Compare Reviews for VoIP Service
More and more businesses are switching to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) for their phone service. VoIP enables multiple sites to share one phone identity with the outside world. It makes extensions in all locations look and act like physical extensions of one in-house PBX (telephone switch) and allows a centralized (human or automated) attendant to answer and route calls.
By leaving this functionality to a host machine in the cloud, subscribers a) avoid capital commitment and upgrade responsibility and b) get built-in disaster recovery; should some event prevent employees from coming into work, VoIP's location independence, just like email, enables workers to answer their calls from any broadband connection.
Top 10 Best Rated VoIP Providers
|Read 40 Reviews|
VirtualPBX was one of the first providers of hosted PBX for business. With their effective, reliable phone service, they give your growing business an automated answering and routing solution that can be up and running in no time.
|Read 30 Reviews|
FluentStream delivers innovative phone technology, allowing businesses to advance themselves in their industry. Based in Denver, Colorado, FluentStream has been servicing businesses all around the country.
|Read 44 Reviews|
RingCentral offers a free trial to give businesses a chance to try before they buy their next phone system. The service uses integrated communications via an app to bring mobile devices into the communications hub.
|Read 2051 Reviews|
Vonage provides VoIP home phone plans for a low monthly rate in addition to taxes and fees. The company offers regular discounts and introductory offers to new customers, and all plans include free extra features.
|Read 332 Reviews|
Founded in 2006, Jive Communications offers Hosted VoIP and Unified Communications for businesses and institutions. Jive Core has a cloud-based platform that provides support for hosted communication needs.
|Read 119 Reviews|
8x8 operates in more than 150 countries, serving some 40,000 customers worldwide. The company's range of business services includes a cloud-based contact center that can improve customer experiences and relationships.
|Read 15 Reviews|
ShoreTel Sky offers a series of business communications solutions ranging from premises-based IP phones to cloud-based data management. This service combines collaboration tools, mobility, application management and more.
|Read 357 Reviews|
Fonality offers both business and consumer phone services. Fonality’s business branch offers both VoIP services, which connects callers over the Internet, and hosted on-premises telephone systems, called PBX.
|Read 861 Reviews|
Move away from monthly service fees for VoIP service with magicJack. This plug-and-play product gives customers the first year of service along with the equipment purchase, making it affordable as well as intuitive.
|Read 131 Reviews|
XO Communications offers tiered service for businesses ranging in size from small to international. The company packages networking, security, unified communications, Internet connectivity and hosting services.
VoIP Contributing Editor
Ellen Muraskin has been writing about telecom and IT since 1993 when she joined the marketing department of Dialogic. In 1996 she joined the editorial staff of CMP’s Computer Telephony Magazine, rising to Executive Editor before joining Ziff Davis Media to launch the VoIP topic center of their eweek.com site. She served as senior copywriter for IT infrastructure company Raritan and has written and edited for several publications.
What features matter most?
Per-seat or per-usage pricing
Service providers offer varying pricing structures. These can vary in duration, some prices require a year-long commitment, but others are month-to-month or by unlimited vs. metered minutes of use.
- Metered based pricing: You'd prefer a metered, usage-based pricing scheme where many phones are lightly used; say, where conference room phones are common, or where most business communication tends to be email or inter-office. You might also prefer metered pricing when your phone usage has seasonal spikes and valleys.
- Per seat pricing: If your service lets you add extensions for your three heavy months and drop them after that, per-seat pricing is the way to go.
- Unlimited per seat plan: You'd prefer an unlimited, per-seat plan where phones are used heavily for contacting customers and others not on your hosted phone system. In all instances, calls between extensions, even if that extension is used by a remote worker, stay on-net, and therefore should not add anything to your costs.
Know your calling habits and profile. If a lot of your traffic is off-net and overseas to specific countries, look for VoIP service providers who include these countries within their unlimited calling plan, or find a provider with low rates to those countries.
Pay attention, too, to per-minute charges that accrue whether you make or receive the call.
Calls to overseas locations of your business make a great case for getting those remote workers on your system, even if they only use soft phones (VoIP applications) on desktop or mobile for interoffice calling. Remember, on-net is free.
Domestic calling: Unlimited calls to 48 states and Canada is now the norm for traditional consumer land and mobile plans, and that's the case with VoIP. Still, per-usage pricing can be the better choice for seldom-used phones, like house and conference-room phones.
Businesses need their phones to do a lot more than just ring and take messages. They may need to help callers find the right extensions, play hold music, attach voice messages to email inboxes and conference three or three hundred people into one call. They may even need CRM integration - i.e., pop up a screen of salesforce.com information or Google contact on the desktop of the person getting the call in the style of call center agents. They might even perform simple IVR tasks, such as we use to check credit card balances. These features typically come bundled; check the plans' side-by-side feature grids on their websites.
- Speech-recognizing auto attendant: Even very small businesses can project very large impressions by making use of a speech-enabled auto attendant, which dials by spoken name as well as "first three letters of the last/first name."
- Conferencing: Often an à la carte feature, conferencing for a maximum number of participants is often included in a business VoIP package. The same goes for conference recording, video or desktop and file sharing collaboration features.
- CRM integration: CRM integration can work in two directions: outbound, by enabling users to dial out to a contact by clicking on his CRM record, and inbound, by presenting a salesforce.com, SugarCRM or other CRM package's customer record simultaneously with the voice or video call. This brings the caller's info front and center as the agent takes the call for personal, efficient customer service. More advanced and extra-cost call/contact center features include automatic call distribution, finding the "next available agent" in an assigned pool to take calls or automatically routing calls by caller's language or intent. VoIP's location-independence allows these agents to be scattered around the country and Canada, forming today's "virtual" call center.
- Mobile extensions/apps: Business phone services typically have Android and iOS "softphone" versions of their extensions, giving employees' smartphones all the functionality of the smartphone extensions on their PCs or the hardware phones on their desks. In fact, today's employee lives in a "mobile first" telecom world, so make sure her business extension fits in her pocket. You might even save the cost of desk phones. These mobile VoIP apps, where Wi-Fi is available, also save on cellular plans or roaming policies that charge by the minute.
- Web site integration: Some VoIP services include a click-to-call button that business subscribers can put on their websites, initiating calls between browsing customer and customer service agent.
In addition to the basic calling features that consumers and businesses have come to expect, there are a range of additional call treatments that can help minimize distractions, make best use of your employees' time and prevent unauthorized and potentially costly calls. Call blocking, find-me-follow-me, do-not-disturb and conference calling are just a few optional services.
- Call blocking: This service is particularly helpful to consumers who are inundated with sales calls, allowing unidentified numbers to be automatically blocked. But with the ease of use of a browser-based interface, VoIP business phone services allow you get more specific; blocking by area code or specific incoming phone number, and similarly, preventing insiders from making outbound calls to particular countries, regions, area codes or numbers. Just like you can enter rules in an email application to send certain senders' emails to trash, you can tell VoIP systems to send certain callers straight to voicemail, or not answer altogether.
- Call parking, transfer: Once transferring calls required learning a button sequence on the physical phone, and had perhaps a 50 percent chance of success. With a browser-based control panel, it's drag-and-drop. Similarly, you can "park" a call, with its caller ID or photo, under a visible screen button, to be picked up by you or others with a click.
- Business-hours rules: You can instruct sophisticated business phone services to route to west-coast offices after east-coast working hours, and vice versa, and similarly switch outgoing greetings by time of day.
- Do not disturb: Enabling the do-not-disturb function forwards incoming calls to voice mail without tying up the line for outgoing calls.
Equipment setup and maintenance
VoIP phone service can require very minimal or substantial investment, depending on the phones currently on desks. It also requires an appropriately sized and equipped Internet connection. The Internet Service Provider (ISP) is typically chosen independently of VoIP provider in consumer and small business settings, although in larger companies, it may go with choice of data carrier.
At a minimum, even legacy TDM business phones can work with VoIP, if they are fitted with analog terminal adapters. You'll just sacrifice something on features. For the best feature set, get IP phones that run the SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) signaling standard that runs most in-house IP PBXes and out-of-house hosted services. These can run anywhere from $100 on up.
- Paying for setup: Many VoIP services can be trialed for free, for small accounts, and paid for by credit card on the spot. It's a simple matter of receiving new phones (if you even want the hardware; softphones that run on desktops or smart phones are simply downloaded) and registering IP endpoints and numbers, a DIY process you can follow from web instructions or instructional YouTube videos.
- Self-install: Those rare customers still buying an in-house IP PBX assign installation to their own IT people, or have their local resellers do this, as part of their contract. Such contracts should spell out whether you, the customer, or the reseller assumes maintenance responsibilities. Bear in mind that one of the central benefits of the IP PBX is its DIY economy. The kinds of moves, adds and changes for which you once had to pay a field service tech are now drag-and-drop simple. The same goes for hosted VoIP: adding users and mailboxes and activating most features should be a simple DIY function on the admin portal.
Small businesses and consumers rarely have the technical know-how on staff to fix problems as they occur. Check to see whether your plan includes live phone support or only links and searches in online knowledge bases.
Consumers should check review sites and articles that rate VoIP services for uptime and customer service. Important metrics are wait times for phone support, frequency of failure and mean times to restore service.
- Identify specific outage protocol: Businesses of sufficient size should insist on SLAs (service-level agreements) that spell out the provider's responsibilities and points of contact in the event of an outage.
- Monitoring: Resellers of voice and data services also take on responsibility for sizing and equipping your network to accommodate voice and/or video traffic. Many also perform ongoing network monitoring. With the proper switches installed, they can switch your sites to wireless backup should wired data links fail.
- Remote support: Technical support today usually involves remote diagnosis and repair, but you may want to make sure that help is located in-country.
What are different types of VoIP services?
This is the most common solution for small businesses and residential customers. The voice switch and servers for all calling features and messaging are located in the provider's data center and accessed through the Internet or a managed link. For businesses, extensions can be dispersed across the country, and calling to the U.S. and Canada is typically unlimited. The only equipment on site is the phones, or softphones running on desktops, smart phones and tablets.
Increasingly rare, businesses house and maintain their own IP PBX, which controls on-premise as well as off-premise extensions. This switch is installed as software on a dedicated or virtual server. Those going with IP PBX must also acquire the access device and SIP trunking service to obtain the cost-savings and functionality of VoIP beyond the enterprise and out to the world at large.
This is Hybrid Cloud, telecom division. Here you may outsource calling features like audio and videoconferencing, collaboration and even voicemail to a service provider, while keeping your own legacy PBX. Another hybrid scenario calls for an IP gateway to be installed between your PBX and your SIP trunks, converting TDM (legacy, time-division multiplexed) voice streams into IP packets for carriage over data lines.
Who's it for?
VoIP can offer a significantly reduced cost when compared to traditional phone services. Landline telecom carriers and cable providers compete for VoIP business in most residential areas, offering "triple play" deals with voice, television and Internet access.
Salespeople need to be able to handle a heavy call volume and take it on the road when necessary. VoIP's ability to attach CRM records to incoming calls and dial out from CRM screens is a great tool for these users.
VoIP services give small businesses the telecom tools and rates of large businesses, without the price of the IT/telecom staff. They also enable remote locations to share the same trunks to the outside world, dropping the cost of individual, traditional public switched telephone network PSTN phone lines.
Large corporations have the most to save by unifying all their sites under one voice switching system. Multinational businesses, in particular, can save on international calling with private managed IP lines between countries. A managed network, as opposed to the free-range Internet, also better ensures call quality.
Sophisticated Unified Communications
Sophisticated Unified Communications, with conferencing, video and collaboration features, can save the inconvenience and cost of business travel for many purposes, such as presentations and training.
What does the expert have to say?
An industry-leading provider of telecommunications services, Vonage offers a complete range of VoIP solutions for home, business and on the go.
- Business packages: First known for their residential service, Vonage offers a robust suite of small business services, including contact center, video conferencing and CRM integration.
- Unified communications: Unified communications across Vonage's private, managed MPLS network ensures quality audio and no dropped calls.
- Discounts: By signing up for a one-year contract, users can enjoy annual contract discounts.
- MobileConnect: Vonage’s MobileConnect app links your business extension to your mobile device, letting you make mobile calls through your Vonage Business phone service.
- Free calls to landlines and mobile phones: Calling is free to landlines in more than 60 countries and to mobile phones in 10. Rates to other countries are competitive with other VoIP providers and are based on calling plan.
- Best for: Residential users, salespeople and small businesses.
Jive Communications offers VoIP-based phone systems to businesses and institutions worldwide through its cloud-based platform. The company has partnerships with global leaders in the telecommunications services and hardware industry, including Panasonic, ADTRAN, Level 3 Communications, Cisco, Microsoft, Juniper Networks, Polycom, Verizon Business and Ingram Micro.
VirtualPBX was one of the first to offer hosted PBX solutions to businesses. Based in San Jose, CA, they serve businesses across the United States and over 40 countries worldwide.
- Dash plan: VirtualPBX’s Dash plans have five-minute setup and are ideal for small and medium-sized businesses, from one to over 100 people. This cloud-based system can be adjusted easily as your business grows and changes.
- Office Plans: VirtualPBX's Office plans ramp up to live tech support and call center features.
- Intelligent call routing: With Office Plans, VirtualPBX lets you route calls depending on incoming area code, exchange or even by caller-entered numbers such as serial or part number. This is also a great way to support foreign-language customers.
- Concierge upgrade: Customers can add a concierge upgrade to their system for a one-time startup fee of $50 and a monthly fee of $49. This service takes care of loading and customizing your new VoIP system for your particular users and needs. The VirtualPBX concierge continues to review your service and offer periodic configuration changes that help improve performance and save you money.
- Routers, desk and conference phones: Compatible routers, desk and conference phones can be purchased through VirtualPBX. These can be mixed and matched with preexisting landline or soft VoIP phones, for mobile extensions.
- Application: VirtualPBX's application, for desktop or smartphone, confers extension functions without the hardware, making it easy to make, receive, conference or record calls over your data connection or Wi-Fi. Outbound calls use your business caller ID instead of your personal number.
- PBX Parachute: Virtual PBX calls its remote backup/disaster recovery system PBX Parachute. It mirrors your primary phone system and makes extensions out of alternate phones or softphones if your on-site PBX system fails or if your business becomes inaccessible for any reason.
- Network Health Check: For an additional fee, VirtualPBX monitors your network for a full week to make sure you have the bandwidth and discipline to support quality voice. (Hint: Netflix downloads may choke your network!).
- Best for: Any size businesses up to several hundred users, as well as contact centers.
RingCentral has over a decade of experience in the VoIP industry and has served more than 300,000 customers.
FluentStream Technologies provides businesses with phone systems, phone services and customer support. It services businesses of all sizes, including start-ups, small to medium companies and larger enterprises. By using cloud-based technology, FluentStream can curate their phone systems around each client's business needs.
- Auto assistant: FluentStream phone systems feature a customizable auto-assistant. Businesses can change greetings, use multiple call attendants and manage attendants in FluentStreams cloud-based web-portal. Auto assistant eliminates the need for a receptionist and can direct customers to information, people or departments.
- Conference bridge: Advanced conference bridging eliminates group communication limitations by allowing large groups to be involved with phone calls and conferences. An unlimited number of people can dial into a conference, and businesses can create conference rooms for each department.
- Call recording: Popular with call centers, FluentStreams call recording feature can be used for training, meeting company compliance requirements and improving customer service. Calls are automatically recorded in FluentStreams cloud-based portal and companies can download and listen to them at their convenience. Businesses get one gigabyte of free storage.
- Report builder: With the report builder feature, companies can track and record metrics to help analyze their business practices. Management can measure individual, group and company performance and communicate the results by using charts and graphics.
- Voicemail: All FluentStream users have the option to set up a voicemail box. Each department within a company can have its own voicemail box and individuals can customize their own voicemail box. Other voicemail features include sending voicemail notifications to a mobile phone via text, sending voicemail to email and voicemail forwarding.
- Best for: businesses of any size who need a customizable phone system.
With more than 300,000 users, Fonality has one of the best retention rates in the business and a top-notch user interface for those who want to do more than simply call.
Sold in more than 25,000 retail stores, magicJack is an industry leader in direct-to-consumer VoIP services. It holds a number of foundational patents on which the VoIP industry is built and is part device, part service.
Founded in 2004, Lingo offers nationwide calling plans for a low monthly rate. The plans include a wealth of extra features and unlimited calling to other Lingo users, regardless of location.
Founded in 1996, Birch serves more than 200,000 business customers. Birch is an industry-leading voice, data and hosting provider for small to mid-sized businesses, while also offering enterprise-level solutions.
Serving more than 90,000 businesses across the United States, Nextiva is a provider of a range of telecommunications and IT service solutions.
Founded in 1996, ShoreTel Sky offers both on-premise and hosted VoIP services for businesses of all sizes.
Partnering with leaders in telecommunications hardware like Cisco, AT&T and Polycom, Broadvoice is a longstanding provider of a variety of VoIP services.
Another pioneer in VoIP history, 8x8 offers a complete range of cloud-based telecommunications solutions.
Founded in 1996, MegaPath serves small, medium and enterprise-level businesses with a complete voice and data solution.
Windstream VoIP offers services to Fortune 500 companies as well as emerging and established businesses.
With roots in cable, Comcast is the largest business VoIP service provider in the United States. It provides a variety of data and communications services to businesses of all sizes.
Comcast can assign additional SIP trunks on an as-needed basis for periods of high call volume.
One of the top wireless telecom and Internet service providers in the United States, Verizon offers customized VoIP services for businesses.
Information in this guide is general in nature and is intended for informational purposes only; it is not legal, health, investment or tax advice. ConsumerAffairs.com makes no representation as to the accuracy of the information provided and assumes no liability for any damages or loss arising from its use.