The products and services in this review roundup are focused on business use and because of this either provide some PBX features or serve as full-on virtual PBXes. This may mean, among other things, that they provide service to telephone sets on your employees' desks. Most also support electronic faxing in some fashion, either directly (which can be a significant challenge for some VoIP services) or by simply integrating an incoming fax with your email system. Other popular features are video conferencing and shared meeting software (so meeting attendees not only hear each other but can present presentations or documents in a shared work space).
Another legal issue that the US Congress is debating concerns changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The issue in question is calls between Americans and foreigners. The National Security Agency (NSA) is not authorized to tap Americans' conversations without a warrant—but the Internet, and specifically VoIP does not draw as clear a line to the location of a caller or a call's recipient as the traditional phone system does. As VoIP's low cost and flexibility convinces more and more organizations to adopt the technology, the surveillance for law enforcement agencies becomes more difficult. VoIP technology has also increased Federal security concerns because VoIP and similar technologies have made it more difficult for the government to determine where a target is physically located when communications are being intercepted, and that creates a whole set of new legal challenges.
As always the best place to start is at the beginning! The following buttons provide access to some of our best guides and tools for getting started with VoIP. These articles give a great background into VoIP, help you understand all the basics, and answer most people questions. The VoIP/Speed test tool performs a test of your Internet connection and provides a great indication of how well VoIP will work at your home. We highly recommend running this test.
In IP telephony, no such direct link between location and communications end point exists. Even a provider having hardware infrastructure, such as a DSL provider, may know only the approximate location of the device, based on the IP address allocated to the network router and the known service address. Some ISPs do not track the automatic assignment of IP addresses to customer equipment.
While there are still a few other legacy protocols around, and a few non-SIP standards, such as H.232, SIP is what's used for the vast majority of modern VoIP phone systems. The most common use I've seen for H.232 has been in dedicated video conferencing systems. SIP, meanwhile, handles phone service, video conferencing, and several other tasks just fine, which is why its use is so widespread. Where it has trouble is with data security, but more on that in a bit.
Fortunately, most of the providers reviewed here have engineering staff that will contact you as part of your setup process to help your IT staffers test and optimize your network prior to deploying their solutions. That's definitely something we recommend, but there are steps you can take now to prep your LAN for VoIP and make the deployment process that much easier.
In general, the provision of VoIP telephony systems to organisational or individual users can be divided into two primary delivery methods: private or on-premises solutions, or externally hosted solutions delivered by third-party providers. On-premises delivery methods are more akin to the classic PBX deployment model for connecting an office to local PSTN networks.
E911 (Enhanced 911) is a little different to traditional 911 services and is something that you should be aware of. With E911 you need to provide your home address, and this information gets passed to the emergency services if you dial 911. The concerns are that if you have a power outage or an Internet outage then you will not be able to dial 911. If you have a cell phone then you can dial 911 from your device. If you are ONLY reliant on VoIP for your phone service you should be aware of this situation.
That's the basics of UCaaS, but the concept is constantly evolving to include more communication and collaboration technologies. Those capabilities also get tweaked to provide new benefits, sometimes general, sometimes aimed at specific business use cases, like call centers or help desk operations, for example. The key is integration. Voice is becoming integrated with other back-end apps.
The caveat there is the proverbial fine print, usually located just below the really attractive dollar figure. This small print generally details exactly how many months that nice number will remain in effect before the bloom comes off the rose and you start getting billed a much higher number that represents the service's actual cost. Many providers don't even print this higher number on their websites, so be sure to ask the sales guy on the phone before you sign up. The nice number that pulled you in can often double or more once the introductory period wears off. Some providers even attach a minimum length of time that you'll need to suffer these higher costs before you can change or modify the service without getting hit with an additional early-termination penalty fee.
Few things in life are set in stone, and the same should be true of your VoIP plan. It’s wise to find a plan that is scalable and which you can easily expand if need be. You’ll want to know if you can break your contract early if you find a better deal elsewhere, or if you can easily switch plans with the same company in order to take advantage of more features, or to get rid of some you don’t need.
On the phone providers' side, since this review roundup was first published, some of the products listed here now belong to other companies and some have merged into new products. If you're planning to depend on your phone system over the course of the next decade, then you should consider a vendor that's stable enough to still be around when it's time to up upgrade.
Unlike traditional telephone lines, VoIP numbers can’t be traced by 911 operators. This doesn’t mean you’d be helpless in case of a natural disaster or Sasquatch attack, however. Upon initial setup at a location, you simply need to enter your info manually through the system’s E911 (Enhanced 911) feature, which will attach a physical address to your VoIP number.
One advantage of the traditional landline services is that electrical power is sent over the telephone wires so your phone service is isolated from your house power. This meant that your phone service would continue to work if your house power went out. However, with VoIP, power is used not only for the ATA, or the IP phone, but it is also used for your Internet modem and router devices. No power also typically means no Internet service.