What To Ask Your VoIP Provider

Many businesses are adopting VoIP based telephone, conferencing and unified communications solutions, moving away from traditional digital PBX, Centrex and land line solutions. While these new technologies open a realm of new capabilities for your business it is important to select the right VoIP provider for your business. The following questions should help you vet potential VoIP providers in your area.

Who provides the phone instruments (handsets)?

Many VoIP providers will offer a turn key phone system replacement, including hardware such as desk phones. However, some lower cost providers do not furnish these devices and instead rely on a "software phone" running on a PC or laptop. Be careful when selecting a software phone only solution, as you may have problems adopting the solution across your company.

Do you provide a phone system or just a SIP trunk?

Be careful when shopping for solutions as terminology can be confusing and misleading. A SIP Trunk service is simply a connection to an existing phone system, much like a traditional PRI or DSS phone trunk you may have purchased from a local telephone company in the past. A Hosted PBX (or Cloud PBX) or SIP Phone system will provide all the capabilities of a traditional phone system including internal dialing, voicemail, advanced call handling, IVR prompts and Auto-Attendants.

What can I expect to pay for Long Distance and International calls?

Some providers will provide long distance calling to different jurisdictions at different rates and the pricing is not always transparent. Make sure to ask the hard questions so you don't end up with a big suprise on your bill!

Can I "port" my existing numbers?

If you have established business phone systems, verify that your VoIP provider will be able to route calls to them. The transition of responsiblity of a phone number from one carrier to another is commonly called "porting."

Can I connect my own or third party SIP trunks to your system?

If you are purchasing a Hosted VoIP PBX solution, make sure that you are able to connect to different carriers. Otherwise, you could be locked into a specific vendor for your dial tone (local and long distance) services without any ability to negotiate price. Similarly, if you are not able to connect your own SIP trunks to the new service, it may hamper efforts to integrate legacy PBX, conferencing and other systems into your overall system.

Where is the Point of Presense that will provide my services?

In order to perform well and provide clear and quality voice, your VoIP hosting solution must be relatively close to you geographically. Specifically, your latency and connection quality to that provider needs to have the following qualities

  • Latency - Less than 150ms round trip time (RTT) latency
  • Jitter - Less than 10ms jitter
  • Packet Loss - Zero or exceedingly small packet loss as lost packets are likely to result in "dead air."

Be aware that satelite and similar high latency connections are unlikely to perform very well with a VoIP solution.

Are fully managed move/add/changes included with your service?

Make sure you understand what functions you will be expected to manage versus those which will be handled by your provider. Setting up new phones, provisioning numbers, reassigning phones, modifying calling queues and changing Auto-Attendants are all common maintenance activities for both traditional and VoIP phone systems that need to be handled one way or another.

Does your solution allow for fax transmission?

They are less common, but are occasionally still used, especially with medical and insurance organizations. Not all VoIP networks and providers will support the transmission of a traditional fax and may require you to find alternative Fax over IP (FoIP) solutions.

Does your solution allow for modems and analog phone lines?

While not as common as they once were, some businesses still need these analog phone lines to support a range of office systems such as security alarm systems, fire panels, elevator phones and similar. Be sure to check with your local building inspector and fire marshal before connecting a life safety system (fire or elevator) to a VoIP provider as this could violate local laws, building codes and potentially placing liability on you.