Tag Archives: home business

Reaching for VoIP: Grasping the Benefits, Avoiding the Obstacles

by Sue Walsh

Caller using mobile phoneVoice Over IP is no longer the new kid on the block. Emerging in the seventies, coming of age in the eighties and nineties, VoIP has matured as a feature-rich, wallet-friendly alternative to the wired services that were the backbone of the businesses of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

Old-fashioned phone service is a funny thing: As a business owner, you plug a traditional phone into the wall socket and place it on your new employee’s desk. Apart from paying the bill every month, you might not think about it much after that. Phone service on the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) is just so straightforward and established, so plug ‘n play.

Yet a recent report by Software Advice, a free online service that offers VoIP system reviews, shows that 25 percent of the business owners they surveyed in 2014, who are currently using PSTN, would consider switching to VoIP. The reasons are pretty compelling.

VoIP is less expensive. Basic phone service, with no commitment or contract, costs as little as $9.99 with Phone.com. With our service, extensions are unlimited, features are plentiful, support is free, and you only pay for the phone numbers you need.

VoIP scales really well. And so easily! Need to add extensions quickly to support seasonal staff? No problem. Adding a brand new department to your business? No need to install additional trunk lines or guess at future capacity. VoIP service is truly elastic, growing or shrinking to meet your needs instantly and exactly.

VoIP is loaded with features. Local, toll-free and international numbers. Menus, queues and unlimited extensions. Forwarding, scheduling, faxing and SMS. Call management, voicemail, text-to-speech and voice-to-text. You can add, tweak and remove features as needed, and almost all of Phone.com’s features are included in your basic account.

VoIP is crazy-flexible and mobile friendly. Moving to a new location no longer means running a whole lot of new wiring or waiting for a phone technician to come out to your office. Your phone numbers and service simply move with you. It really is a new kind of plug ‘n play! And while PSTN might play nicely with your desk phone and fax machine, VoIP can extend phone, fax and SMS services to all of your wired, desktop and mobile devices, regardless of where you are located or traveling at the time. Think of it in terms of party games: If PSTN is really good at playing Simon Says, it’s crazy cousin VoIP is just outstanding at playing Twister!

So Why Aren’t Businesses Moving to VoIP Faster?

Software Advice’s report PSTN User Perspectives on IP Communications shows the key reasons business users are thinking about shifting to VoIP. At the top of the list? Price, mobile integration, features and scalability.

Primary Draws of VoIP - Image by Software Advice

Primary Draws of VoIP for PSTN Users (Source: Software Advice)

While it’s clear that business owners on PSTN are intrigued by all of these benefits, the idea that Internet-based VoIP services are not as reliable as legacy wired PSTN networks, especially in disaster and emergency situations, still lingers. If your connection goes down, so does your phone service, right?

Yes and no. VoIP systems designed to deal with downtime are available. Hosted solutions, like Phone.com, typically offer emergency routing to mobile devices. Our call-handling rules can redirect your incoming calls to a pre-set mobile number if connectivity to your primary VoIP device is disrupted. As long as you set those rules on your account, your calls will route to a mobile number.

We should also note that there are catastrophic disasters that will disrupt any phone service, regardless of whether it’s VoIP or hard wired. As business communications evolve, it makes sense to design your phone networks to spread connectivity and redundancy across all of your physical, IP and cellular networks.

The other reason business owners cite for not switching to VoIP is that of call quality. First, if you haven’t experienced a phone call using HD (High Definition) Voice, you will be amazed at the quality and clarity of your conversation!

According to our support team, occasional call quality issues can often be attributed to the speed and performance of your Internet connection. When our customers have consistent, adequate Internet connectivity, audio quality is not usually a problem. If, as a VoIP user, you’re experiencing degraded audio, we strongly suggest you check the performance of your Internet connection. Your ISP and VoIP provider should have tools to measure whether your connection is robust enough to support VoIP service.

If quality is a concern on calls forwarded to your cell phone, there are a number of variables at work, from the quality of your cell phone connection to the quality of the connection between Phone.com and your carrier. Our fantastic customer service team has the tools to help determine where the issue lies!

By taking these steps, businesses can ensure the reliability and quality they’ve come to appreciate with PSTN service, along with the array of services, benefits and savings offered by VoIP. Price, mobile integration, advanced features and easy scaling. It’s yours for the taking!

How Much Bandwidth Do I Need for VOIP?

by Joel Maloff

iStock_000005944404SmallAs businesses and home users set aside traditional analog phone services, replacing them with Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP), one of the challenges becomes allocating the right amount of bandwidth to your Internet phone service.

How much of your current bandwidth is needed for high-quality voice calls? This is a question we are asked every day by our customers.

Start by asking yourself a few questions:

  • What is the actual data upload and download speed that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) delivers?
  • What other services and applications on your network consume a portion of that available bandwidth?
  • Are there Quality of Service (QoS) settings that you can tweak to optimize your network for VoIP?

Minimum and Recommended Bandwidth for VOIP Service

The bandwidth that our VOIP phone service requires depends on the number of concurrent calls you want to make. The table below shows the minimum bandwidth required to make calls from a Phone.com account, as well as recommended speeds for optimal performance.

Number of Concurrent Calls Minimum Required Bandwidth Recommended speed
1 100 Kbps Up and Down 3 MBps Up and Down
3 300 Kbps Up and Down 3 MBps Up and Down
5 500 Kbps Up and Down 5 MBps Up and Down
10 1 MBps Up and Down 5-10 MBps Up and Down

How Does VOIP Use My Bandwidth?

The answer is simple and complex. VoIP services use a variety of codecs to compress and decompress voice data, allowing it to travel over the Internet efficiently. Phone.com uses codecs that require approximately 100 kilobits per second (kbps) traveling up from your phone line and down to your phone line per second for each call. So if you have three people, all on calls at the same time, the minimum requirement is 300 kbps up and 300 kbps down.

In addition, since the Internet “pipe” into your home or business is being used for other functions too—web browsing, sending and receiving email, file transfers, web-based office services, point-of-sale systems, and so on—there are numerous candidates contending for bandwidth.

How to Determine Your Functional Bandwidth

It helps to know how much bandwidth you really have. However, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will probably only confirm what you signed up for, also known as the advertised “up to” value, as in “up to 50 Mbps” or “up to 150 Mbps.”

The best way to determine your bandwidth, is to run a throughput test using a site like www.speedtest.net. This will give you a snapshot of your current functional bandwidth, but it is important to note that this metric can vary depending on how much bandwidth all of the different applications you are using require at any given point in time. This test also provides variable results depending on the location used for testing.

Keep in mind that your upload speed is usually slower than your download speed, so you need to make sure that the lower number of the upload speed matches what you need. Since most service providers do not guarantee sustained bandwidth besides the up-to value, we recommend adding a 5x to 10x safety margin when estimating bandwidth.

Calculating the Bandwidth You Need

If you know that your ISP can sustain a certain speed, simply multiply the number of expected concurrent calls by 100 kbps. If you deal with an “up to” ISP, a good solution would be to add the safety margin mentioned above so that you can sustain the required bandwidth, even when your Internet service falters.

For example, 10 concurrent users would require 1 Mbps (10 X 100 kbps x safety margin), which means you would be smart to allow for 5 to 10 Mbps both up and down. Depending on the other services and applications using your Internet connection and on the capabilities of your router, 3 to 5 Mbps may be sufficient, or you may need to increase your bandwidth. This must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, as each organization is different.

Optimizing Your Quality of Service

High-quality voice calls are the norm today but consistent quality does require some effort. One way to evaluate your VoIP capacity is using the Phone.com VOIP test (works best on Safari and Firefox). This tool lets you evaluate your network performance by simulating one, three, five or ten concurrent calls from your office to the Phone.com system.

Also, some but not all routers have the ability to prioritize voice services so that the impact of other applications doesn’t degrade voice quality. To prevent audio issues caused by voice and data competing for the same bandwidth, make sure your network router’s Quality of Service (QoS) settings are set as follows, so that they prioritize the transmission of voice packets to your WAN connection (ISP).

  • UDP/5060 – Priority: High
  • UDP/6060 – Priority: High
  • UDP/16384 to 32768 – Priority: High

Finally, if your router has an Application Layer Gateway (ALG) function, that should be disabled. We also recommend disabling the Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) function—in some cases, the router cannot handle the high rate of inbound voice packets when the SPI feature is enabled. In all cases, though, check with your security expert before changing configuration settings.

We hope these guidelines help you determine how much bandwidth you need to support high-quality VOIP phone service. If you have specific questions, please leave them in the comments below or contact us directly!

Find the Best Vanity Phone Number for Your Business

by Sue Walsh

With so many companies building an online presence, it’s easy to forget that we still rely on the humble telephone to do business and create success.

Small companies use their phone lines to answer customer questions, take orders and deal with vendors, which is why a memorable vanity number is such a valuable asset.

What is a Vanity Number?

A vanity number is a local or toll-free phone number made up of a string of numbers or letters that are either easy to remember or represent your business well. For example, 858-555-5000 or 1-800-FLOWERS.

Software Advice, a Texas-based service that helps businesses select the right software for their needs, recently published a great decision tree (shown below) that will help you choose the best vanity number for your business.

At first glance, the chart looks a bit intimidating, but the process is simple: Find the best word or phrase to represent your business > see if it’s available > take it!

Vanity Number Decision Tree. Source: Software Advice.

Phone.com Vanity Numbers

Phone.com offers a free vanity toll-free number with all plans. When choosing yours, we encourage you to work through Software Advice’s flowchart to find the very best number for you — it should only take a few minutes.

Also remember that your vanity number should be easy to recall, look professional and lend credibility to your business. 1-800-FLOWERS, for example might be better than 1-437-FLOWERZ.

Building and maintaining name recognition with a vanity toll-free number is one of the easiest ways to win business!

Extending Great VoIP Service Through Our Channel Partners

by Adele Fredeluces

iStock_000009457868SmallAt Phone.com, we love our Channel Partner Program (CPP). It allows businesses that would benefit from bundling Phone.com with their own services to offer their clients superior VoIP phone service!

While Phone.com provides software tools, training and support for CPP Agents, the agents work one-on-one with their own clients to provide great customer support.

Matthew Demaree, CEO of HTDNET, a Virginia-based computer consulting and web-hosting company, signed on with the CPP Agent program in 2011 after using our phone service for a couple of years.

“We became authorized Phone.com agents, allowing us to take our knowledge and experience of Phone.com’s products and services directly to our customers—getting them the direct support they need and still getting awesome backup support from Phone.com when we have a special issue or request.”

Demaree is a big Phone.com fan. “We have NEVER had a customer-service failure. Phone.com always goes above and beyond to ensure everything is done right.” And even though Phone.com’s customer support is HTDNET’s favorite feature, he says that our easy-to-use control panel and our menu system are pretty close to the top of their list too.

HTDNET has also seen significant savings in pricing for their clients. “After their 30-day free trial, our latest new account will save $70 per month or $840 a year switching to Phone.com from their previous VoIP provider,” says Demaree.

Demaree says his agents agree that Phone.com is the Ritz-Carlton of VoIP services. “Top that with real human interactions, US-based call centers, and the drive to do more for customers every time. Awesome sauce!”

As for us at Phone.com, building and maintaining good relationships with our CPP Agents is a key part of our customer support!

Phone.com University

Phone.com University – How to Send a Fax

by Derrick Lewis

Every Phone.com account includes the ability to send a digital fax. Say goodbye to your fax machine!

How to Send a Fax

You can send a fax through any extension on your account. To begin this process:

  1. Mouse over Configure at the top of your account page and select Manage Users & Extensions.
  2. Select Edit next to the extension from which you want to send a fax.
  3. Select Send a Fax on the left-side navigation bar within the extension settings.

phone1

You are now on the Send a Fax page. To create your fax:

  1. In the Fax Number field (1) enter the fax number to which you want to send a document.
  2. Enter cover page information (optional).
  3. In the Send a confirmation email to field (2) enter your email address to receive a successful delivery confirmation.
  4. Select Choose File (3) to upload the document you want to send.
  5. Select Preview Fax (4) to provide a preview of how your fax will look to your recipient.
  6. Select Send Fax to fax your document.

phone2

Once your document has been sent successfully, you will get a delivery confirmation email. This is the only record you will have of your fax being sent successfully. Save this email if you need it for your records.

That’s all it takes to send a fax! See you next Monday for some more Phone.com knowledge.