The Basics of Putting a VoIP Phone System in Your Home Office
- 1 The Basics of Putting a VoIP Phone System in Your Home Office
- 2 What Are the Pros and Cons of VoIP?
In today’s world, a home office is a must for most of us. Unfortunately, many of us don’t know how to set our offices up to be as useful as possible. Fortunately, some of us have learned the essentials of home office set-up, and have the knowledge to pass on. For me, a major must-have is a VoIP phone system.
VoIP is cheaper, has more features and is more flexible than traditional landlines. But, I know this isn’t enough to convince you that this phone system is best for you, so I’ll explain a whole lot more. I’ll let you know how it works, the pros and cons of it and what you need to do to set up your own – answering all of the questions you might have about VoIP.
How Does VoIP Work?
Surprisingly, VoIP systems are still a bit of a mystery although they’re quite simple. They convert analog voice calls into packets of data. The packets travel over a public and/or private IP(Internet Protocol) Network. Simple right? Well, it really is, because this allows you to call landlines, cell phones and other computers using your own phone or computer.
If needed, you can also video chat and web conference with others. All that’s needed is an analog phone adapter connected to your service provider’s hardware. Just remember that a private IP network will give you the best security and call quality.
What’s the Difference Between a Hosted Service and Self-Hosting?
VoIP systems are especially simple if you choose a hosted service. Service providers do all of the heavy liftings. You’ll be given a plug-and-play solution, which literally means you plug it up and you’re good to go.
Most likely your provider will deliver a small box of hardware with installation instructions and all you’ll have to do is follow those instructions to start your service. There’s no additional hardware or special installation required – you just plug their hardware into your phone and wireless router. There’s no waiting for an installation expert, and hook-up literally takes 10 to 15 minutes.
On the flipside, self-hosting is a bit more complex. You’ll need an IP-based private branch exchange or in other words a VoIP-friendly version of a PBX phone system. This will route your calls to a Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) or the plain old telephone service (POTS) and to the appropriate phones on your own network. Basically, it’s public telephone networks that use digital technology to connect you to the rest of the world.
The PSTN is a gateway between the analog signals of the public telephone system and the IP-PBX software. It basically converts calls to and from digital signals when needed. I’m not an expert on this, but if you need more help with PBX systems just check this article out: https://homeofhomebusiness.com/pbx-system.
Should I Choose a Hosted Service or Self-Host?
By now I’m sure you’re wondering which hosting option you should choose. Well, the simple answer is to choose the system that’s best for you. If you want something fast, simple and easy, then go with a hosted service.
On the other hand, if you’re a tech savvy ‘do-it-yourselfer’, then there’s nothing wrong with self-hosting. Either way, you’ll be getting an affordable, high quality system with more features than traditional phone service providers will ever offer you. Besides that, you’ll be able to handle the basic settings for your line and extensions over the phone and change advanced options for your system online.
What’s My Choice?
I know I said you should choose the system that’s best for you, but my best advice is to choose the hosted service option. Simply because the service provider will do all of the hard work -you’ll be on a secure private network, the installation is easy and you can choose the level of service you want. Bear in mind that PBX system can be very technically complicated and probably impossible for ‘non-tech people’ to hookup.
There are basic, mid-range and advanced services to choose from as well. Most home offices only require basic service. Mid-range and Advanced services are best for businesses and their traditional office environments. So, for your home office, your hosted service will most likely come with these features:
- A virtual receptionist with support, dial-by-name and music-on-hold features
- Microsoft Office(TM) and Box(TM) integration
- Unlimited calling in the US and Canada, extensions and Internet fax lines
- Caller ID
- 1000 toll-free minutes per month for small businesses
- Voicemail and “Visual Voicemail,” which is a graphical user interface that allows you to check messages on computers and cellphones
- Ten-way and Three-way calling via Call Controller softphone (software that allows you to make calls via a computer or the Internet)
- Apps for iOS and Android smartphones
- Advanced call forwarding, recording rules and call screening. Calls can also be transferred between phones in real time
What Are the Pros and Cons of VoIP?
Take it from a person who knows, home office VoIP systems have their advantages and disadvantages. However, for me, the pros truly outweigh the cons here. So, I’ll give you the good news first.
- VoIP systems are low cost: It’s a well-known fact that VoIP services are cheaper than landline services. They offer unlimited nationwide calling at a fixed monthly rate, which is actually rare to find in a traditional phone service provider. Plans can cost as little as $5 a month for unlimited nationwide calling.
- Easy install: No special equipment or installation is needed. You can install your own hardware and set up your own network. Service providers rarely charge for their hardware and/or software.
- Excellent features: VoIP providers and IP-PBX software packages provide more features than traditional providers. You’ll get all of the basic services plus advanced ones, such as customizable call screening, integration with Office software, professional and customizable greetings, a virtual receptionist and so much more.
- Even more, features can be added to your basic service, but it would still cost less than a landline service. Plus, a mobile app from your provider allows you to receive and make calls from your cellphone using your data connection. All you need is a Wi-Fi connection you can use. The app can even be set to ring simultaneously with you home office phone or act as a stand-alone extension.
It’s only fair that if I talk about how good VoIP is, I must also talk about how bad it is. Like all things in life, VoIP systems have their drawbacks. These drawbacks are:
- No service during power outages: If the power or Internet is off, then you won’t be able to use the phone in your home office. However, during service disruptions, hosted services will re-route your calls to your cellphone or automatically bump them to voicemail.
- Unlimited calling is limited? Unlimited calling is touted by VoIP service providers, but connecting to special lines (such as conference call or video chat services) or cellphones may incur an additional charge. Calling foreign countries may also be very difficult or impossible, especially to small countries. You should definitely read the fine print on unlimited calling before signing up for any service. A bonus, though: call-per-minute rates are highly competitive.
- Network connections affect call quality: VoIP call quality is typically better than landline call quality. However, the quality of your network can negatively affect this. A crowded, slow or spotty network will lower the audio quality of your call or even cause calls to drop frequently.
- No emergency calling: This may seem ridiculous, but many VoIP services don’t provide 911/emergency calling. Plus, the providers that do offer it usually impose high base-subscription fees or charge extra for the emergency call feature.
What Do I Need to Know Before Installing a VoIP System in My Home Office?
There are some important technical things you should know before getting your own VoIP phone.
These technical things are:
- Ordering VoIP will probably cost you more time than money. Setting up the service is usually free or comes with a super low down payment. Truthfully, to get your service started, the most that’ll be required is a reliable broadband connection, an Ethernet cable and a phone.
- Just be aware of how much bandwidth you have available and need to run other applications simultaneously. Although, that shouldn’t be a problem in your home office. For example, my 30-mbps connection could handle 25 calls even with an instant messaging client, a powerful movie app and a powerful music app running at the same time. However, if your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has a bandwidth cap, then you might have to take this into consideration.
- VoIP systems use the high-quality G.711 codec for communications, which uses 64kb of data every second you spend on the phone. Considering this, it would appear that it’s impossible to reach your bandwidth cap just by using your VoIP system. However, you should watch your data usage closely if you use the system a lot.
- If you subscribe to a cloud-based VoIP service, then you must make sure your phone can operate over the system. Most systems use session-initiation protocol (SIP) to assign each VoIP software client or telephone a unique address. This is how the IP-PBX routes the right calls to the right lines. It all basically means that in order to make calls over the internet, you’ll need a SIP enabled phone. With a cloud-based service, if you want to keep your old analog phone or fax machine, you’ll have to plug them into an analog telephone adapter (ATA). However, you won’t have access to the advanced options SIP-based phones offer.
- Finally, you’ll need to ensure that your routers, switches and your entire network can handle the new VoIP system. You can do this by getting a router with configurable Quality of Service settings. Then, use these settings to give your VoIP traffic the highest priority, which will maximize quality.
The Conclusion Is…
What I wrote above is the gist of what you need to know about VoIP service. Obviously, there are many advantages to switching from PSTN communications to VoIP, especially if you have a home office. VoIP offers flexibility, better call quality, a lower price, more service options, the ability to change and upgrade services whenever you like and so much more.
Plus, the pros truly do outweigh the cons.
These are the main reasons why I use a VoIP phone system in my home office. I’m not trying to sell you on it, but hopefully, this brief guide provided you with a bit of insight on what VoIP systems are like and if using one is right for you.
Image credits: studiostoks @bigstockimages.com