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

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.
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.
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.
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.
Fonality offers award-winning unified communications services for any size business. The company provides a variety of hardware and time-saving services, including voice mail transcription and heads-up displays.
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.
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.
AT&T VoIP provides residential customers with great functions and an expanded calling history. For businesses, the company offers tiered services that are customized for small businesses and enterprise-level organizations.
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.
With a price point of $2.99 per month for unlimited domestic calling, Skype offers some of the least expensive VoIP services available. Video calling is free between devices using an existing Internet connection.

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 site. She served as senior copywriter for IT infrastructure company Raritan and has written and edited for several publications.

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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.

Calling plans

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.

    Business packages

    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 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, 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.

    Calling features

    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.

    Technical support

    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?

    Hosted VoIP

    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.

    On-Premise VoIP

    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.

    Hybrid VoIP

    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?

    Residential users

    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.

    Small businesses

    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

    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?

    • Fonality Business Phone Systems

      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.​

      • Best for Small businesses and large corporations.
    • Vonage

      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

      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.

      • Best for Small to medium sized businesses, large corporations, institutions and non-profit organizations.
    • VirtualPBX

      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.

      • Best for Any size businesses up to several hundred users, as well as contact centers.
    • magicJack

      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.

      • Best for Residential users and salespeople.
    • Lingo

      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.​

      • Best for Residential users and salespeople.
    • Birch

      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.​

      • Best for Small businesses to large corporations.
    • Nextiva

      Serving more than 90,000 businesses across the United States, Nextiva is a provider of a range of telecommunications and IT service solutions.​

      • Best for Small businesses to large corporations.
    • Shoretel

      Founded in 1996, ShoreTel Sky offers both on-premise and hosted VoIP services for businesses of all sizes.​

      • Best for Small businesses to large corporations.
    • RingCentral

      RingCentral has over a decade of experience in the VoIP industry and has served more than 300,000 customers.​

      • Best for Small businesses and large corporations.
    • Broadvoice

      Partnering with leaders in telecommunications hardware like Cisco, AT&T and Polycom, Broadvoice is a longstanding provider of a variety of VoIP services.

      • Best for Residential users, small businesses and large corporations.
    • 8x8

      Another pioneer in VoIP history, 8x8 offers a complete range of cloud-based telecommunications solutions.​

      • Best for Small businesses and large corporations.
    • MegaPath

      Founded in 1996, MegaPath serves small, medium and enterprise-level businesses with a complete voice and data solution.​

      • Best for Small businesses to large corporations.
    • Windstream VoIP

      Windstream VoIP offers services to Fortune 500 companies as well as emerging and established businesses.

      • Best for Small businesses to large corporations.
    • Comcast VoIP

      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.​

      • Best for Small businesses, large corporations and residential customers.
    • AT&T VoIP

      Comcast can assign additional SIP trunks on an as-needed basis for periods of high call volume.

      • Best for Residential customers, small businesses and large businesses.
    • Verizon VoIP

      One of the top wireless telecom and Internet service providers in the United States, Verizon offers customized VoIP services for businesses.​

      • Best for Small businesses and large businesses.

    11 – 21 Best Rated VoIP Providers

    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.
    Windstream VoIP offers communications bundles that include digital television services, broadband Internet and telephone. The firm offers residential and business packages and accepts the E-Rate program for schools and libraries.
    JoiPhone VoIP services are affordable at only $7.49 per month for domestic and long-distance calling to nine other countries. Add up to 70 additional countries for $10 per month, erasing unexpected long-distance charges.
    As the nation's largest VoIP provider, Comcast VoIP offers a scalable communications solution. The service includes voice mail, email, a directory listing, no maintenance costs and a 60-day money-back guarantee.
    Get all the benefits of home phone service at an affordable price with Lingo. This service includes more than 20 calling features, including caller ID, voice mail, last call return, anonymous call rejection and more.
    Birch offers scalable communications services at an affordable price point, bringing enterprise-level service to small businesses. The company offers everything from VoIP to Hosted PBX solutions for any business.
    Working with more than 100,000 businesses, Nextiva offers a complete range of enterprise-level communications solutions. With prices as low as $19.95 per month for business VoIP, the service is affordable and transparent.
    Broadvoice offers residential and business services applications that are specific to each type of client. The company also provides hardware packages for businesses still using older equipment that is in need of an upgrade.
    MegaPath is an all-in-one business solution that reduces the need for companies to work with multiple vendors. In addition to telephone services, the company also offers broadband connectivity, email hosting and more.
    Verizon VoIP allows businesses to streamline their communications services through a single vendor by offering Internet connectivity and telephone service together. The five-year warranty lets businesses buy with confidence.
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