What to look for in a business (SMB) VoIP provider

There are plenty of VoIP services and suppliers to choose from, and which one you choose will depend on your specific needs. Our advice is that you should choose a VoIP provider that is established and has a track record. VoIP is not complicated, but you need to feel totally confident in your supplier. If you want to get the best out of it, you should work with someone who understands the technology and how it can be best put to use in a small business.

There are many VoIP services available and they all offer a different range of features, reliability, performance, and value. You will want to make a careful and considered assessment of what they have to offer. The criteria they will have used in doing this will not be vastly different from those you have used in selecting any other supplier of a technology or service. You will need to feel confident that you can rely on them to meet your needs and expectations 

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How secure is the provider?

At the best of times, telecommunication can be a volatile industry and alongside the meteoric growth in VoIP adoption, we have seen a lot of companies enter the market in the hope of catching the wave and becoming a big player. Inevitably, many of these businesses fall by the wayside. Others reach a certain size and find it difficult to scale-up and grow further. These businesses are often acquired by bigger, more established firms that are looking to invest in the longer term growth of their VoIP business. 

In simple terms, the bigger and the better-known the provider, the better. There are also a number of smaller providers who can deliver VoIP services and meet the needs of SMBs but even these companies will, by now, be relatively well-established, have an extensive base of business users and be able to demonstrate financial stability.

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Reliability of the network

Network reliability should be a given for any business VoIP service. No provider will be able to stay in business for long if they are unable to deliver a truly reliable service. Conversely, if their service and the network they use is dependable, they are much more likely to be successful. 

In practice, most VoIP providers are dependent on the reliability of the underlying broadband and communications networks that are used by their customers, and instead focus on making sure their own service is always up, running and performing well.

There are few companies that can offer both the VoIP service that runs on their own network. It could be argued that even BT does not have its own network – Openreach is technically a part of BT but operates independently to the company. Most other players who could claim to have their own network are either consumer-focused i.e. they sell broadband and TV services primarily, or a so-called ‘alt-net’ provider – one of the handful of companies that are setting up fibre-based networks in selected cities and towns. This latter group can only offer limited coverage and the delivery of connectivity, rather than VoIP, is their main business. 

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Support of the provider

Support will be unimportant to you – until something goes wrong or you cannot use your VoIP service for some reason. Here again, it is important to know that you can trust the supplier and that they have a good reputation for customer service and support and are well-resourced.  All businesses depend to some extent on their telephony systems and you should consider your VoIP as a vital service. All business VoIP services providers should have a standard service level agreement (SLA) that will set out what you can expect in terms of both availability of their service and the support you receive. Make sure you have read and fully understood and agreed to the SLA terms that are on offer.

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The VoIP call quality

Call quality is another fundamental element of any VoIP service and it is often the area that critics of VoIP will put forward as the main drawback of hosted phone systems. Their argument has, however, become much weaker over the years as VoIP services have become better and quality has increased. Part of this is due to the much better broadband and connectivity that is available now. More bandwidth can be allocated to VoIP calls and there is less potential for the interference and delay that would make a VoIP service impractical. 

Frankly, any VoIP service that does not offer good call quality is not going to survive and all services from all established providers should offer you excellent live calling and recorded voice quality. Once again, the best testimony will be provided by those who have experienced the service, All VoIP providers should be able to provide customer testimonials confirming the quality of a hosted voice phone system, and indeed, be able to demonstrate their quality to you through trial services.

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Price and features

In terms of features, VoIP has a lot to offer – much more than you might expect and you will certainly get more for your money than you would get with an analogue service. Usually, VoIP providers will offer a number of standard packages that include an array of features designed to be suited to different customer profiles. 

A typical basic service might include voicemail, call forwarding, automatic call routing, call transfers, and even three-way calling or video conferencing. A more advanced package might offer auto attendant, group hunting, call recording, unified communications integration, call analytics and advanced reporting. 

Each service will be priced differently and there may be options to add or remote features as well. Overall, you should find that VoIP offers you exceptional value. 

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Check the plans of your chosen provider

Every VoIP provider will have a set of plans that, as well as a menu of features, will include inclusive call allowances and/or unlimited calls within the UK. Typically, these will be geared towards businesses of different sizes. There may be various options, but most suppliers offer a set of options are quite easy to navigate, so it should be fairly easy to select the plan that suits you best. 

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Check what others are saying 

We have mentioned several times in this article that reputation and the views of a service providers’ existing customers are the best testimony and evidence you can get with respect to the reliability, quality, and support that a VoIP services provider offers. Any potential supplier should be able to provide case study references and testimonials to this effect. Of course, there is always social media, but do keep in mind that views expressed there cannot be verified and will tend to represent the extremes of customer experiences. 

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