Your business depends on effective communication and collaboration to succeed. So, you need to give your employees the tools they need to work together productively and provide better experiences for your customers.
Ageing landlines and multiple tools can hinder your business progress and workflow. With the increased prominence of the internet, VoIP solutions are fast becoming the future of business communications with voice, video and messaging functionality, enabling greater collaboration.
Read on as we look at what VoIP is, who uses it and the top apps available for your needs.
How Does VoIP Work?
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) uses the internet to make voice calls instead of using traditional phone lines.
It refers to a group of methodologies and technologies that use IP networks to deliver voice signals and multimedia sessions. It’s also known as IP telephony, Voice over IP or internet telephony and makes communication more accessible via apps.
Before the internet, telephony used a Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), which dedicated lines for telephone calls. Telephony service providers allocated one line per call, making it expensive and limited in its capability.
VoIP calls don’t travel over the PSTN. Your voice (analogue signal) is converted using codecs into digital data packets and sent along the internet highway. Once they arrive at their destination, they’re converted back into voice (analogue), allowing communication to happen.
Typically, VoIP uses Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and Real-time Transport Protocol (RTP). They’re industry-standard signalling protocols used to initiate, maintain, and terminate real-time communications. It includes voice calls, video calls and instant messaging.
Yes, VoIP offers more than just an internet phone service. Solutions, such as those from RingCentral, provide a range of features like call forwarding, caller ID, voicemail, video calls and SMS functionality.
These capabilities are constantly evolving as the internet grows to adopt new technologies. It’s one of the appeals of VoIP for businesses, as they can invest in a telecommunications system that will grow and scale with them.
VoIP applications integrate into a business workflow, boosting employee productivity and collaboration and improving customer experiences. A business only requires a VoIP service provider and an internet connection to start making calls.
Types of VoIP
VoIP can replace your ageing landlines and traditional phone systems. But you must pick the right type of VoIP system for you.
1. Self-hosted VoIP
Also known as in-house VoIP, you’ll need to manage the installation and call delivery yourself through an onsite or offsite server and a VoIP Private Branch Exchange (PBX).
A traditional telephone system used a PBX to connect landlines to the PSTN. A VoIP PBX connects your communication system to the internet and allows you to direct calls to your business handsets. It requires specialised domain expertise, regular maintenance of hardware, in-house support teams and management of your business phone numbers.
Additionally, you’ll need to upgrade your traditional landline phones to VoIP handsets to improve sound quality and compatibility.
Whilst it gives you control over your VoIP implementation and lets you tailor your solution to your needs, it can be costly.
So, self-hosted VoIP is best for large businesses that have the resources to employ personnel and build an in-house solution. Although there are options for smaller businesses, the resources required to run hosted VoIP can be impractical for their needs.
2. Hosted VoIP
A hosted VoIP outsources the equipment and infrastructure costs to a third-party provider. They manage all aspects of the installation and call delivery for you.
It’s often through a cloud-based PBX or telephone service and can reduce your costs, making it great for smaller businesses.
You don’t need specialised expertise, maintenance or in-house support, allowing you to focus on running your business.
Like a self-hosted solution, you’ll need to replace your regular phones with VoIP equivalents. But you’ll have access to reliable VoIP applications for desktops and smartphones, allowing you to turn any device into a phone extension.
Flexible working employees can download a softphone VoIP app to their current devices and use them to communicate with customers and co-workers while working from anywhere.
One vital requirement of hosted VoIP is bandwidth. As the service is managed solely through your internet connection, you need plenty of bandwidth and reliable broadband service to ensure call quality and performance.
Businesses adopt hybrid VoIP solutions when they’re happy with their current non-internet communications but want to take advantage of VoIP features, like low-cost long-distance or international phone calls.
Whilst a company can use both a traditional and VoIP telephone system, they can streamline their workflow and further reduce costs by switching over to a complete VoIP system.
Who Is Using VoIP Services?
While small businesses look to VoIP for cost savings, large organisations approach it with scalability. VoIP technology is used widely by anyone wanting to communicate easily and cheaply over the internet.
Popular communication apps, like Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp, use VoIP for local and international telephone calls. With around four billion mobile internet users worldwide, it’s easier for individuals to download and use free VoIP communication apps to cut down phone bills.
Most free VoIP services work well for consumers, but entrepreneurs and freelancers need more features for their increased workflow. Business-oriented VoIP solutions bring better video conferencing, IVR and voicemail options to create a cost-effective and professional phone system for entrepreneurial operations.
3. Small business
Startups and small businesses lack the financial resources to pay for expensive business phone systems. But to reach a global audience, grow their business, and increase their profits, they need enterprise-grade communications.
Hosted VoIP services provide the tools and business functionality to scale up. Some providers have specific plans for small businesses and offer dedicated support to get them going. It includes easy upgrades and management of phone numbers, users, and features.
Importantly, VoIP provides a cost-effective and scalable solution for SMBs, making the most of limited resources.
4. Large business
Voice over IP is ideal for individuals and businesses that lack the financial resources to host or pay for traditional phone systems. However, it can overhaul the communication workflow of large companies for the better.
Instead of using several tools and vendors, large businesses can make, receive and manage calls internally and externally at a fraction of the cost. Additionally, integration with CRMs, calendars and business tools allows employees to increase collaboration, improving productivity.
VoIP makes international calls, remote office collaboration and conferencing meetings easier and cheaper. With self-hosted and hybrid options, businesses have the resources to tailor solutions to fit their specific needs, leading to cost savings and improved scalability and workflows.
Examples of VoIP phone systems
1. Business phone systems
VoIP can help centralise business communication between multiple offices, simplify onboarding and improve remote working processes. It provides crucial business features, such as instant messaging, third-party integrations, video conferencing, screen sharing, call routing and voicemails.
It creates a unified communications platform, giving employees a convenient, consistent and streamlined workflow, increasing productivity, collaboration and better customer experiences.
2. IP phone systems
IP phones look like traditional landlines or business office phones but use Voice over IP to make calls. They have IP addresses and provide a happy medium for businesses that want to keep regular phones but have access to VoIP functionality, such as free long distance calls.
IP phones have several options to fit business requirements, including cordless or wired varieties. They even run on modern smartphone OS, such as Android. It gives them advanced features, like video conferencing, call recording and graphical displays.
Whilst they’re used interchangeably, VoIP phones use the public internet for calls, whereas IP phones use a private data network for outbound calls.
3. Home phone systems
Home phone systems are landlines connected to the PSTN and were essential before the internet or mobile phones. Affordable mobile phones plans and VoIP have reduced the importance of landlines. However, landlines are still used due to low mobile phone coverage or required dedicated home phone numbers despite their costly plans.
With VoIP, you can connect landline phones to a WiFi modem or router, letting you make and receive calls over the internet. As VoIP providers only charge for services used, it’s a cost-effective option for homeowners.
4. Software VoIP
Software VoIP refers to apps accessed online or downloaded to desktops or mobile phones. We use them regularly without realising it, like FaceTime or WhatsApp.
They come in several options, with varying features and price points, allowing you to manage calls anywhere as long as you have an internet connection. They use HD codecs to transport voice data across the internet.
Common examples of VoIP apps
VoIP began shortly after the advent of the internet, and it’s grown with it to include a vast array of features and use cases. Below are some of the most popular apps individuals and businesses use for their communication needs.
RingCentral MVP (Meetings, Video, Phone) is a cloud-based PBX system that offers an all-in-one unified communications and collaboration platform. It guarantees 99.999% uptime, ensuring dependable service with rare disruption to your business communications.
With plans ranging from £7.99 to £24.99/user/month, and a free-trial period, there are options available for every budget and business type, making this a perfect all-rounder to drive your workflow productivity.
Your features depend on the plan you choose. But you’ll get the reliability and functionality modern businesses need to succeed. It includes HD video calls, 24/7 customer support, collaboration tools and AI functionality. Some available features are:
- Team messaging
- Document sharing
- Call logs, recording and forwarding
- Multiple extensions
- Mobile phone (Android, iPhone) and desktop apps
- Third-party integrations, e.g. Microsoft 365, Zendesk
- Unlimited audio conferencing
- Customer user roles and permissions
Nextiva is a VoIP business phone system provider with carrier-grade infrastructure and data centres, guaranteeing a dependable SLA of 99.999% uptime.
With plans starting as low as $14.95/user/month, it’s great for medium to large organisations to make the most of their resources. Its web administration platform makes it easy to manage several VoIP lines from multiple offices, ensuring you stay on top of your communications.
Additionally, as a Nextiva customer, you get access to its free conferencing app, Cospace, which is available on desktop and mobile. It allows you to create collaboration spaces for employees, boosting productivity and efficiency. Other features include:
- Unlimited HD voice and video conferencing
- Unlimited internet fax
- Voicemails and transcription
- Toll-free numbers
- Popular integrations, like Microsoft Teams
- Call recording
- Voice analytics
- Automated surveys
Aircall provides a hosted cloud communications solution that offers a flexible and customisable VoIP service ideal for businesses of all sizes. With its multi platform apps and web portal, your employees can easily access it anywhere.
Starting at £25/user/month, its voice calling features are at the contact centre level, ensuring your business can comprehensively manage your calls. Whilst it lacks video calling functionality, it has built-in analytics, comprehensive customer support options and unlimited inbound and internal calls. Other features include:
- 95+ integrations and API access
- Call recording
- SMS support
- Softphone for desktop, Android and iOS
- Business hours
- Ring groups
- Assign and comment on calls
- Conference calls
- Blocklist numbers
8×8 offers enterprise-grade cloud PBX, with multiple redundancies and rerouting capabilities, ensuring 99.999% uptime SLA for your business.
Its plans start at £10/user/month, making it one of the most affordable options for a business wanting to cut its communication costs. Mobile and desktop work apps ensure accessibility of its video and voice calling to all employees, improving productivity and connecting coworkers no matter where they are.
With an easy administration interface, call management, handling, and analytics, it’s another great all-rounder. Other features include:
- Unlimited UK calling
- Team and personal messaging
- File sharing
- Meeting recording and transcription
- Call forwarding and transfer
- Caller ID, blocking and do-not-disturb
- Call monitoring
Grasshopper is a virtual PBX service that adds a business line and virtual phone system to your phone for VoIP/WiFi calling. Its Solo, Partner and Small Business plans make it perfect for entrepreneurs or small and mobile businesses.
Unlike other providers, prices are charged monthly, not per user, and start from $26 per month. It’s only available in the USA and Canada but offers several features, like 24/7 customer support, virtual fax, and unlimited business calls and text. Video calls are not available here.
- Voicemail transcription
- Ruby Receptionist
- Call reports
- Business phone number
- Call forwarding
- Incoming call control
- Simultaneous call handling
- Call transfers
- Custom greetings
Dialpad offers a unified business communications service that’s well-suited to companies using softphones or desk-based IP phones in their workflow.
Starting at £12/user/month, it’s an affordable option for small businesses and enterprises. It has scalable voice and video calling, as well as instant messaging. Its AI capabilities can be incorporated into your existing workflow, bringing added productivity. Other features are:
- Unlimited calling, SMS and MMS
- Unlimited meeting recording
- No meeting time limits
- Popular integrations
- Desktop and mobile screen sharing
- Real-time analytics and reporting
- Live speech coaching
- Comprehensive support
- End-to-end encryption
Skype is a free VoIP solution offering voice calls, video calls, and instant messaging. It’s an ideal option for individuals and freelancers who don’t require advanced functionality. It has everything you need from a consumer solution, including:
- Mobile and desktop apps
- Low-cost international and domestic calls
- Location sharing
- File sending
- Real-time translation
- Caller ID and call recording
- Screen sharing
- Live subtitles
With over two billion users, WhatsApp is the most popular free-messaging video and voice communication VoIP service. It uses end-to-end encryption and is available on mobile and desktop.
While it’s typically used by individuals, it has business-oriented apps, making it a good choice for entrepreneurs, freelancers and small businesses to communicate with consumers. It’s a basic option offering:
- Group chats/calls
- Document sharing
- Business profiles
- Quick replies
- Automated messages
Mitel is a cloud-based communications company offering VoIP services for small, midsize, and enterprise businesses. It’s a reliable, secure, and scalable option. With its mix-and-match pricing, you pay only for what you need. Some features of this service are:
- Instant messaging
- Video collaboration
- App integrations
- Business SMS
- Mobile apps
- Call recording
- Voicemail transcription
- Admin portal
Viber provides free messaging and voice and video calls to anyone, anywhere. It offers a paid subscription to make unlimited worldwide calls to 60 countries and Viber-for-Business options, making it great for freelancers, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. It also has:
- End-to-end encryption
- Disappearing messages
- Group chats and calls
- Build and join communities
- Transfer calls between devices
- Screen sharing
The advent of the internet has revolutionised how we shop, watch movies and communicate. VoIP apps, like WhatsApp, are in the hands of everyone who has a smartphone or an internet connection, enabling affordable worldwide communication.
Adopting VoIP for your business is essential to bridge remote offices, connect flexible-working employees and open yourself up to a global pool of customers. With cost-effective and scalable options, it lets you grow and focus on the one thing that matters – your business.
IP phones let you continue using the same in-house desk-based technology. But mobile and desktop VoIP apps boost your remote working capabilities with collaborative features, like screen sharing and third-party app integrations.
Effective communication and collaboration are vital for any entrepreneur, freelancer or business to succeed. With several providers, plans and solutions available, you’re sure to find a VoIP solution for your needs to drive your business success.
Originally published Jul 21, 2022, updated Aug 23, 2022