VoIP telephony is gaining traction in the communications marketplace, and it is expected to move steadily upwards in terms of how many people use it. The benefits of the system as compared to standard copper-wire phone systems are increasingly well known; the question these days is less likely to be “are you going to start using VoIP?” and more likely to be “When you sign up for VoIP, which provider do you think you will use?”. Simply put, there is such a wide range of choice out there that the customer can feel a little bit paralyzed by indecision.
It helps to have the picture clarified a little bit. Knowing what is available is one thing; knowing how it compares to what else is out there in the market another thing entirely. It goes without saying that some of the providers will be better than others and some will not be as good. The nature of competition dictates that some will be at the top and others will be at the bottom – but what makes a company better or worse? What are the factors that you should be looking at when making a decision on your future VoIP provider? This is one of the things we will seek to clarify here.
Different VoIP providers may appeal to different sectors of the market, and indeed may be deliberately pitched in such a way. Although VoIP has taken its initial steps in the market by gaining the interest of business users (who have more interest in dramatically slashing calling costs, due to the higher volume of calls they make), it is certainly beginning to gain the interest of domestic users too. Some providers will load their service with business friendly features such as vanity numbers (which allow you to pick a memorable number that customers will be more likely to dial) while others will focus on delivering something residential customers need, such as extra lines.
This is an important factor in how you choose your VoIP provider, because the priorities of each user may be different. The business user who picks a more residential-focused provider will find that they don’t save anywhere near as much money as someone who made a more considered choice; while the residential user who picks a business provider may well find themselves paying more for the service while only using a small percentage of its features. There are other reasons to pay attention to the focus of the VoIP service provider, but this is a key aspect of your search.
At the end of the day, the most important thing for anyone about to become a customer is value for money. This doesn’t mean you should be looking for the cheapest service available. You may think you are saving money by picking the service with the lowest monthly subscription, but then find that you are being stung with call costs, poor service or a lack of features which means you have to pay for more options. The best value for money comes with a service that doesn’t cost the Earth but still manages to deliver a high quality of service, useful features and strong user support.
In order to aid you in the decision making process, we have ensured that as many categories are covered as is necessary. This will aid you in deciding which company meets your priorities best; the companies which score highest in the areas which are important to you will be the best choice for you. It is possible that these will also be the companies with the highest overall score, but because not every customer is the same it is important to recognise that this is not a “one size fits all” matter. The final choice lies with you, and our reviews are merely intended as helpful guidance.
The first category that we cover is Cost. There is no escaping the fact that price is an important issue for many users. Even though some of us will happily state that we will pay whatever it takes to get the best, the truth of the matter is that if you can get something for a lower price you will be well advised to take it. Over the course of a contract the expense can begin to add up and if you can get a service that meets all your needs for less than you might have been paying, you’ll have more money at the end of the month. It is important to focus on getting the best deal, and even if cost is not your number one priority it is worth paying attention to.
The cost issue does not focus merely on how much a monthly subscription is. It is also essential to pay attention to what you are paying for. Some companies will take a “stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap approach”, attracting customers by focusing on their low up-front cost. This is only of limited use, though, if you find that this low cost isn’t covering very much. It is better to pay slightly more for a calling plan which allows you unlimited minutes calling (domestically, nationally or internationally) than to pay bargain basement costs for a service that gives few or no free minutes.
Of course, this is not to say that the cheaper calling plans are necessarily a bad idea; some of the less expensive plans still manage to offer very competitive packages, if you are prepared to shop around. Often you will find that the best service for your needs actually falls in the middle of the pricing scale; more features than the majority of the cheaper ones while being more affordable than the ones at the top end. Again, it is worth shopping around to find the one that will suit you best. It is best to avoid cheap ones that leave you needing to add other services or expensive suppliers that throw a lot of features at you which you don’t need and will never use.
2. Ease of Installation:
Another important category is Ease of Installation. This would normally not feature so highly in a review of a service, but with VoIP you are likely to have to install the package yourself, and the companies that do offer installation as part of the package will tack an extra amount on to the cost. Bearing in mind that we aren’t all technically skilled, the ease or otherwise of installing a package can be a make or break factor. Some of the more technical services can take a complicated installation, and if you’re not comfortable with technology you will struggle to even use the system.
On the other hand, some of the services out there on the market are simple, download-only packages. They are a dream to install, and up and running within less than an hour; but for this you will find that they are somewhat limited in terms of quality. Ideally you want a system that is somewhere in the middle; one which works well and can be installed by the average person. If you have a bit more technical know-how then that’s great – you can work with the more complicated systems and benefit from the greater versatility that they can usually muster.
3. Tech Support:
You will also be keen to find a service that scores well on Tech Support. Customer awareness is such a buzz-phrase in any industry, and with good reason. This is the kind of issue that actually causes people to up and leave one provider for another, sometimes even forfeiting the remainder of their subscription costs just to be rid of the service once and for all. The truth is that even with the best suppliers you may sometimes find that you’re having problems and, when this is the case, you will want to have a company with tech support that can help you navigate the problems you are having.
There are a lot of aspects to modern tech support, and there is a great deal of variance between what the different companies will offer you. Some will have dedicated phone lines which are easily reached even after business hours. Some will have FAQ sections on their websites that allow you to deal with troubleshooting yourself. Others will have live chat options that allow you to go through your issues by Instant Messenger and some will have a form on their site to fill in, detailing the issues you are having. Some will have a combination of these features, some will have none of them.
The fact is that you will want a system with good tech support even if you aren’t having many problems with your service. The moment you do have a problem, it is important to get the best help possible. A lot of companies pay lip service to how good their tech support and customer services are, without actually getting down to brass tacks and making sure that they provide real support when there is a problem. The more aspects a company’s tech support has, the better for the customer; especially if the service is being used for business. When you can’t afford for systems to go down, you need to know you’ll be able to restore them as soon as possible.
4. Quality of Voice:
There are other matters to consider too; not least of these on a phone system is Quality of Voice Service. If you are paying a small amount of money for a service with lots of features and a bunch of free minutes, which has excellent customer services, it still won’t amount to a hill of beans if the quality of voice service is generally poor. With most of the established and even a lot of the newer suppliers, voice service on VoIP systems has really improved over the years and has become in many ways superior to the quality offered by most standard copper-wire systems.
There is often not a great deal of difference between levels of voice service offered by competing providers, but it can make your choice easier. Particularly if you are buying for a business solution, clarity of voice will be important in cases where there is going to be a lot of background noise. Being able to hear the other person is important. Also, the better providers tend to do a very good job of cleaning up the noise in the background so that even if things are quite loud in your office, the person you are speaking to will be able to hear you perfectly.
Speed is also of the essence in today’s society, and having a VoIP service that connects quickly and has a speedy login interface is an underrated feature. Particularly at business level, being able to operate with a minimum of waiting time can make a huge difference. We are a people less accustomed to waiting than ever before. Do you remember dial-up internet? Imagine you had to go back to that now; that’s an example of how, with waiting times largely eliminated, we just don’t deal well with having to sit and wait for something to load.
Last but not least in the list of important factors in our reviews, the issue of Features is one that can make the difference between two otherwise very similar providers. It’s not about which provider has the most features; some of the systems on the market have a very long list of options but on that list there may be very few which actively improve the user’s experience with the service. It is also about relevance of features. Something which might be essential at business level may be entirely useless to a residential user and vice versa.
The important issue about the features included with your VoIP service is how much they benefit you. Features such as an extra line will be massively beneficial for households which have a lot of people in them. Rather than fighting over the telephone, or imposing restrictions on when it can be used, you can have multiple lines, a lot cheaper than would be the case if you were to get a new line fitted by the phone company. Being able to have your voicemail forwarded to another device or to your email inbox can also be hugely beneficial if you are looking to run a tight ship business-wise.