Taking these steps will help you find a hosted voice provider that delivers the best possible phone calls
Voice over IP (VoIP), which lets you place and receive telephone calls over the Internet, appeals to many small companies, particularly those that want to replace their analog telephone service with a hosted VoIP service like Cisco Hosted Small Business Communications. VoIP technologies are advanced enough to deliver calls that sound as clear as plain old telephone service (POTS) calls and are equally responsive, and VoIP equipment has become mainstream enough to be affordable for smaller companies. There’s still one catch, however, that prevents small companies from fully embracing VoIP: high-quality service.
One word of caution: Before you can accurately gauge the quality of any hosted VoIP service, you must make sure your network is up to the task of handling voice traffic. When you use VoIP, the audio waves created by your voice are translated into packets and transferred over your business’ IP network, and then to the Internet. If you have low-end networking equipment, it may not be able to transfer all of the voice packets simultaneously, resulting in “jitter,” or broken speech. Using managed switches, such as the Cisco Small Business 300 Series, can help to improve voice quality by prioritizing voice traffic over other types of network traffic with Quality of Service (QoS) features. As soon as you’re sure your network is running at peak performance, you can turn your attention to the quality of the hosted VoIP offering.
When investigating your hosted VoIP options, look for these five ways to get the best possible voice service.
1. Focus on business-class VoIP service providers. The market is teeming with hosted voice providers, and they run the gamut from titans like Verizon that aim to serve every type of customer to niche providers that cater to the needs of small businesses. Focus on VoIP providers that have voice solutions tailored to smaller companies. Even if you have just a handful of employees, be wary of cheap, consumer-grade VoIP services; they tend to lack business features, such as auto attendant and smart phone applications, and their voice networks can be less reliable than those of business-class VoIP service providers. Bottom line: The quality of the service depends on the quality of the service provider’s network.
2. Choose a VoIP provider that carries voice traffic on a private network. Some providers carry voice traffic on the Internet, which is more likely to introduce packet loss and jitters, two conditions that can quickly degrade the quality of a phone call. Make sure your hosted voice provider carries voice traffic on its own private network and that the network guarantees high-quality calls that sound clear and are without lags in conversations. Verify that the provider guarantees a high level of Quality of Service (QoS) to ensure that voice traffic gets priority over any data traffic that might be running on the network.
3. Insist on a service level agreement (SLA). Ask your hosted voice provider for an SLA that guarantees a specific level of quality for the hosted voice service. An SLA generally covers the things that can degrade a VoIP call, including jitter, latency, and packet loss. For instance, Verizon’s VoIP SLA states that “Verizon’s contiguous U.S. Internet Network monthly jitter performance will not exceed 1.0 millisecond.” If the provider’s service drops below the guaranteed level, you don’t have to pay for it during the time of sup-par performance.
4. Consider a single-provider solution. Many broadband providers also offer hosted VoIP services. If your current Internet provider offers a suitable voice service, you may get a better price and better service if you subscribe to both services at once. Another benefit is that it pinpoints the source of any problems if your voice service fails—there can be no finger-pointing when you’re working with just one provider.
5. Make sure the provider has a Plan B. Computers break and, inevitably, services go offline. And that’s why every hosted voice provider must have a disaster recovery plan that will keep the service up and running in the event of a failure on the primary network. Find out what your hosted VoIP provider’s disaster recovery plan is, including any credits or refunds they offer customers whose service goes dark.
A properly constructed hosted VoIP service can be very reliable. Add the benefits of hosted VoIP specific to small businesses, such as affordable enterprise-class features and quick provisioning for new users, to a service with high-quality calls, and it’s no wonder more and more small companies are switching to VoIP.
Do you have any tips for choosing a hosted VoIP service provider to get the highest quality phone service possible?