Top 11 Concerns When Buying a VoIP Business Phone System. What You Need to Know Before You Invest

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1 Top 11 Concerns When Buying a VoIP Business Phone System What You Need to Know Before You Invest

2 Introduction VoIP business phone system technology is truly a fascinating and eve-changing development in telecommunications. However, it s still far from being perfect. Many misperceptions still abound about VoIP. However, most of these originated when VoIP was first introduced and when problems with it were frequently reported. VoIP technology is constantly improving and many of these early problems have already been or are rapidly being fixed. If you re thinking of investing in a VoIP business phone system, most of the current problems can be avoided simply by choosing both your system and your provider wisely. Following are 11 of the most important concerns buyers have involving any VoIP business telephone purchase, along with suggested ways in which you can deal with them. 1) I won t be able to send faxes. Despite what you may have heard to the contrary, it s actually possible to send faxes using your VoIP phone system, but it can be frustrating when they seem to take forever to go through. There are ways, however, in which you can improve the speed and quality of your faxes: Make sure your VoIP provider supports T.38. This is an audio compressor/decompressor device which has been designed specifically for the purpose of sending faxes digitally, and it significantly improves the quality of the copy. Try turning off the Error Correction Mode on the fax machine. This invention was intended for PSTN faxes and it is not applicable to VoIP. Worse than that, it can throw the fax machine into confusion as it tries to fix problems it s not designed to solve. You re better off without it. Make sure your provider is actively and consistently checking the routing of your calls for problems. Poor routing can slow your faxes considerably, and isn t something within your control, but your provider can ensure maximum efficiency if he has the right knowledge and experience to handle the problem. 2

3 2) I can t use VoIP with credit card dial-up modems. Whereas data sent via the PSTN for credit card transactions is encrypted, digital VoIP information is normally unencrypted. This means that credit card data sent by VoIP is unsafe. As a result, there is no current VoIP system which meets the minimum PCI compliance required by the major credit card companies. Even if the desktop from which you send data is PCI compliant, once the data travels across the Internet, that compliance no longer applies. Advanced VoIP providers who may offer you encryption possibilities still do not currently meet the PCI compliance standards. This issue will certainly be resolved in the near future. Widely increasing usage of VoIP is already putting the credit card companies under strong pressure to make the system work. Since it s only a question of setting up a secure SSL system, similar to the one that currently ensures the safety of credit card payments over computer terminals, this is not beyond the power of modern technological know-how. However, if you process your data through an Internet connection with a secure gateway, as most people do, there is no problem. Alternatively, for the time being you can continue to use the standard PSTN alternative if you choose to maintain a PSTN line. 3) VOIP won t integrate with my alarm system. Currently, VoIP is incompatible with alarm systems, which are designed for analog phone lines. If an alarm system attempts to convert the information to digital in order to transmit it using VoIP, and then reconverts it back to analog when it arrives at its destination, the complexities of this process can mean that the signals arrive at the central station with errors, or not at all. Like credit card companies, alarm companies are currently under considerable pressure to find a solution. They are coming up with a number of possibilities, some of which are available already, such as using cellular or radio monitoring to transmit the alarm signals. This is an existing method which has always been available to back up the PSTN line in case of power outages or other telephone problems, but it does involve extra cost. However, now there are companies on the market who use a special adaptor (called an Alarm Broadband Network) which doesn t actually require a VoIP system at all, but uses the same method of communication by transmitting signals directly over 3

4 your broadband Internet connection. There is an initial cost for the adaptor, but the running rates are similar to the usual PSTN alarm rates. If you choose this option, though, you will have the same problems as VoIP if there is a power outage (see the next concern). 4) What happens when there s a power outage? If there s a power outage in your area that brings down your computer network, you will also lose your VoIP capability. Most businesses already have a back-up plan for their computers, and you will need one for your VoIP system too. Many Internet Service Providers are already tackling this power problem, so it s worth asking yours if they have a solution in place that may benefit your VoIP system as well as your computers. But even if they can provide one, a sensible option is to keep some kind of local power source, such as a low-cost UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) unit, as a fall-back. A UPS is a giant battery that plugs into a wall socket and switches quickly to battery power if it senses an electrical power failure. It should be able to keep your power running for several hours, but the exact length of time will depend on your power needs. Individual UPS manufacturers will include a chart to show how long it is good for, based on a particular wattage. It s worth checking exactly how quickly it makes that switch too; it may be worth investing in one of the better quality ones to ensure a seamless transition. If you have a security or fire alarm system that links to an emergency call center via your VoIP telephone service, then a power outage will affect this too. In fact, your alarm system almost certainly has a battery back-up of its own, but if not, the UPS will take care of it. There are two other possible options to maintain your VoIP system in the event of a power outage. One is to keep a basic service going with the telephone company and the other is to rely on cell phones. If you and your employees already have business cell phones, there is no extra cost involved for this second option. 4

5 5) There s too much noise on the line. There has been much improvement in VoIP voice quality since the early days of the technology, but it hasn t yet reached the near-perfect delivery of PSTN phones. There are several things you can do, however, to improve the quality of the sound: Make sure you have a good broadband connection. If you are still using a dial-up system, you will find VoIP voice quality poor at best. The wider your available bandwidth, the better the voice quality will be. If you are buying an ATA/Router, make sure it has the most up-to-date compression technology, and ideally incorporates a feature called Echo cancellation which helps to minimize possible echo noise. Check that the frequency of your IP phone is not causing interference with other VoIP equipment. Sometimes, changing the phone to one with a lower frequency can magically make interference all but disappear. Make sure your VoIP equipment is not its own worst enemy: a router situated too close to your ATA may create electrical feedback, and simply moving the two things further apart will get rid of echoes, dropped calls and unclear speech. Check your hardware. For good quality communication, you need good quality equipment. 6) Will my existing network be able to handle VoIP? Check with your Internet Service Provider that you have enough bandwidth before you attempt to install VoIP, or you re doomed to endless frustration with a system that works poorly, if at all. Before you purchase a system, you need to have a clear idea of how much bandwidth your company currently uses; how many Kbps one VoIP call will consume (probably 64Kbps); how many VoIP calls you re likely to make at any one time; and what will need to run concurrently with your VoIP system. If you want to do an initial test to see what your requirements are likely to be, you can find a bandwidth speed test program on the Internet. Make sure, however, that you understand the costs involved in any upgrade so that you can be certain that they are necessary and worthwhile. 5

6 7) If I buy a VoIP system that fits my needs now, what happens when my company expands? Before you buy any VoIP system, be sure you understand clearly from the VoIP provider exactly how far you will be able to scale up and at what cost. Because there are so many VoIP options on the market, choose a provider who can match your requirements at any point on your projected growth line. For example, how easily can you install more extensions to your phone system? Can you switch easily from hosted VoIP to on-premise VoIP if it becomes a more cost-effective option for your thriving company? Check the answers before you sign on the dotted line. 8) I bought an ATA adaptor, but now I find I can t get all the benefits of VoIP that I was expecting. ATA adaptors are designed for analog phones. They can be a very useful, cost-effective introduction to VoIP for small enterprises on constricted budgets, but you will not be able to plug into many of the features offered by your VoIP provider if you choose this option. Before buying one, check the costs of hosted VoIP and weigh those up against the benefits you gain by making a bigger commitment. It may be that you re better off jumping right in from the start. 9) Will I be able to contact the emergency services if I need one? The short answer is yes, if you choose a reliable VoIP provider and follow the necessary guidelines. A 911 call made by a traditional PSTN telephone is generally sent to a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). PSAP employees can automatically identify your location and direct the closest emergency personnel to that location. They can also usually identify your telephone number automatically, which means that they can call you back in the event of a disconnection. However, when you use a VoIP phone system to make the call, there is no relation between your IP address and your physical location. If you use your IP system, or VoIP phone, to contact the emergency services, therefore, they will have no fix on where you are. 6

7 Concern over this problem has led the emergency services to impose several demands on any VoIP provider: VoIP providers must automatically provide 911 service to all their customers as a standard, mandatory feature. The VoIP provider cannot activate a new customer s service, without first documenting the physical location at which the service will initially be used The VoIP provider must provide their customers with at least one easy way to update the physical location they have registered with the provider, if it changes. VoIP providers must transmit all 911 calls, as well as a callback number and the caller s registered physical location, to the appropriate emergency services call center or local emergency authority. In remote areas, the emergency service providers cannot receive or process the location information or call back number that is automatically transmitted via a PSTN. In these areas, VoIP providers must ensure that a 911 call is routed to the appropriate PSAP. When you are buying your VoIP system, it is wise to cover all these points with your provider to ensure that the company is fully compliant. 10) Will my calls be secure? To intercept a conversation across the conventional PTSN system, a hacker must have physical access to either the telephone line or the branch exchange. Since this is highly unlikely, businesses, with the exception of those who are particularly information-sensitive, do not bother to encrypt voice traffic over traditional telephone lines. This is not true of Internet connections. The risk of sending personal financial details across the Internet rather than giving them over the phone is much greater. Digital data passed from your computer to an online retailer may travel through up to twenty systems that are not under the control of either your ISP or the retailer. To protect the transaction, online retailers use encryption software to protect your information. 7

8 At the moment, this level of security is not available for VoIP calls. Companies are working to secure VoIP by using the same kind of mechanisms used in data networks encryption and firewalls to ensure similar levels of security, preferably without affecting the quality of the transmission. As a step towards this, many VoIP providers now offer encryption as a part of their standard package, which may help but is unlikely to be entirely foolproof. If you are particularly concerned about this aspect of VoIP, you should discuss in detail with your provider their current and future planned security measures. 11) I ve heard that the caller ID feature among VoIP providers is susceptible to spoofing attacks. Caller ID support among VoIP providers varies, but is provided by a majority of VoIP providers. Many VoIP carriers allow callers to configure arbitrary caller ID information, thus permitting spoofing attacks. Business-grade VoIP equipment and software often makes it easy to modify caller ID information, providing many businesses great flexibility. Conclusion All of the 11 common concerns presented in this report can either be resolved now or will be in the near future as VoIP technology advances and demand for it continues to grow at a rapid rate. Not every VoIP system or VoIP provider is the same, however, so it is critical that you explore the different options thoroughly before purchasing. Make sure you choose an established provider with a clear implementation and support procedure. He should be able to clearly demonstrate the system, offer you equipment which is preconfigured when you receive it, and be able to provide an instant and ongoing resource whenever you need assistance. As well, you should be able to gain an understanding of where he stands in relation to the latest technological advances, and how he is planning to deal in the future with the concerns listed above. If necessary, ask him for references so that you can talk to his satisfied (or otherwise) customers first. Finally, ensure that the system you select covers your particular business needs. Choose wisely, and you will reap the benefits! 8

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