Telecoms Guides | What is VoIP? How should I choose a UK provider?

What is VoIP? How should I choose a UK provider?

Mon, 2 November 2020

VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol and is pronounced “Voyp”. Having a VoIP phone system means using the internet instead of the traditional telephone copper wire network.

VoIP System

How does a VoIP phone system work?

VoIP allows voice and data to be sent through one internet connection at the same time. VoIP technology does this by turning the live sound of voices, plus multimedia including images and other file types, into digital packets of code that can be sent through the internet and decoded at the other end in nanoseconds.  

To be able to send your voice through the internet and for another person to hear it as a sound on their phone handset or headset at the other end, you can either use a desk phone with the right ‘Internet Protocol’ software on it, or specific VoIP software on a computer. With a lot of VoIP systems there is a third option, which is simply to use a browser. This option of using VoIP with no specialist software at all is ideal for some small businesses.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of VoIP telephone systems?

Advantages of VoIP telephone systems

Lower costs 

You don’t need private branch exchange hardware installed in your office to plug the phones into, and call rates are usually lower. 

Increased accessibility 

You can use VoIP on any type of phone or any type of internet-connected device. 

Geographic neutrality 

VoIP numbers aren’t tied to countries or regions, so your business can go international while looking local. 

Higher scalability 

If your small business grows, it’s very easy to expand the VoIP system as much as you want to. 

Clever features for small and large businesses 

You can set up an automatic receptionist to direct calls to different departments (even if the business is just you!) and also make your employees look local when they’re really in another country. 

Supports multitasking 

Apart from sending any type of files, you can share them on a computer screen and both edit them at the same time. You can do this while discussing them over the phone, and switch in and out of video calls too. Being able to do this with two different people anywhere in the world is the revolution in working methods that not enough people are talking about! 

More flexibility with softphones 

Softphones are software in a computer that you use instead of a traditional telephone handset. You can plug a headset into the computer for hands-free working, less noise disturbance and better sound quality in a busy office 

Disadvantages of VoIP telephone systems

Reliable Internet Connection Required 

Since VoIP works via the internet, it goes without saying that when the internet goes down, so does your phone system. Some providers offer you a plan B called a “failover system”.  

Latency and Jitter 

You know when you’re on a call and the other person’s voice comes with a time delay? That’s latency. When their voice breaks up and they sound like a robot, that’s jitter. You sometimes get this with VoIP telephony systems. It depends on your bandwidth relative to the number of simultaneous VoIP calls your business needs to make, so you may need to beef up your bandwidth before your business switches to a VoIP telephone system. 

Location tracking for emergency calls not guaranteed 

This is an issue with some VoIP systems but not all – specifically ask your provider for a VoIP system with a workaround if you are connecting business mobiles to VoIP for remote working and this could ever become a problem. It is more of an issue for personal VoIP than for business VoIP.

As a free comparison site, iCompario can help you find the right business mobiles and SIM deals, internet phones, broadband and any other communications solution you need, for the right price.

The iCompario Top advantages of VoIP 

Here are our favourite four of the leading advantages for small businesses of using a VoIP telephony provider in the UK: 

1 – Multi media calls with real time editing 

A major benefit of VoIP systems for businesses is the multi-media feature. You can take your office with you wherever you go. You can call, video call, conference, share documents, pick up landline calls on your mobile and instant message customers or colleagues without anyone knowing whether you’re in the office, parked at a service station or on a beach.

Man with laptop on beach

Being able to send documents and photos or show business contacts a spreadsheet while also talking to someone on the phone, all through the same system, opens up exciting possibilities. It was this feature above all others that gave many small UK businesses which were already using a VoIP phone system a huge advantage when the COVID-19 lockdown was introduced in early 2020. They were already set up for remote working and could carry on with business as usual even though their teams were never facetoface.  

2 – Much lower costs with a VoIP phone system 

One of the leading benefits is cost, as the price of calls on a VoIP system is often far lower than on a traditional phone network. VoIP also cuts out the need to pay for a PBX to be installed in your office 

A PBX or Private Branch Exchange is the cluster of telephone sockets that all your office phones are plugged into. There’s not only an up-front cost in getting one of these, there’s also ongoing maintenance and repair costs which can be very high.  

By contrast, the VoIP equivalent is in the cloud and if something goes wrong, there are numerous alternative pathways to get your calls through. In the trade these are called “failovers and, because of them, VoIP providers guarantee your VoIP system will work at least 99.5% of the time. This works out at less than 2 days per year not working.

Lady using old phone

3 – Analyse calls and busy times in your VoIP system software 

The fact that VoIP phone system is operated by software means you can add any software functionality to your business phones.  

For example, if you lead a sales team, you can insert your call list to the system and your sales team can call their way through the numbers at the push of a button. This can be connected to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) in real time to make sure you comply with the law and never call a number that is registered as “do not call” 

Not only this, the system can record calls, track and present how many calls each employee makes per day, log how long each call lasts and the outcome of each call, and so on – essentially whatever you need your phone system to do, it can be configured that way. VoIP telephone systems can also be self-monitoring, giving you routine reports on the sound quality of calls 

4 – Geographically neutral business VoIP phone numbers for small UK businesses 

This flexibility makes VoIP a powerful resource for small businesses in the UK to offer things that in the past only much larger companies with greater financial resources could do. Finally, small businesses can tackle international sales and business operations without even opening an office in a foreign country, thanks to the geographically neutral number feature: with a VoIP system for business, you can create numbers that look as if they are based in any country in the world, and also freephone numbers with no geographic location associated with them.

As a free comparison site, iCompario can help you find the right business mobiles and SIM deals, internet phones, broadband and any other communications solution you need, for the right price.

VoIP phone systems will take over in the UK in 2025

In 2025 in the UK, VoIP will be the only type of landline telephone system we have.  

All ISDN and PSTN lines will be switched off. In other words, the old copper loops, the wires that we have used to make analogue phone calls for decades, are being phased out. They have been given the acronym POTS which stands for the inglorious title ‘Plain Old Telephone Service’.  

This will obviously affect millions of businesses across the UK, both large and small. The impact will probably be even greater for schools, charities and other non-profit organisations which are more prone to using outdated systems and may struggle to pull together the resources to switch over.  

For many years, ISDN has been commonplace among businesses. An Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) is a multi-channel digital service that can handle both voice and data. This means you can use it for quite a lot of the functionality that VoIP offers including multiple phone lines, data transfer and video conferencing. This is what BT will be pulling the plug on in 2025. 

Man in suit using office phone

If you can stand one more acronym, the new system is sometimes called “Web RTC”. This stands for Web Real Time Communications. The main advantage of this comes from the fact that the internet is being constantly upgraded. It doesn’t make economic sense to maintain a separate telephone network as well, when we can simply use one network for everything.

Do I have to buy new phone handsets to use a VoIP system?

VoIP phones look like regular phones. A lot of businesses choose the alternative, though, which are called VoIP ‘softphones’ with headsets plugged into a computer 

Softphones are software that give you a telephone in your computer, smartphone or tablet. You usually use it by plugging in a VoIP headset, which also has a volume control and mute switch in the line between the headset and the computer, or by using the microphone and speaker of the computer itself. We do not recommend this for small businesses as it often sounds echoing like someone making a phone call from the toilet.  

The benefit that makes most companies choose softphones and headsets is that VoIP headsets cost much less than phone handsets, and they are an investment you will never regret. The other great benefit is that staff can use the same headset with their phone, computer or other device which makes mobile working very easy. 

Team in call centre

A VoIPspecific handset will have a full-colour digital display which makes it easy to see who is calling you, which of your colleagues is busy and which company your next caller is ringing from.  

You can also pick a handset designed specifically for your workplace, such as a “ruggedized” handset for a busy warehouse that can resist a bit of dirt or knocking about, or an executive model for workers who will be making calls all day and can improve productivity with programmed speed dialling, for example, or automated dialling from a call list.

As a free comparison site, iCompario can help you find the right business mobiles and SIM deals, internet phones, broadband and any other communications solution you need, for the right price.

How do I compare VoIP providers?

These are some of the features you will be offered with a VoIP telephone systemWe describe them and give you pointers on what to ask the provider about when you are weighing up one system over another.  

But first….. 

Should I use a reseller or go direct to the provider? 

We think going to a reseller is the best choice for most companies.  

One of the main arguments for this is that there are dozens of VoIP providers and their offers change constantly – it’s a full time job getting your head around them and working out which has the best combination for you.  

If you choose a telecoms reseller rather than putting the pieces together yourself from different providers, you are more likely to get a well-balanced and reliable system. For example, a VoIP provider can tell you the bandwidth you will need but you get it from another provider, so they cannot make sure you get things right. A reseller, on the other hand, can make sure they whole package will work well together. They can put together a business broadband supplier, a VoIP provider and even a supplier of hardware like headsets for you. Further down the line, it’s a lot less of a headache going to one company for support on everything, rather than trying to work out which bit of the system is really the cause of a problem.  

Not only this, you may be surprised to learn you usually get lower prices from a middle man rather than higher ones. This is because they have bulk purchasing agreements with the suppliers, sometimes internationally, and can haggle the prices down in a way that your small UK business cannot.  

The argument against going through a reseller would apply to companies that have a very good understanding of the different VoIP systems, and the other support they need to work well. If you operate in certain branches of IT for example, you may have the up-to-date knowledge to come to the right VoIP choice for yourself.

What can I do in the account management portal? 

With a VoIP telephony system, you can view and manage your account online using a mobile device or a browserThis makes it easy to change your telephone setup for yourself. You can monitor the calls made on your system and set up live call reporting, voicemail and call recording 

Ask prospective VoIP providers what the advantages of their particular account management software are. We think the main feature you should ask about is user-friendliness, but you may have other priorities.  

Having a VoIP phone system means you can also use your office extension on your mobile phone, so you never miss a call. You can usually set it up through the provider’s app on your mobile or the portal in your browser. With this activated, you can make and receive phone calls, place calls on hold and transfer calls to another extension number or to an outside telephone number no matter where you go.

iCompario tip:

Ask the provider if it’s free to transfer calls to another network and what the charges are for each of the features they offer. If there’s a feature that you know you will use often, work out how much it is likely to cost you over the course of a year.

What VoIP telephone handsets and headsets do you offer? 

Getting the right hardware is vital to your productivity. The difference in price for the various types of hardware can be huge, so you really want to get this right and avoid pricey mistakes.  

It’s essential to make a list of all the tasks your employees need to do and make these clear to your provider before talking about the equipment you want to buy. This may seem obvious, but make sure you ask all your employees to contribute to this list themselves instead of having one employee make up a list based on their own assumptions.  

Providers usually offer a range of colour-screen handsets, choices for different workplaces such as steamy kitchens, classrooms or dirty factories and warehouses, economy models for light use and “professional” models with video screens for office workers who use their phone all day.

iCompario tip:

Handsets for VoIP systems are one of the ways different providers try to entice you with the advantages of their system. Try negotiating for some bulk discounts if you decide to buy from them.

How is the bandwidth in my area and what’s your backup system? 

Some VoIP providers can also sell you the internet connection, meaning they choose your bandwidth, whereas others will use what you have from a different broadband provider. Good VoIP telephony providers will provide resilient network with a backup system as well.  

The fact is, they all have hiccoughs sometimes. The main things you need to be checking are how well it works in your area, how much downtime there is (remember as we said earlier, you should expect less than 2 days per year) and how they will take care of you when it goes down.  

Never buy VoIP from a provider who doesn’t get into a detailed conversation about bandwidthThey know the bandwidth their system needs to work on, and they should make sure you have it. Your business needs will depend on the maximum number of calls you plan on making at the same time

iCompario tip:

Check if they automatically reroute calls to mobile numbers if your internet goes down. You could also ask for their performance and downtime statistics from the last year if you want to find out how reliable they tend to be.

After this, they should talk about their backup support. Every telephone sales rep in the UK will talk about their great customer service and promise the earth. Let this wash over you like water off a duck’s back because you can’t pin them down to it, so they will say anything. You should be asking for a “service level agreement” contract (SLA) which has times and numbers and specifics written down and signed. Large businesses negotiate SLAs all the time but, if you are a small business and not used to them, have a look online for examples so you can see what they should includeThey specify the service you will get, describe what the provider will do in case of each type of problem and quantify how much compensation you will get if they fail to deliver.

What VoIP business phone numbers can you give me? 

VoIP telephone systems can give you any bunch of numbers you want. They are not tied to the country you are based in, which means you can set up a call centre in a different country with a lot of numbers that look as if they are calling from the UK.  

For small businesses operating in overseas markets, the appearance of being local can be a real business advantage. This is not only because of the number that shows up when you coldcall prospects. It is also because you can give out a customer service or sales contact number that appears to be local, and does in reality have local call rates. This means your prospects will not be put off calling, thinking they will be charged an international rate.

How does your VoIP system support remote workers and conferencing?

Man in business meeting online

Having a VoIP phone system for your business means you can manage multiple sites and remote workers easily, and chop and change how you do things as often as you need to 

Ask providers to talk you through what their system can do, how much of this you can set up for yourself and how this is done. Do you need an IT expert or can you just go into your browser and do it easily yourself? 

In nearly all systems, users can log on to any handset (which can be their PC) and the system shows their features and extensions. You can use VoIP telephone networks to host or attend meetings from your desktop. Your system should have a way for you to set up a number and code for attendees to dial into. 

What call recording and VoIP analytics functionality is offered? 

Call recording and analytics tell you what is really going on in your company. Ask for a description of what is available and how it works in the system you are considering.  

Some VoIP systems can be set up to record both inbound and outbound calls for training, or handling customer disputes. If you operate in a regulated industry where keeping recordings of phone calls is a legal requirementa VoIP system for your business can make this easer and much cheaper than the previous generation of technology did. In most systems you get the recordings in the account management portal or app. Some systems can also turn voice recorded messages like voicemails into text instead. 

Customer service

The call analytics functionality you get with a VoIP telephone system means you can find out what’s really going on in your company. It can show you reports broken down by hour, day or week on inbound and outbound calls, calls being queued, the average wait time, how long the talk time is for each call, and your company’s busy periods. This means you can see at a glance when you need to keep extra staff available, when you need fewer people on the phones.  

Most VoIP software packages let you merge your phone and email systems. The main business benefit is that you can integrate your phone system with your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. Your employees can display whatever data you capture about each client every time they speak to them on the phone, having all the facts at their fingertips.  

This usually leads to a meteoric rise in customer satisfaction. Customers rarely like having to tell you lots of facts about themselves that they have already told you before, and conversely if your customer service adviser knows everything a customer has bought and done with your business in the past, they are usually pleased and impressed.

Where will my cloud phonebook be stored? 

A VoIP phone system will store your contacts in the cloud and use these when you dial, and also to identify a contact when they call you. If you are security conscious, you may want to ask about the cloud storage that comes with your VoIP system 

For those of you not deeply fascinated by how cloud storage works, basically there’s the public cloud where your data goes on servers you share with others, and there’s also private cloud storage where you get your very own cloud server. If your company is large enough to consider this, it gives a whole new layer of security and customer service.

How to find cheap business VoIP providers in the UK

There are dozens of VoIP software packages and providers in the UK and the list is growing constantly. Some of the leading brands in the UK include Gamma Horizon, NFON Cloud Telephone System, 8×8, AvayaCloud Office by RingCentral and Wildix. There are new providers appearing all the time and there will be pros and cons of going with a newcomer versus going with one of the big companies.

If you go to a telecoms reseller rather than a single provider, they can describe and compare the options for you instead of just telling you theirs is the best.

We store details of the leading tried and tested providers in our database, so you can start exploring with the help of iCompario.

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