Why Mobile VoIP Should Be Part of Your Business Phone System

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At first glance, mobile Voice-over-IP (VoIP) doesn't look like something that's suited for many businesses. If you search online, then your search will reveal a lot of services from companies you likely don't know. And their primary focus will be on how inexpensive they are. But the fact is that, for business phone service, VoIP or otherwise, being cheap should rarely be your primary consideration.

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What a business really needs is for its phone system to fit into its overall business strategy and to support its requirements. To accomplish this, the phone system needs to have some specific characteristics. Here's a look at five of those things:

  1. Consistent presence – This means that you should be able to answer your business phone wherever you are, not just when you're in the office sitting at your desk. You should also be able to make a call to a customer or business partner that appears to be coming from your business, not necessarily your cell phone.
  2. Integration – You should be able to transfer calls to an extension within the company and people should be able to transfer calls to you. They should also be able to reach you by dialing an extension. Also, if you have a receptionist, then they should be able to tell if you're available and then transfer calls to you.
  3. Security – Business phone calls are more than just chit-chat. You have to know that the contents of your phone calls are safe, that they're protected by encryption, and that access to your part of a phone system is also protected. You also need to know who's running the VoIP part of your phone system so that you don't find your critical business needs being routed through a nation that's subject to bureaucratic whims or legislative or executive actions.
  4. Reliability – Your phone system has to be there when you need it. Even a few minutes of outage can cost your company thousands of dollars, and a long-term outage can risk the business itself. While a lot of attention gets paid to your company website, and that's certainly critical, your company's phone system is at least as critical. It's how you actually talk to clients and customers, how you collaborate with your colleagues (at least for routine matters), and how the quick conversations that make your workflow happen get done. While you probably can do all of this with instant messaging (IM) and chat rooms like those in Slack , speech is much more efficient.
  5. Quality – Your phone calls have to sound like you're in business. You don't want garbled and broken up conversations, distorted voices, or static. A consistently low-quality phone connection will lower your credibility as a business, not to mention impeding your basic communications.

Cost Isn't A Primary Consideration

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You'll notice that nowhere in that list did I mention cost. This is because running a VoIP client on your cell phone will cost money in addition to whatever you're paying for the cell service and possibly even the base cost for the VoIP system. The costs come from two places: the cost of the client itself (or a per-user cost for some systems) and the cost of data from your mobile carrier. And that's not counting other costs you'll probably incur, like a mobile device management (MDM) agent as well as endpoint security.

As I found out during my testing of products for our business VoIP and cloud PBX review roundup, including Editors' Choice RingCentral Office (for Business) , your mobile phone's client is considered a separate line by the phone system. In many cases, it is charged like a separate number. So plan on spending about $20 per month per mobile phone client.

The cost of data on your mobile phone plan depends heavily on your carrier and on the contract you've negotiated. But whether you have unlimited data or whether you're paying as you go, using your mobile phone data costs something. And your VoIP calls use your phone's data rather than the cellular network for their connections.

While VoIP isn't a bandwidth hog in the same way that video is, it still requires a good data connection or it won't work, or at least it won't work well, which, if you're trying to talk to a customer, amounts to the same thing. This may also mean that you'll need to make sure your in-house Wi-Fi is consistent throughout the company or that you have a consistent signal from your carrier.

Fortunately, one thing that I found in my testing of business VoIP systems is that each of the VoIP providers has a mobile phone client, usually for both Google Android and Apple iOS. These clients run in the background on your phone. What's nice about them is that they'll let you use either their default cellular network or a local Wi-Fi network.

They also integrate with your business VoIP system so that you can transfer calls, answer your desk extension with your cell phone, attend shared meetings, or have a receptionist manage incoming calls. With these clients, you can even have your company's number show up on Caller ID instead of your cell number. Colleagues can dial a three or four-digit extension to reach you whether you're at your desk or out of the office.

While their look and feel varies somewhat, most of the VoIP clients I tested include at least a dialpad on your phone along with a variety of menu choices. These can determine who can be called, setting your presence status, attending meetings, carrying on chat conversations, and more. A few, such as Vonage Business Cloud , include a management console that lets you mange the phone system.

The result is a great deal of flexibility in how your business calls can be routed and handled; and flexibility is a key factor in business efficiency. So if you sit down and match what your employees need to do with their phones to the capabilities of a mobile VoIP client, you might very well find that these packages can be a significant advantage for your organization. Just don't expect them to save you money.

Have any questions you need answered about mobile VoIP? Join the PCMag@Work discussion group on LinkedIn and you can ask vendors, other professionals like yourself, and PCMag's editors.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.