hiring a vendor that offers immediate on-site installation. This may cost significantly more, but it could prevent you from experiencing problems down the road since the PBX has been thoroughly tested by a technician.
For more on how to manage your technological costs, be sure to read How to Keep Technology Costs Down.
How Does Call Volume Affect Your VoIP Choice?
Another factor that will affect your VoIP choice is your call volume. First, you’ll want to look at your outbound call needs. If your business is a standard office, the common ratio of users to simultaneous calls during peak business hours is one call per three or four users. So in a typical office with 12 people, you should have the ability to make three to four simultaneous calls to the outside world. The exception to this rule would be in an outbound call center, in which case you would need to have at least as many lines out as people you have working during peak hours, so you would need close to one call for each user.
For an inbound call center, you can have more lines than people providing you have call queues and can put people on hold until a representative becomes available.
On the public switched telephone network, a standard voice circuit uses one channel for signaling and the remaining channels for voice. (If it’s a T1 line, it has 24 channels — 23 for voice and one for signaling — while an E1 has 30 channels and will allow you to place 29 simultaneous calls with the remaining channel used for signaling.) Some carriers offer fractional T1 service so you can order 1/2 or 1/4 capacity T1 at a cost that is competitive with ordering an equivalent number of analog lines.
Once you’ve estimated your call volume, determine how many phones you need to connect to the VoIP system. In a busy environment you may have users sharing phones, so check on the number of desks you’ll have in use at once. If you are going to have multiple users on the same phones, you may want to ask your vendor about available options for logging representatives into their phones. It’s possible, for instance, for multiple users to share a phone but have unique phone numbers when they log in.
When determining call volume you’ll also want to plan for growth. A PBX is an investment you can use for five or more years. Make sure the maximum number of users and capacity for simultaneous calls can be supported by the vendor and PBX technology you’ve chosen. Check to see if there are limits on the number of T1 or E1 connections you can plug into the system, and find out the maximum number of users it will support. It may be tempting to start out with a smaller, cheaper system, but it could cost you more in the long run if you need to replace the system early because you didn’t plan for growth.
How Does VoIP Affect Your Office LAN?
When selecting a VoIP system you will also want to consider whether you are using a local-area network (LAN). If you have an existing LAN, then the phone calls routed over the network could potentially interfere with your data traffic or vice versa. Speak with your vendor about the best way to deal with your LAN. One solution is implementing a separate physical network for telephony that is dedicated to VoIP service. Alternatively, you can configure a Virtual LAN (VLAN) dedicated to telephony to separate it from regular Internet usage. For more information on LANs, check out What Is a Local Area Network?
As with most essential business technology, maintenance and support of your VoIP system is critical. Make sure to choose a vendor that provides constant monitoring and support for your PBX. Even if your business is only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. you should have your vendor watching for problems around the clock. If an on-site problem occurs (such as a power outage or PBX failure, for example), you need to know about it before you come in at 9 a.m. on a Monday.
Get the Right Support from Your VoIP Vendor
A good vendor will proactively contact you if they detect a problem. When ordering your T1/E1 service, make sure your provider guarantees some type of monitoring or support and make sure to get the service level agreement (SLA) in writing. Ideally, the vendor will provide emergency recovery services without charge to correct a service-impacting emergency. This kind of support plan may cost more, so calculate the potential loss of business if you don’t have such a service. If you don’t have a contract, ordering maintenance and support can take a day or more and most businesses don’t want to be out of service for that long.
Also find out if your vendor offers any kind of periodic backup services to record the extensions and users you’ve programmed into your phone system. If the PBX is destroyed for whatever reason, you can then restore the settings you spent so much time configuring.
When the time comes for payment, the rapport you’ve established with your vendor may be especially useful. Many vendors offer financing and leasing options, and there are also a number of independent companies that will finance your system for you. If the phone system and price are right but the payment terms don’t quite fit your budget, you could get the deal you need by consulting a third party.