So you’ve seen the ads for VoIP. With the growing popularity of VoIP it’s hard to miss them and even harder to ignore the kind of savings they promise. But like any new technology, VoIP doesn’t come without a few kinks. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t switch to VoIP. But before you take the plunge you should make sure your experience will be a refreshing one. Here are a few tips and precautions to make sure your transition to VoIP doesn’t leave you wishing you hadn’t been so hasty to dump your traditional service.



Getting Started

  1. Broadband Connection — The most basic element you will need in order to switch to Internet phone is a high-speed Internet connection. The quality of your VoIP experience depends on the quality of your Internet service. So choose carefully. Both DSL and cable Internet connections can provide the speed needed to make VoIP phone calls. In fact, many Internet service providers have started offering VoIP service for an additional charge, allowing you to bundle monthly service costs. While DSL connections are generally fast enough to handle VoIP calls, cable Internet has the speed advantage. Of course, faster service comes with a higher price tag and it’s up to you whether or not you need the additional speed.
  2. Bandwidth — So you have a high-speed Internet connection, but is it high-speed enough? For the uninitiated, bandwidth is the ability to transfer data (such as a VoIP telephone call) from one point to another in a fixed amount of time. Essentially, the more bandwidth you have, the better quality phone calls you should be able to make. If you’re planning on having multiple phone lines on the same Internet connection you need to make sure that your bandwidth can support this, especially if you’ll be downloading from the Internet at the same time.
  3. Customer Service — In an ideal world, the transfer to VoIP would be seamless. But let’s be realistic: you will probably need some assistance in installing your new services and equipment or dealing with problems. When choosing a VoIP provider, make sure you’re satisfied with the level of customer support available to help you through these problems.
  4. Phone Number Portability — In most cases, you should be able to take your existing number and migrate it over to your VoIP service, avoiding the inconvenience of alerting everyone to your number change. Of course, if you get a number from your VoIP provider and later want to change to another VoIP provider or regular phone company, it isn’t so simple. VoIP providers don’t usually own their own numbers, so they aren’t theirs to give to you to take to another service. Keep that in mind if you’re the fickle type.
  5. Equipment — Most VoIP services can be hooked up with a simple adapter that connects to your broadband service to your regular analog phone through your cable modem or router. If you want something a little fancier, there are phones made specifically for use over the Internet. Many VoIP providers have these phones available for a reduced rate when you sign up for their services.

Reliability

  1. Battery Backup — One of the disadvantages of VoIP compared to traditional phone service is that when the power goes out, VoIP service goes out with it.You can prevent this though, at least in the short term, by getting a battery backup for your equipment. Some cable modems even come complete with battery backups that can last for up to eight hours.
  2. Call Forwarding — In case your VoIP service does go unavailable either because of power failure or problems communicating with your VoIP service, most VoIP providers do have a call forwarding option that will direct any incoming calls to a number of your choice. Check with your VoIP provider to set up this service.
  3. Keeping an Alternate Phone Line — For many users it will be impractical to rely solely on VoIP service. If the service is down or you require access to features that VoIP doesn’t provide, it would make sense to keep a land or cell phone line. If you’re unsure about making the leap to only using VoIP, keeping an additional means of communication can help ease the transition.

Home Use

  1. Water, Gas and Electric Meters — Some water, gas, and electric meters are connected to your home phone line which allows the company to remotely monitor your usage. If you switch to VoIP you will need to notify these services that you will no longer have phone service. Don’t worry, they have other ways to monitor your usage, so the change won’t affect your monthly billing.
  2. Satellite and Cable Boxes — Some satellite and cable top boxes won’t work with VoIP service. Since many cable companies are now providing VoIP it may not be a problem, but you’ll want to check to make sure before making the transition so you won’t miss out on any important programs.
  3. Modems — While most VoIP calls don’t use a huge amount of bandwidth, you may notice that using the Internet and making calls simultaneously decreases the quality of both. To make the highest quality calls, you may need to stick to doing one Internet-based task at a time, or switch to an Internet service that provides more bandwidth.
  4. Caller ID — VoIP numbers rarely show up on caller ID. An alternate number might show up or the name of your service provider instead of your name. This may or may not be a big deal to you, depending on whom you are calling, but at the very least it can be confusing to the recipient of the call.
  5. Number of Phones — Getting VoIP service to more than one phone in your home may be a tad tricky. You might need to alter the wiring that connects traditional phone lines to your home to be compatible with VoIP services. Most VoIP providers can give you information on how to do this. Although if you’re not handy around the house, you may want to have a professional make the changes for you.

Business Use

  1. Fax Machine — Most models of fax machines should be able to work with your VoIP system but you will need to connect them to the fax port of your VoIP adapters. Some VoIP providers even provide separate fax numbers free of charge with business plans. Check with your VoIP provider about the fax services that are available and to make sure your model of fax machine is compatible before switching.
  2. Phone Book Listings — VoIP phone numbers are not always listed in local telephone directories or on 411. Some VoIP companies can provide the service and you simply need to let them know you want to be listed. Others, even some larger companies, don’t provide this telephone listings and you may need to purchase a listing on your own.
  3. Credit Card Machines — If you’re getting VoIP for your small business you may want to make sure that your VoIP service will work with the credit card machines you have. Some machines only work with analog systems. Some might work with VoIP lines, but the speed of transactions may be reduced. Check with your VoIP provider for concerns with this. Adapters may be available in some cases; in other cases you may need to keep a traditional line.
  4. No Disconnect — Some VoIP services don’t send a disconnect signal the way traditional lines do when a party hangs up. This can cause problems when leaving a voicemail or if you use an automated attendant to direct callers to extensions. The failure to disconnect could cause long delays after voice mail messages and cause phones to ring long after the caller has hung up. Test these systems out before making the complete switch to VoIP.
  5. Business Size and Needs — Before you switch your business to VoIP, be sure to fully research whether or not it is right for your company. While it has the possibility of saving you hundreds of dollars in phone charges, it can also have its drawbacks. Changing over to VoIP will most likely require a significant up front investment in equipment, and there is the possibility that VoIP may not work with some of your existing equipment and systems. It’s better to find out in advance, before any potential loss in sales, that the system might not be for you. Try testing out VoIP with just a few users before overhauling your entire phone system.

Quality

  1. Dropped Calls — VoIP has been subject to a lot of criticism regarding the quality of calls. A major complaint of many users is that they frequently have dropped calls. This isn’t always the fault of the VoIP provider — it may be your broadband connection — but you may want to ask around to see if the provider you are thinking of signing up with has a history of these types of problems.
  2. Echo — Echo on calls isn’t something that’s specific to VoIP calls, it can happen just as easily over traditional phone lines. The difference is that with the inherent delay caused by VoIP, the echo is much more noticeable. Many companies equip their adapters with echo cancellation devices to reduce this phenomenon.
  3. Hiss — Some VoIP lines might have a background hiss or white noise on them when you make a call. Sometimes the problem can be fixed by changing out hardware — a new router or a different kind of telephone — but sometimes it’s just a drawback of the service that you would have to learn to live with.
  4. Garbled Voice — VoIP can also be subject to voice garbling or cause sentence to be clipped at the beginning or end. Again, this can be related to the quality of your broadband connection. Before you settle on any complete change to VoIP service, see if the company offers a trial period so that you can test out the sound quality and reliability of the service before being completely dependent on it.

Security and Safety

  1. Hackers and Spam — Most experts agree that VoIP security isn’t as good as it could be, partly due to the nature of VoIP itself. VoIP conversations have to be encrypted and pass through a firewall without causing undue delays between the sending and receiving of the call. Most traditional firewalls don’t protect VoIP. VoIP can be at risk of voicemail spam, eavesdropping, and redirection. So before you make the leap to VoIP, make sure you also get the most up-to-date security.
  2. 911 Service — Another big concern with VoIP service is reduced access to 911 services. With traditional phone lines, calls are directed to a local public safety answering point (PSAP) which can usually automatically identify your location and your phone number in case they need to call you back. Because of the popularly of VoIP, the FCC has tried to increase access to 911 services by creating E911. VoIP providers are required by law to provide 911 service as a mandatory feature and ensure that the location that the customer plans to use the phone at is stored in their system to that it can be automatically transmitted to the 911 operator. If you have any concerns about E911 services, you can find out more from the FCC.
  3. Alarm Systems — VoIP phones most likely will not work with most home or alarm systems without some adjustments. Changing to VoIP can cut the link between alarm systems and the companies that are supposed to be monitoring. To ensure that your system will work correctly, perform a monthly test and alert your monitoring company to your change in service.