Very few businesses can operate without a phone presence. Whether it’s for sales operations or customer support, brands need a way to communicate with their current and future clients.
Voice over internet protocol (VoIP) providers offer businesses an affordable, modern, and more versatile alternative to classic landline phones, but questions of “reliability” create a hesitation to switch.
The truth is, VoIP phone systems provide reliable and high-quality professional calls. The perception that internet-based calls aren’t reliable stems from the early days of the web tools when technological innovation outpaced the infrastructure available to host it.
These questions of reliability disappear when users understand the factors involved in making VoIP phone calls. Furthermore, there are steps customers (and their phone providers) can take to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible.
When this happens, the benefits of VoIP solutions surpass those of landline services.
- Reliability of Voice Over Internet Protocol
- Client-Side Factors that Affect VoIP Reliability
- Provider-Side Factors that Affect VoIP Reliability
- VoIP vs Landline Reliability
- Reasons You Should Choose Landline or VoIP
- How to Choose the Right VoIP Solution for Your Business
- How Much Will VoIP Service Cost?
- What Makes VoIP Calls Extra Reliable?
The Reliability of Voice Over Internet Protocol
When customers talk about VoIP reliability, they’re referring to two vital components: call quality and system uptime.
Will I be able to hear and speak to my customers clearly, and will my phone be ready to use whenever I need it?
Client-Side Factors That Affect How Reliably a VoIP Service Functions
It turns out, most things that influence call quality when using VoIP services are fixable on the user-end. Many times, fuzzy, echo-y, and otherwise bad calls are the result of inadequate or malfunctioning hardware. Here’s what to consider.
Microphones/Headsets. All telephone technologies involve a microphone that converts the speaker’s voice into electrical signals — but not all microphones are created equal.
If it wasn’t obvious already, your computer’s built-in microphone is a poor choice for making business-grade VoIP calls. Those microphones detect a wide range of sounds and create a lot of external noise on the receiving end. Also, some types of external microphones and headsets aren’t compatible with certain operating systems. If you’re using a Windows operating system, you may need a USB-enabled headset instead of a 3.5 mm headphone jack to enjoy full functionality.
Additionally, more expensive headsets greatly improve quality. Echo reduction and noise isolation technologies are two coveted features for making support and sales calls. We recommend the Jabra Evolve 40 headset as a quality solution at a reasonable price.
Router Optimization. Internet protocol telephony uses a standard internet connection to operate, and this may cause panic for those who have ever experienced spotty WiFi at home. However, your internet connection at work (and the quality of your VoIP conversations) should be of vastly higher quality for two reasons.
One, professional-grade routers are designed to handle much more traffic than your standard home router. If your company WiFi is running through the same router as the one you have set up in the guest bedroom, you shouldn’t be surprised when calls cut out. A proper, professional router can handle dozens of VoIP calls simultaneously (500-1000 mbps), and will cost at least a few hundred dollars.
Our personal recommendation — if your employees will be on the phones frequently — is the Meraki MX68. This router can reliably manage VoIP traffic.
Furthermore, like an F1 race car, that expensive piece of machinery won’t run properly if it’s not set up in the correct way.
The internet works by breaking down messages into many small units that are reassembled after delivery. Transporting some of these “packets” takes more bandwidth than others. A qualified professional can configure your router to prioritize a certain type of packet over another. To ensure business-grade VoIP calls, your router needs to prioritize voice packets, thus reserving sufficient bandwidth for important conversations.
This prioritization is called Quality of Service, or QoS for short.
(Sidenote: QoS is one reason you might have difficulty watching Netflix at the office.)
Use an Ethernet Connection or Stay Still. You can prioritize voice packets via QoS, but a stable internet connection is always more reliable when using ethernet chords. When possible, sales and support teams should rely on wired internet connections to ensure no disruptions in service.
If a wired setup isn’t possible, or you find yourself away from your desk when an important call comes in, don’t panic. If the router is of sufficient quality, the connection will be stable. However, physically moving around your office may cause small breaks in connection, as larger offices will have multiple “points of access”.
Your computer or devices will automatically switch between points of access to maintain a strong internet connection, however, there will be small lapses while these jumps occur that could lead to jitter (also known as packet loss).
Provider-Side Factors That Affect How Reliably a VoIP Service Functions
User hardware and internet connection are the two most common causes of reliability issues for VoIP users, but uptime and other network-related responsibilities should also be considered.
Before we go any further, though, it’s important to understand how VoIP works.
How VoIP Works: Service Provider Reliability
When using a VoIP service, your router sends the voice packets to a service provider, who in turn routes the packets to the correct destination. This is done by companies such as Twilio, Nexmo, Plivo, etc.
When it comes to service provider reliability, do you need to worry about downtime? In a word, no.
Each of these providers has one goal (to achieve 99.999% uptime), and their software runs on servers placed strategically around the world. These physical “points of presence” ensure speedy packet delivery and additional security in case one location goes “offline.” In that case, packets that would’ve otherwise been routed to the down-location are distributed to other facilities.
There is also the inherent risk of using software in general (bugs, software updates, etc.), but these companies are smart enough to use phased-rollouts and other deployment best practices that virtually eliminate service disruptions.
How VoIP Works: Carrier Reliability
However, when any phone with a location-based phone number (country code + area code + unique digits) makes or receives a VoIP call, the voice packets must eventually be converted into a classic landline signal. This process is completed by a carrier.
And carriers are subject to coverage issues. In a B2C context, these carriers go by names like T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon, but different companies exist to serve professional phone systems.
Not all carriers are created equal, and oftentimes the less expensive ones (lower per-minute rates) have less consistent coverage. To prevent against dropped calls and limited coverage ranges, VoIP phone systems can implement carrier switching measures.
In this scenario, your call will automatically be routed through a functional carrier, should coverage for another one not be available in the area you’re calling. If you’re going to be making international calls, you can ask your VoIP provider if they implement these measures.
Reliability of VoIP versus landlines
Many company owners and team managers may be weighing the benefits of using VoIP vs landline service for their business needs. Reliability is a large consideration, but these decision makers also have to weigh functionality and cost savings into their final decisions.
Which is more reliable: VoIP or landline service?
From a perspective of consistent call quality and uptime, landline service (or PSTN) is the winner by a millisecond. IP network communications are subject to more steps than a simple copper-wire technology. Landline phones don’t have to worry about software, WiFi, QoS, or packet loss, which could be comforting to some small business owners.
However, landlines are subject to all the negative consequences of hardware. If a line does go down (even locally), your devices won’t be working for at least a few hours — if not days. Installing new lines and alternate numbers would also require an electrician or qualified IT professionals familiar with the technology. This makes scaling operations seasonally next-to-impossible.
Finally, from a cost perspective, landlines limit the geographical range. That is to say, long distance and international calling become much more expensive. If global operations are part of your company’s future plans, landlines will carry an exorbitant maintenance cost.
In Which Instances are a VOIP Networks Better or More Reliable for Business?
Because of the difficulty in scaling phone infrastructure and the cost of long-distance calls, landline service is beneficial for companies who operate mostly in a single geographic location and have fewer individual phone numbers to manage.
For sole proprietors or partnership-type businesses, this can be the most efficient and reliable option.
VoIP telephony introduces certain strategic advantages that landline phones can’t offer. This technology is the superior option for:
Young companies. When just starting out, many new ventures don’t have the time or cash to invest in landline infrastructure. VoIP services offer month-to-month payment systems and tiered pricing that allow for upgrades when necessary.
Businesses that need to scale seasonally. Some customer support teams are subject to high and low seasons. Adding and subtracting users and numbers is simple with modern VoIP systems in a way that wasn’t possible 20 years ago. (There’s no need to pay for phone lines that don’t ring 9 months out of the year.)
Fast-growing companies. Businesses that experience rapid growth need to expand support and sales teams accordingly. This may mean more lines, more numbers, and a wider geographical range. VoIP systems are designed for this flexibility in a way landlines can’t match. Furthermore, VoIP systems enable remote work plans (all you need is an internet connected device and a good connection). This makes working from home or remotely a real possibility — a structure many forward-thinking companies are embracing.
International businesses. Limiting your customer base by geographic location is a bad idea in today’s economy. Especially with the rise of cross-border eCommerce, team managers and company owners would be wise to embrace an audience well outside of their immediate vicinity. VoIP systems have the unique capability of letting teams purchase local numbers anywhere in the world. This makes it easy (and affordable) for faraway customers to contact your support or sales teams.
Teams that use unified communications software (UCaaS). Far and away, the best advantage of using a VoIP system is the interconnectivity between communication tools. If you’re using a landline service, your phone is an isolated machine, and any information collected via that system must be shared manually. VoIP phones can seamlessly integrate with customer management, customer service, lead tracking, and other business tools essential to modern companies’ operations. When everything is properly documented, workers are more efficient and nothing is lost.
Actual insights. Determining average on-call time, missed call rates, and incoming/outgoing call volume can be done using a landline phone system, but it’s an extremely difficult process. Collecting this type of information is easy — and in many cases automatically generated — within your VoIP system. This allows managers to make better business decisions.
How to Choose a VoIP Service for Your Small Business
The first step is to determine which features of VoIP service are most important to your operations.
Some popular features include:
- Real-time analytics
- Local and toll-free number availability
- Fast setup
- Live call monitoring
- PowerDialer features
- A mobile app for business on-the-go
- A specific CRM, lead tracking, or helpdesk software integration
- Warm transfers and conference calling
- GDPR and other industry certifications
From here, you can discuss which requirements you’re looking for with your management teams and determine what’s a must-have, and what’s a nice-to-have feature.
How Much Will VoIP Service Cost?
Pricing varies between VoIP vendors. Generally speaking, subscription services are offered on a month-to-month or annual basis, with discounts available for longer commitments.
Operating costs are also highly variable, and are determined according to number of users, number of lines, and minutes spent on-calls.
The most important thing to consider when looking at prices is that VoIP providers are upfront about their pricing structure.
What Makes a VoIP Service Extra-Reliable?
Features are important, but they only tell half of the story. What really matters is how your VoIP phone provider will follow through on their service quality promises once the calls start coming in. Luckily, there are measures sales and customer support managers can take to make sure this happens.
Service-Level Agreement (SLA)
Your phone system service-level agreement is a contractual document that clarifies what your provider is committed to delivering and what happens when they don’t.
SLAs for VoIP systems typically include clauses relating to uptime, call quality, software bug fixes, and (if it applies) hardware guarantees.
When entering into any type of professional subscription agreement, this type of documentation should be considered a must-have.
Local Presence of Servers
VoIP phone systems designed for larger, enterprise clients maintain their own infrastructure (servers) around the globe to distribute calls reliably. This, however, is a very expensive endeavor, and these providers usually need points of presence in each country they operate in. This can be very limiting.
Most VoIP systems will use a service provider like Twilio, Nexmo, or Plivo to host their calls. These companies run their software on servers around the globe and therefore provide extensive coverage.
It’s worth asking when evaluating phone systems which service they use and if there are any no-call areas.
A Dedicated Onboarding Specialist
A quality user interface makes starting service with a VoIP phone system much easier, but in order to get the most out of your new technology, it helps to have a friendly guide..
Choose a phone system that provides you with a dedicated onboarding specialist throughout the first few months of service. This advocate will help you troubleshoot any errors and solidify your most important workflows.
Additionally, they’ll also help you set up QoS on your router to ensure all calls have enough bandwidth to be clearly sent and received.
Regular Software Updates
Getting software update notifications can be… annoying to be frank, but it’s a quality you should value in a VoIP phone software.
These updates mean the engineers behind the tools you use are working to improve security, usability, and call quality. Furthermore, browsers and operating systems evolve over time. A good VoIP software will innovate to comply with these changing standards.
Additional VoIP Resources
For more on choosing a VoIP software that’s right for your business, check out these articles on the Aircall blog.