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The Best Business VoIP Providers for 2021

The small to midsized business (SMB) telephone industry is dominated by voice over IP (VoIP) systems, and this has only gotten stronger throughout the epidemic.

They’re more flexible than on-premises PBXs not only because they’re cheaper, but also because they’re mostly software.

There’s nothing a VoIP system can’t do that an old-fashioned PBX can’t, but there’s a lengthy list of things you can’t do with VoIP that you can’t do with on-premises hardware.

No matter how many extensions you have, where your employees are situated, or what devices they’re using, VoIP systems, also known as cloud PBXes, can handle all of your voice communications from a central online panel.

Video conferencing and team collaboration are common capabilities on most systems. When you combine all of this with subscription-based pricing that is typically far less expensive than an on-premises PBX, VoIP remains one of the best communications investments any company can make, particularly during a pandemic.

COVID-19 will not continue indefinitely, and hybrid work may not be suited for your company, so keeping basic VoIP criteria in mind is critical.

When employees return to the office, this includes offering voice communications for them at their desks. VoIP systems may also need to communicate with and through a variety of additional communication channels, such as conference calls, fax machines, mobile communications, text messaging, video conferencing, and wireless phones.

Furthermore, they are frequently expected to provide more advanced software functionality, such as shared meeting collaboration, voicemail to email transcription, and call recording.

Not to mention the fact that many businesses still require a service that connects to the public switched telephone network (PSTN).

Many of today’s phone systems are being dubbed Unified Communications-as-a-Service because they support such a wide range of features and channels (UCaaS).

These are mainly cloud-based virtual PBXes (private branch exchanges) with at least one (usually numerous) software clients to improve their operation on the web, desktop, and, especially, mobile devices.

Even home VoIP systems include features that would be impossible to achieve with a traditional phone line.

How to Choose the Right VoIP System

Before you can start thinking about a brand, you need to figure out how your company will use a phone system. Examine your current phone system and decide whether you want to maintain it altogether and add VoIP capability on top, keep only part of it, or replace it entirely.

Often, a complete replacement isn’t feasible, owing to the fact that some aspects of your present phone system aren’t simply converted to softphones or even desktop VoIP telephones.

If you work in a heavy manufacturing environment with outdoor activities, such as a steel fabrication yard or a landscaping company, your sturdy old outdoor phones might be just what you need. You must also determine which elements of the existing phone system are required, as well as the features of a new phone system you believe are required for future use.

It’s critical to incorporate stakeholders from all aspects of your organization while planning. Yes, because your voice calls will now be data communications, this includes IT and data security personnel.

However, it must also include the workers who will be utilizing the system to do tasks, particularly those who will be using it for the first time.

These individuals have crucial knowledge of what is genuinely required versus what is simply stylish and trendy. Remember that a VoIP system is more than simply a new set of phones; these platforms have a vast list of capabilities, but many of them might affect your entire pricing, so you must know what you require and what you do not. For business customers, sorting out all of this begins with a basic understanding of what VoIP is.

The Best Business VoIP Providers

So What Is VoIP, Exactly?

VoIP is a technique for digitizing voice signals and delivering the digital voice data via an IP network. The analog speech information is encoded using software known as a codec to accomplish this. Another codec is responsible for converting the digital signal back to analog so that it can be understood.

A VoIP system must be able to route calls between users or to the outside world in order to function. This is handled by a virtual PBX in a cloud-based system.

Your VoIP provider manages this routing on the cloud, which is one of the reasons you pay them. In exchange for your membership money, whoever vendor is providing that is also running a massive PBX operation in a data center someplace and slicing off a small portion of it to dedicate to your firm.

You’re effectively sharing a huge PBX with the provider’s other customers, but due to multi-tenant segmentation, your PBX will appear to be devoted to you. This engine will handle call routing both within your VoIP network and to other networks.

Many businesses, however, require the ability to route calls via the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and other analog phones.

This might be a PSTN gateway or even a hybrid PBX, as long as your office has at least a small telephone switch. If this is required, your VoIP provider will inform you during the planning stage.

It’s worth noting that a PBX nowadays appears just like the other servers in your data center, but for the addition of a location management system.

Many small organizations, on the other hand, make every effort to avoid using any on-premises PBX components. This is partly due to cost reductions, and partly owing to the capabilities of all-cloud systems being more than adequate for their requirements.

Some virtual cloud PBXs, for example, can connect to the PSTN without requiring any on-site hardware. Before you commit, make sure you ask any possible VoIP service providers about this.

How UCaaS Benefits Your Business

If all of this seems like more hassle than it’s worth, keep in mind that converting your PBX to a software solution opens up a world of flexibility and integration that you can’t obtain any other way.

After all, programmers now have the ability to treat your phone like an app. This has led us to the rapidly evolving UCaaS model discussed before.

Additional software capabilities are implemented and administered from a single, unified console by VoIP providers, such as the ones we’ve examined.

While the specific features of each UCaaS solution vary greatly from one to the next, the majority of them include video conferencing, shared meeting and online collaboration tools, integrated faxing, mobile VoIP integration, and device-independent softphone clients.

That last point is particularly important right now because it means that your employees can download an app to their personal smartphone or company laptop that will mirror all of the functionality of their corporate phone, including answering calls to your business phone number and, in particular, their extension. That’s an ideal solution for people who are stranded at home due to the pandemic.

Softphones are at the heart of most UCaaS implementations, and for many VoIP customers, they’re quickly replacing actual handsets as the key use case.

Part of this is due to the fact that they work just as well on smartphones and tablets as they do on desktop computers and laptops.

Softphones are typically the sole tool available to call center employees because they are the front-end window to any CRM or help desk integration, which is now a must for the job.

So, for example, a soft phone can combine phone conversations with text chat and screen sharing, which means that conversations between two employees can seamlessly add more participants, and handle the conversations between these participants during the call.

Private text chat and extend to collaborative sessions where groups share screens, documents, and data-no preparation, no need to keep rows, just click the button.

In the case of CRM integration, the system can recognize the customer’s phone number or some other identifiers, and automatically retrieve the record for the technician or salesperson who answers the call.

If it is a particularly important customer, it can even remind the manager to monitor the call.

The fundamentals of UCaaS are as follows, but the notion is always growing to accommodate more communication and collaboration tools.

Those skills are also adjusted to deliver new benefits, some of which are broad and others which are targeted at certain verticals, such as healthcare. Integration is the key.

Voice is becoming more integrated with other back-end apps, thanks to UCaaS. It’s gotten so popular that, according to new research from Statista, it’s grown at a breakneck pace over the previous several years.

However, the rich feature fabric might vary dramatically amongst vendors. RingCentral’s softphone, for example, has a large range of app integrations and services, including not only collaboration platforms but also bi-directional email and scheduling.

Line2’s softphone client, on the other hand, is designed to be easy so that users can get started quickly, and it accomplishes this by largely mirroring the buttons seen on a normal desktop telephone.

Two opposite sides of the spectrum, which means you need to be cautious while evaluating these apps to ensure you’re obtaining not only what you need, but also in the proper method for your company’s operations.

So What Is VoIP, Exactly?

What Is SIP?

One of the underlying technologies that makes VoIP possible is the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). Similar to HTML, this is a text-based protocol.

In most VoIP systems, it’s the most widely used standard for setting up and controlling phone calls. You’ll come across references to SIP in practically every interaction you have with these types of phone systems, especially when choosing handset hardware.

Other archaic protocols and non-SIP standards, such as H.232, are still in use. The Media Gateway Control Protocol (MGCP) and the Skinny Client Control Protocol are two other protocols that are still in use (SCCP).

The former is noted for being unnecessarily complicated, as well as the fact that it lacks some of the features that people expect from their phones, such as caller ID.

Since its inception, Cisco has been a strong supporter of SCCP. Despite this, Cisco is phasing out SCCP in favor of the considerably broader SIP standard.

The great majority of modern VoIP phone systems employ SIP as its communication protocol. It can also handle phone service, video conferencing, and a variety of other jobs, which is why it’s so popular. Data security is an issue, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

SIP’s popularity stems not only from its depth and flexibility, but also from the fact that it was designed specifically for multimedia (not just audio, but also video and text) communications over TCP/IP networks.

SIP can make VoIP conversations utilizing a variety of IP-related protocols, such as the Stream Control Transmission Protocol (SCTP), Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), and User Datagram Protocol (UDP) (UDP).

Optimizing Your Internet Connection for VoIP

The majority of VoIP solutions will necessitate reliable and consistent internet access at all of your office locations where VoIP will be employed.

Your business phone system must, at the absolute least, have access to a business-class internet connection, so talk to your company’s internet service provider about these requirements (ISP).

If you want your phone calls to sound like they’re coming from a business rather than someone’s home Skype connection, this should be a dedicated link through a dedicated router.

It’s essential to have a router that can construct virtual LANs (VLANs) and encrypt your voice traffic at the very least. Any call these days requires end-to-end VoIP security.

Your present internet connection may not be suitable for larger systems or systems where security is crucial for things like being compliance with vertical regulatory requirements.

Quality of service (QoS) is not available on the internet, and bandwidth can be unreliable. A conference call can be ruined by network congestion, and DNS hijacking can put your business and data at risk.

Although we all enjoy the internet, it is not always the safest location for business phone communications. If you fall into this category, keep in mind that just because the internet uses the IP protocol and VoIP operates over IP doesn’t mean you have to use it.

By hosting your voice network via dedicated lines, you can obtain all of the UCaaS software features we’ve outlined. Sure, it’ll be more expensive, but you’ll get crystal clear audio quality and the option to incorporate far better data protection.

Managing VoIP on Your Internal Network

You must ensure that your local area network (LAN) can handle your VoIP traffic in addition to ensuring that your internet service can handle it.

What makes VoIP network administration difficult is that if you simply dump it onto your network, it will be treated like any other traffic, including your shared accounting program or those 20 terabytes of files your assistant recently uploaded to the cloud.

The issue is that VoIP traffic is far more susceptible to network bumps and potholes than most other types of office traffic. This can result in jumbled talks, trouble connecting to Wi-Fi, or (worst-case scenario) dropped and lost calls.

If your company is tiny and your network is mainly contained in one or two wireless routers, configuring and testing your network should be quite simple (though still there).

Managing VoIP on Your Internal Network

These duties can be complex and time-consuming for medium and larger networks, resulting in increased man-hour costs.

Fortunately, the majority of the providers evaluated here include engineering experts who will contact you during the setup process to assist your IT staff in testing and optimizing your network before deployment. Even while that is something we strongly encourage, even if it is more expensive, there are measures you can take right now to prepare your LAN for VoIP and make the implementation process go more smoothly.

For starters, ensure that you are familiar with Quality of Service (QoS) (mentioned above). This entails going beyond knowing the concept to figuring out how your office’s networking equipment — or, if you’re still at that point, your employees’ home offices — can really implement QoS.

Because most business-grade networking hardware can handle QoS in multiple ways, it’s critical to test which strategy will handle voice traffic more smoothly in your environment.

The next step is to learn about codecs. Because it regulates both bandwidth utilization and voice data compression, this technology is what truly gives each call its voice quality.

Knowing which proprietary and open source voice codecs your networking equipment supports is important. Then check to see if your VoIP provider supports those codecs, and experiment with several types to discover which is the most efficient.

Finally, take a thorough look at your existing network monitoring tools. VoIP is, at its core, a special type of network traffic, thus these technologies will ultimately allow you to see and manage that traffic throughout your network. Make sure the tools you’re employing can handle VoIP’s requirements, particularly in terms of QoS, traffic analysis, and network congestion.

Once you’ve chosen a VoIP provider, their experts will work with you to assess your network’s overall service grade (think of it as your network’s fundamental “VoIP readiness factor”), as well as how to improve their service and optimize your network so VoIP can run smoothly across your infrastructure.

Future-Proofing Your VoIP Communications

Beyond COVID, for the vast majority of SMBs, VoIP makes the most sense, not only because subscription fees are less expensive than purchasing on-site PBX hardware, but also because VoIP is the only method to stay up with growing communication trends.

However, because integration is at the heart of VoIP and UCaaS, you can’t make a purchase without considering the future.

On the one hand, examine each provider carefully to see what they’ve done in terms of product development and keeping up with VoIP and UCaaS developments over the last half-decade. Consider what you’ll need in the next five years, on the other hand.

Over the last year, we’ve noticed two themes that almost all of the suppliers we’ve tested here have recognized as being essential to their clients. That means in 2021 and 2022, these will be important capabilities for suppliers to add to their platforms:

Mobility and 5G

While some VoIP services still provide mobile handsets, their popularity appears to be waning. After all, if you want to converse while walking, why carry along a bulky phone when you can just talk on your smartphone? One approach is to use geofencing to enable seamless voice switchover.

So, if your smartphone detects that it is inside your company’s wireless network, it can smoothly engage your VoIP client over Wi-Fi rather than your cell connection, and you’ll be able to make and receive calls from both your personal calling plan and your company’s VoIP service.

This includes messages, voicemail-to-email, and collaborative online meetings in addition to simple phone conversations.

When that happens, some VoIP providers are intent on simply linking their services to 5G, allowing employees to access their business VoIP service from any location and on any device that is 5G compatible.

While some companies do this with existing mobile technology, the latency restrictions associated with 4G calling typically make it a sub-optimal experience for video and collaboration, as well as simple voice traffic. 5G is the first provider to offer the bandwidth required for genuine mobile UC to become a reality.

VoIP security

As previously stated, SIP is the fundamental protocol for VoIP, and it was not designed with security in mind. This means that hackers are employing a variety of novel attack methods.

A denial of service (DoS) attack targeted directly at a phone service rather than the network as a whole is one example. Because to the deterioration in connection quality, excessive latency, and system breakdowns, your service will be garbled or dropped.

Spoofing of caller ID is also getting increasingly widespread. This is a phone-based phishing attack rather than an email-based phishing attempt.

Hackers can convince employees to divulge critical information by contacting them with a caller ID that looks like it’s coming from within the organization.

During this round of testing, every manufacturer we met with cited security as an important sales and development element in the next years.

Managed call encryption with minimal degradation in service, integration with identity management systems, and even artificial intelligence (AI) methods to detect and respond to assaults as they occur are all possible options.

These developments are anticipated to become major selling points in most VoIP vendor-customer talks for at least the next two years.

While that’s fantastic, be sure you fully comprehend what’s being given and how the vendor intends to deliver it. Is a 5G implementation truly standards-based, or do proprietary hardware and software components still exist?

Is the vendor properly supporting the increasing security requirements in critical industry legislation like HIPAA and SOX, and how much will any additional security measures reduce overall voice performance?

If all of this seems like a lot of work, keep in mind that it’s well worth it. A hosted VoIP PBX solution can provide just about whatever a business could want from a phone or collaboration system—and usually at a lower cost than purchasing and maintaining your own on-premises PBX. It’s simply a matter of deciding on the best solution for your company.

Deborah Navarro
Deborah Navarro
Sou jornalista e produtora de conteúdos para portais online, sempre criando conteúdos que sejam de interesse geral.
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