If you're thinking of purchasing a business voice-over-IP (VoIP) service, then it's crucial you prepare. There are several important steps you need to take before your service is activated to ensure smooth operations. Bandwidth, call loads, and emergency contingencies are all important factors to consider during the preparation process.
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I spoke with Jeff Valentine, Chief Marketing Officer at Fonality, our Editors' Choice for business VoIP service, to discuss the steps your business should take prior to a VoIP upgrade to guarantee it's disruption-free. For the most part, the VoIP setup process is more science than art. This is good news for you because it means, if you follow Valentine's advice and that of your chosen VoIP service and internet service provider (ISP), you should have an easy implementation.
1. Make Sure Your Internet Connection Is Ready for VoIP
If you've got decent internet speeds for an office without a VoIP setup, you should contact your ISP and your VoIP vendor to determine whether or not it can handle the added load VoIP calls will put on it. "The number one cause of problems is bad internet connections," Valentine said.
Valentine recommends you test your connection for speed and quality and, if you determine it won't be able to handle the strain of VoIP data, there are two things you can do to improve call quality without changing services. First, to find out whether your connection can handle VoIP, he advises you run a trial with your provider of choice. "If it sounds good, you're more likely to have a good connection," he said.
If you find that your connection causes disruptions, he suggests a private line between your business and your VoIP provider to create a private bandwidth connection that won't be disturbed by other office processes.
Second, Valentine advises his clients with poor connections to install a hybrid VoIP/analog system to keep workloads to an absolute minimum. The general rule of thumb for installing a VoIP system is that you should increase bandwidth by 100 Kbps. So, for every 10 users, you should have 1 Mbps of bandwidth transfer available on your network.
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2. Buy a Router With Quality of Service Features
Routers capable of Quality of Service (QoS) traffic dispersal. This feature is designed to segment VoIP bandwidth from all of your other network bandwidth. This lets the device prioritize traffic so you're not interrupted on calls if someone decides to stream Netflix during lunch. Companies such as Cisco, Linksys, and NetGear make great routers that are capable of QoS routing. But you should talk to your provider to see if they have a preferred partner.
One thing to keep in mind is that routers won't be able to help you if your VoIP provider's network is congested. They will only help if your internal network is the issue, which leads us to our next important point.
3. Check Your Provider's Reliability
This one is a no-brainer because, if your VoIP service is disabled, it doesn't matter how cheap it is or how clear your calls are. Most cloud-based VoIP services allow you to see what their average uptime is to determine how often their entire system fails. If they don't publicize this information on their website, you should ask them directly.
If your preferred provider has a spotty record for managing uptime, you might lose phone service at the most important time of day or year. A service interruption like this can be crippling for phone-based businesses.
4. Separate VoIP Traffic via VLAN
In addition to QoS routers, you can use a Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) to segment voice traffic. Whereas a QoS router sits outside of your network, a VLAN sits within the network to provide more immediate responsiveness. This is particularly useful for companies with more than 50 employees using a VoIP service.
You also might want to try a Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN), which provides an internet connection that sits on top of your existing internet connection. For example, if you've got Time Warner internet, an SD-WAN router will funnel traffic through a Virtual Private Network (VPN) over your Time Warner traffic to make sure that traffic gets to the place where it's most needed. Or it will allow you to plug a second ISP's service into your VPN to determine which service is functioning best at the moment in order to direct traffic to that network.
5. Determine the Right Call Load
Valentine recommends a 1-to-1 ratio between the number of employees using VoIP and the total call load available on your system. This means your VoIP service should be able to handle every single employee taking a VoIP call at the exact same time.
This will require a bit of foresight on your part as you may need to expand or subtract the number of employees at your company. So, if you plan on a major hiring spree or if you're planning layoffs, factor that into what your maximum call load should be.
6. Establish an Emergency Phone Plan
If you follow the steps laid out above, you'll probably have an effortless transition. However, you should be prepared for disaster scenarios. One way of guaranteeing you'll have uptime at all times is to build a hybrid on-premises/cloud-based VoIP system. That way, if your provider's cloud goes down, you can use your internal resources to transfer calls. Or if there's a flood in your neighborhood, you can transfer all of your workload to your provider's cloud.
"This happens with increasing frequency," Valentine said. "If a building loses power, a business that relies on phones is out of business. If you move to the cloud, you can avoid the problem of local outages. But, if the cloud has an outage, your provider may be able to send calls over phone lines rather than the internet connection."
If the phone system is down on both the cloud and local level, it's crucial you direct phone traffic to other communication methods such as email and chat. Your customers will still be angry but they'll probably opt to voice their displeasure to your chat agents rather than venting on social media.