10 Questions for a VoIP provider
How to choose the right VoIP provider.
Top 10 questions: Which VoIP.
Here are the top 10 questions that you may want to ask your VoIP provider before you subscribe. These questions will help prevent unwanted surprises that could affect your overall satisfaction with your new service and certainly are worth considering. Some have to do with equipment and cost and others with features, service and the provider themselves. In any case, each question should supply information for you to make an educated decision of which VoIP provider to choose.
Understanding the limitations of a current technology is as important as knowing its strengths. Good planning and wise implementation should be a cornerstone with VoIP sales professionals, as well as those who are getting the service themselves. Use these guidelines (especially if you are a small business) to avoid some common mistakes or misconceptions. Good planning, smart implementation and sound advice, makes for a successful result.
Which VoIP; ask these 10 questions
1) What are my initial upfront costs going to be?
Too many times people see one cost or price only to realize that there are other additional costs, such as needed equipment or set-up charges that they are required to pay upfront. In addition, some people sign up for a residential account and find that they have been changed to a business account.
Many providers have a monthly charge based on a subscriber committing to a minimum amount of months, particularly if they supply you with free-no upfront cost for equipment. This is because there are costs involved in providing a service and many times a provider will not even break even until some period of time passes. That being the case, get specifics about the cost of the equipment, the length of the contract and what are the early cancellation fees (if any) and the provider's policies. If they are not providing any equipment, but you are paying for it, ask if there are still cancellation penalties. Ask if you can you change your plan without having to start your contract period over. Be truthful if you are using it for business purposes and expect to make your decision based on the business plan's price. Some providers will look at minutes and also the relationship of incoming and outgoing minutes. Lots of one-way traffic and they will say that you are using it for business, which is probably correct.
2) Will the service work my with equipment?
It's always a good idea to explain some things about your particular situation and the equipment that you use to a make sure that it will integrate with the VoIP service.
Does the service require any special equipment? This could include IP phones, routers, and other equipment that you haven't even planned on needing. And what is the cost of that equipment? Find out if any special IP phones are needed or if the ones that you already have, will suffice. Most provider's VoIP device (ATA) will accept normal phones, but make sure.
3) Are local numbers provided and are they E911?
With most subscribers this may be one early questions (and most providers for quite some time have 911), and it should be, but always cover the bases. There is no need getting a service that will create more problems than they solve, no matter what the savings.
Most every VoIP provider now offers 911 compliant numbers and have easy interfaces to change the documented 911 physical location. In addition, do some reading about interconnected VoIP providers and how they must adhere to FCC LNP rules. Also, be aware that most providers have other companies handle their numbers, so even though they are "interconnected" incorporate some delays in the porting process and exceed the FCC mandate. Work with them and expect frank realistic times from their support people. Likewise, make sure you are able to give them accurate information and have some patience.
4) What faxing services are provided?
Faxing over VoIP can be both challenging and temperamental. If you or your business are heavy fax users, keeping a PSTN line (copper line) may be imperative. With others, who occasionally fax up to a 4 page document, then your VoIP line may be adequate, that is if your provider supports certain codecs that allow faxing.
Even then, some fax machines may be too fast for VoIP and may need to have BAUD rate and ECM setting adjustments made for it to even work. Additionally, some providers offer faxing services, such as the ability to take a fax for you and then send it on via email in a PDF format. Inquire about faxing, it may prevent some unexpected problems.
Which VoIP provider:
5) What VoIP features are included?
Certainly features may be the greatest reason one decides on VoIP. And if there not now they may be in the near future. VoIP can give a "big communications system" at a fraction of the cost.
The initial interest may have been spurred by lower costs, but it's the features that will make the biggest difference for the betterment and ease of business and your communications. And these features will certainly save additional costs in the future, especially if they are included. So, place features as a priority, especially if you are a small business. One feature that should be important is the automatic forwarding that can be set in the event of an Internet outage.
"Having researched a few providers, it became obvious to me that features and service were going to be more important than a couple of dollars a month one way or the other."
6) What VoIP features cost extra?
You may need a toll free number or a virtual number, so find out the monthly charges and any extra per minute charges for these services.
Ask about any other additional charges that are not included with the overall monthly charge. Ask specifically about what geographic areas are included in your monthly plan. Some plans may include the 48 lower US states, others may include Canada, while others Alaska and Hawaii as well.
7) What are the rates for international calls with your VoIP service?
One of the big savings with a VoIP service is the charge for international calls. Some plans even include an array of included countries for one low monthly charge.
Inquire about the cost of international calls, especially the per minute charge to the countries that you most likely be calling. Low International rates are one of the big VoIP benefits of VoIP service and unless you are certain that you will not be calling International, then this could be an important factor, especially for business accounts. Some companies can save enough that VoIP, even a single SIP trunk, should be one of their top budget saving ideas.
8) How is the VoIP call quality of your service?
Quality may be one of the most difficult questions to answer, because it's not easy to do a call sampling on different providers. But, asking the question is worthwhile.
With any new technology there will be some issues and experiences that are just part of the growth pattern. This being said, some providers are going to offer a better sounding more stable network than others. In some cases, price may be indicative of this. One provider offers a service with a few good features for $10.00/mo., while another may have a few more features and have a monthly price of $30.00/mo. The $20.00 savings may not be great after you experience their quality. In addition, many very low priced services being offered are softphones, or PC based virtual phones and limit the calling area, or who you can call at those low prices. Softphones are great, but certainly not for everyone, and if you are a small business, then a more traditional phone may be something that you require.
9) What kind of support can I expect?
If it's one item above all others that may be important after the initial decision of which provider you select, the support is it. Not only customer service, but help and assistance with technical issues.
Support can be critical when things aren't going well, so find out what the provider's hours of support are and where they are located. If the hours are 8AM PST to 6PM PST and you are on the east coast and your service goes down first thing Monday morning, can you wait until 11AM PST to reach support? And it's not just the hours, but the attitude and capabilities of the support personal which can make a big difference with your overall satisfaction with the provider. No provider is perfect, and if they tell you they never have an outage or a network issue, then you should look for one that is going to be upfront with you. Generally speaking most support personnel want to make their customers happy by solving any issues that might occur, so treat these people with respect and the experience will likely be much more postive.
10) Is the VoIP provider going to stay in business?
Every provider plans to grow and remain in business, but eventually some current providers are going to fail. Try to join one that you have confidence in will be there for the long haul.
Both by asking simple questions about how long they have been in business and then by doing a little research on both their website and Google, you may get some indications of their overall viability. Items that can raise a red flag are lawsuits. If a company is facing a patent infringement, then the loss could cost that company more than they could afford and jeopardize their strength. In some cases, agents and resellers are actually reselling another larger VoIP provider's services and in these cases the strength of the provider may be better than realized. Many small providers have folded, as the inevitable business fall out cycle has occurred. Realize that low, low prices can make a provider have a harder time staying solvent.