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About VoIP

VoIP is the now and the future. It’s a great way to communicate and offers a lot more flexibility for users and businesses alike. Understanding the technology and limitations ensures clear expectations which will result in complete satisfaction of the technology.

What is Voice over IP?

VoIP stands for 'Voice over Internet Protocol' which is a technology that allows you to make phone calls using your Internet connection instead of your regular fixed line phon service. It is also referred to as Voice over IP, Broadband phone or Internet phone service.

In traditional telephony, the phone company delivers services over a fixed line “trunk” that connects the PBX to the public-switched telephone network (PSTN) and this trunk carries the phone calls from the Service Provider to the public.

With VoIP you still simply pick up your normal phone, dial a number and talk. VoIP is simple and is for everyone. It doesn't matter if the person you are calling has VoIP or not, this is all taken care of by your VoIP service provider.

The only requirement for this technology is reliable, high speed internet connectivity such as Diginet, Fibre or Microwave, especially because the call quality is only as good as the connection to the provider!

Why make the transition to VoIP? VoIP is cheaper, easy to setup and implement, and it is for everyone!

Drawbacks of VoIP

Prevention is better than cure. The top unexpected problems that might occur with VoIP can be prevented with some foresight and planning.

As more small businesses recognize the tremendous value of VoIP and IP-PBX business phone systems, it will be increasingly important to manage that transition smoothly and avoid the potential pitfalls that have inflicted others.

Understanding the limitations of a current technology, and being informed means that expectations are clear upfront. Good planning and wise implementation should be a cornerstone with those researching VoIP for their communications needs.

As we present the following top 5 problems that can occur with a switch to VoIP, consider how they might impact your business, and then take advantage of some of the tips that we present that can help solve them.

The top 5 VoIP problems and what you can do about them:

1) VoIP is far from the ideal medium for faxing

Too many people and businesses that depend on faxing for their livelihood find out too late how challenging faxing can be over a VoIP connection. Faxing over VoIP is not a possibility with most providers as the transmission for Fax over IP differs to the protocol used for voice transmission. Fax needs to be treated differently to Voice. If your Internet connection is ADSL you should keep the active number for fax connectivity. Alternatively there are providers that offer Fax to Email services.

2) Most credit card machines fail when sending

Most credit card machines use a dial-up or GPRS for sending out its data and dial-up modems do not work over VoIP, but as technology advances newer credit card machines can connect via Ethernet, a better choice.

The codec used by VoIP devices have been designed to compress voice, and previous testing on credit card transactions has proven unsuccessful. Newer credit card machines now allow for an Ethernet connection and these types of machines will work over VoIP, but they are higher in cost.

3) Alarm systems and VoIP - many won't integrate

Although some alarm systems can integrate with and signal properly over VoIP, many cannot.

Your alarm system needs to utilise the VoIP line to communicate with the control centre of your alarm company. Although VoIP service is great for voice communication it is not suited for transmitting the data from many alarm systems. Check with the alarm company that you use and ask specific questions as to their devices compatibility with VoIP. Failure to do so may lead to problems, both for your VoIP connection and for your security.

4) VoIP always up & always on, maybe not always

VoIP connectivity is dependent on an online connection to the Internet. Although many converts to VoIP understand this, many people think Power or a UPS is going to ensure continuity onsite. The use of a UPS can keep your VoIP and Internet hardware powered should you experience a temporary power loss, but in most cases will only provide power for a short duration.

Internet providers are becoming more stable and reliable, and we have seen a great improvement in the services being delivered, but sporadic loss of Internet can be expected anywhere from time to time. If you lose your Internet you will lose the ability to make or receive calls.

Some VoIP providers may offer local redundancy or future-proof mechanisms which will ensure that your business continues to receive calls even when you lose connectivity - go ahead and ask your provider how they can assist you in the event that this happens to your business.

5) Voice quality issues, sometimes there's some

New technology delivers so many benefits, but like technology does, sometimes present issues. On the other hand isn’t it so amazing how technology, the Internet and Computers have evolved and developed over the past few years? A few years ago we have dial-up Internet and today calls can be routed all across the globe almost instantly, and all you need is an Internet connection.

In this Global Network of Internet connections there are many points of contention or failure. Whether this is a Cable Issue in your local exchange, or the Network Provider who suffers a Power Outage, these do happen from time to time, and in most cases is short lived.

You may however experience some consequences as a result of these types of mishaps. This could be having a call drop, experiencing some audio problems or line static on occasion. The good news is that our providers are all working on making the Internet even better and more stable, and quality is getting better all the time.

Factors to consider when selecting a VoIP provider

Telephony may well be the most important service to any business. What would happen to your business if the telephone system stopped working? This makes selecting a reliable telephony service provider one of the most important decisions.

As with any Infrastructure purchase, it is important to wade through the marketing information and dig down to the get the answer to questions that matter.  It truly does pay to do your homework! By asking the right questions up front, you can avoid signing with a risky provider — or one that doesn’t offer what you need.

The WhichVoIP.co.za Team rank features, calling plans and support, first over price as we believe that the difference of a few rand a month will not make you a more satisfied customer in the long run. If you don't get the features you want, or get the support that you may need then pricing becomes less relevant.

Voice over the Internet will drastically change the shape of our communication world.

Here are some useful questions to ask your VoIP provider

1) What are my initial upfront costs going to be?

Too many times people see one cost or price only to realize that there are other additional costs, equipment needed, airtime or setup charges that they are required to pay upfront. Some providers have a monthly charge based on a subscriber committing to a minimum amount of months, particularly if they supply you with free-no upfront cost for equipment.

Remember, there are costs involved in providing a service and many times a provider will not even break even until some amount of time passes. That being the case, get specifics about the cost of the equipment, the length of the contract and what is the early cancellation fee and policy. If they are not providing any equipment, but you are paying for it, ask if there are still cancellation penalties. Ask if you can you change your plan without having to start your contract period over.

Be truthful if you are using it for business purposes and expect to make your decision based on the business plan price. Some providers will look at minutes and also the relationship of incoming and outgoing traffic.

2) Will the service work with my equipment?

It's always a good idea to explain some things about your particular situation and the equipment that you use to a make sure that it will integrate with the VoIP service.

Does the service require any special equipment? This could include VoIP gateways, routers, and other equipment that you haven't even planned on needing. And what is the cost of that equipment? Find out if any special adapters are needed or if the ones that you already have will suffice. Most provider's VoIP devices (ATA) will accept normal phones, but make sure.

3) What features are included?

Certainly features may be the greatest reason one decides on VoIP, and if they’re not now they may be in the near future. VoIP can give a "big communications system" at a fraction of the cost. The initial interest may have been spurred by lower costs, but it's the features that will make the biggest difference for the betterment and ease of business and your communications. And these features will certainly save additional costs in the future, especially if they are included.

So, place features as a priority, especially if you are a small business. One feature that should be important is the automatic forwarding that can be set in the event of an Internet outage. "Having researched a few providers, it became obvious to me that features and service were going to be more important than a couple of rand a month one way or the other."

4) What features are available at additional cost?

You may need an extra virtual number, or the ability to do conferencing, so find out the monthly charges and any extra per minute charges for these services. Ask about any other additional charges that are not included with the overall monthly charge.

5) How is the quality of your service?

Quality may be one of the most difficult questions to answer because it's not easy to do a call sampling on different providers. But, asking the question is worthwhile. With any new technology there may be some issues and experiences that are just part of the growth pattern. This being said, some providers are going to offer a better sounding, and more stable network than others. In some cases, price may be indicative of this.

6) What kind of support can I expect?

If it's one item above all others that may be important after the initial decision of which provider you select, the support is it. Not only customer service, but help and assistance with technical issues.

Support can be critical when things aren't going well, so find out what the provider's hours of support are and where they are located. And it's not just the hours, but the attitude and capabilities of the support personal which can make a big difference with your overall satisfaction with the provider. No provider is perfect, and if they tell you they never have an outage or a network issue, then you should look for one that is going to be upfront with you.

7) Is the provider going to stay in business?

Every provider plans to grow and remain in business, but eventually some current providers are going to fail. Try to join one that you have confidence in will be there for the long haul.

By asking simple questions about how long they have been in business and then by doing a little research on both their website and Google, you may get some indications of their overall viability. In some cases, agents and resellers are actually reselling another larger VoIP provider's services and in these cases the strength of the provider may be better than realized. Many small providers have folded, as the inevitable business fall out cycle has occurred. Realise that low prices can make a provider have a harder time staying solvent.

Consider what is important for you and your organization

  • Cancellation fees should be a flag, if a provider insists that you pay a cancellation fee upon leaving their service and they have not supplied equipment free upfront, be cautious.
  • Customer service and technical support should be considerations that rank high in your personal criteria.

Many of these questions are answered in our VoIP Comparison Section, but should always be confirmed before choosing a provider.

VoIP Planning, How to Connect, Test, and more...

All questions and considerations relating to VoIP implementations is listed in our VoIP FAQ's section which can be accessed by clicking here.