Free VoIP: Does It Exist and Is It Good for Business?
Choosing between downloadable VoIP software and paid services
Is there really a free VoIP service?
Yes! There are free VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services out there. These are usually consumer-level apps you can download from the Apple App Store or Google Play. You might even be using them to chat with your friends and family.
These include Skype, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber, Google Voice, Google Hangouts, and Google Duo. People typically use these apps to make video and voice calls and send instant messages to anyone from anywhere in the world without paying anything.
The main draw is probably the easy setup. All you need to do is download the app, install it on your device, and create an account—and you’re good to go! They really are great for personal use. But if you want to use them for business, they might not be the best option.
Heard of VoIP softphones?
This term is less commonly used, but the apps mentioned above are examples of VoIP softphones, which are basically programs that let you make calls over the internet. They essentially turn your computers into “real phones” you can use for calls from PC to phone, from phone to PC, and between VoIP-enabled devices.
Most of these softphones have mobile app versions, so you can use your mobile devices as VoIP phones.
The main limitations of consumer-level free VoIP
One of the major selling points of Voice over IP is the fact that it won’t rack up your phone bill—especially because there are VoIP apps that can be downloaded for free. But of course, with anything that’s free, there can be some drawbacks:
Free VoIP apps only work when everyone on the call is using it.
Let’s say you have a Skype account and want to use it to call someone. To make voice or video calling possible, the other person needs to have a Skype account too.
This also means you won’t be able to call phone numbers directly. Sure, apps like Skype and Viber allow you to do this—but you’d need to buy credits to make it happen.
- They’re completely dependent on a strong internet connection. All VoIP services need a strong internet connection to work properly. With paid VoIP services, even though you’re paying for them, your VoIP provider will conduct a broadband connection test and a speed test to make sure your system can handle internet calls. If you need your calls to be reliable, this is probably the better way to go.
- There’s no direct way to make calls to and from landline phones. You won’t be able to call from a landline phone to the app, and of course, vice versa. Some apps can assign a temporary number from different countries, but you’d have to pay extra.
- Don’t expect a VoIP E-911 feature. Free VoIP doesn't support emergency calls since it isn't associated with a physical location (you can make emergency calls using your existing phone number on a traditional telephone network because it's associated with an address). To make it easier for responders to locate callers in cases of emergencies, federal law now requires business VoIP providers to register their customers’ addresses.
Since consumer-level free VoIP like Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger can’t accommodate phone calls from landline systems and other VoIP apps, they can’t completely replace your home phones. For that, you might want to look into residential VoIP services, which offer general landline functions without the high price.
Are there free VoIP services for business?
Enterprise VoIP services usually come with a subscription cost, which depends on the plan you choose. As to what these plans include, you get what you pay for.
Believe it or not, there are companies that offer free versions of their VoIP service—the only thing is something that’s free typically isn’t good enough for the average business.
In fact, free business VoIP packages are usually meant to be trial runs for really small businesses, which means they cater to a very limited number of users. For example, here are a few scenarios where free business VoIP solutions might be missing communication and collaboration features:
- The platform for VoIP calling is free, and you can also receive inbound calls for free, but you still get charged per minute for outbound calls (not good for a sales call center or any company or department that makes a lot of outbound phone calls). You’re probably better off investing in a robust call center software program.
- Calling and sending text messages may be free, but limited to a certain number and to businesses in the United States. In many cases, SMS isn’t supported at all, so if you’re the type of business that sends appointment reminder texts to your clients, you’ll need to look at other options.
- You may be able to get a free phone number. But since they generally recycle numbers, there’s a chance you’ll receive calls intended for someone else.
- Free versions don’t support emergency services. That means it's impossible for your employees to call 911 in case an accident happens.
- Yes, it’s possible to find a free service with comprehensive unified communications (a phone system that unifies multiple communication channels like voice, email, and video conferencing). But in cases like this, you’ll typically get little to no customer support when things go wrong. With paid services, whether you’re on a monthly or annual plan, you can always call your provider for help or get access to resources if you encounter problems with your phone line or hosted PBX phone system.
- If the provider is using SIP trunking (aka using an IP-enabled private branch exchange to create virtual phone lines within an organization), then they don’t support SMS—and you won’t be able to send texts. SIP to SIP calls are free, but you can’t dial direct phone numbers.
- You might get collaboration features like high-definition video conferencing, but with a cap on the usable bandwidth. Bandwidth affects connectivity, sound, and image quality, so you can expect choppy calls, which no one likes.
- Free services usually don’t offer integrations with important business apps like Salesforce and Zendesk.
- You’ll probably find a free service with built-in customer relationship management (CRM) software, but you can almost bet it’ll lack some functionality. Limited storage, for example, is something you’d expect in this case. This could be a problem as you grow your customer base.
The above scenarios are just a few examples of things to look out for when searching for free business VoIP plans. But if you feel that a free package is enough to meet your needs for now (and won’t hinder growth), then go for it.
If you do think you’ll need a fully business-capable internet phone solution, on the other hand, or if you know that your business will need to add or remove users, open new locations, and get more customers, then a paid service would make more sense.
Look into a free trial or two and try out some VoIP software.
Want to switch to VoIP? Take a look at free trials
If you want to get a feel for a service before deciding to sign up, then free trials are the way to go. Trial packages usually come with most of the important features and support associated with an actual paid subscription, so you can have the full experience for a limited time.
Look at a few different providers and compare them to see which one best addresses your needs.
In fact, why not start by taking RingCentral for a test drive?
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