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VoIP Phone Service Systems 101: Soft Phone vs. Device Approach

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A great way to help your company stay in the loop with the latest technology is to get familiar voice over internet protocol systems, most commonly known as VoIP phone systems. VoIP phone systems allow your employees to make calls using an internet connection as opposed to a phone line. These devices are becoming extremely popular now that Internet usage has become so widespread, and is quickly becoming the primary way to call customers and clients in an office setting. According to theVoIPstore.net, 10 percent of US business lines will be VoIP by 2011 and 44 million US households currently use VoIP phone systems.

One great thing about VoIP phone systems is the price. Having a companywide phone system is expensive, and up until now only larger businesses were able to afford such a system. VoIP phone systems have opened up a world of possibilities for smaller to medium sized businesses who wish to interact with clients and customers whenever it is convenient.

Evaluate Your Office: Soft Phone Approach vs. Device Approach

If you are ready to jump onto the VoIP phone service bandwagon, you have a few steps to consider. The first thing you need to ask yourself is whether or not you want a soft phone approach or a device approach. From there, you can go shopping for phones and service plans, and then begin the installation process. You should find the first step, understanding the two approaches, to be fairly simple:

Soft Phone Approach

Believe it or not, you have most likely come into contact with a soft phone approach to VoIP communication. In other words, your computer actually becomes your phone; for example, Skype. The great thing about soft phone approaches is the fact that they’re free. However, with Skype you can only communicate with people who also have Skype set up on their computer. As a large company, you have no way of knowing whether or not your clients or customers have these features on their home computers (if they even have home computers).

There are, however, services that allow you to call traditional phone numbers through your computer. This is not a free option and usually costs either a fee per-minute or a fixed service package fee based on the number of calls; however this will still be less expensive than a traditional office phone system that does not utilize the internet.

Device Approach

The device approach is great for those who prefer the feeling of a handset when making calls. If your employees are used to using a traditional phone system, either at home or in the office, a device approach will allow them to stick with what they know while still being able to reap the benefits of a soft phone approach because the handset would be connected to the internet.

There are two ways you can connect a traditional handset to the internet:

1. Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA) – An ATA attaches to the handset and the computer system. This is great for businesses that already had a traditional phone system started in the office because it allows you to use your already existing handsets. It will save you money and your employees will not have to undergo much change.

2. New Handset – If your company needs to buy traditional phones for the office, buy phones that automatically connect to the Internet. This will be advertised when you go to buy new headsets and in today’s world they are simple to find. The big draw to this option is the idea that the new phones will allow employees to use multiple lines—something an ATA adapter cannot do. In other words, regardless of your current office setup, there is a benefit to spending the extra money and buying new.

It is likely you will have a situation where different approaches work for different departments. The best thing to do is evaluate the amount of work each department is doing with outside customers and clients and decide from there which approach would work best. There is nothing that says you cannot have some employees and departments using a soft phone VoIP phone service approach and others using a device approach.

VoIP Phone Service Prices

  • You will need to work with an Internet provider to set up VoIP phone systems. These prices will depend on the provider and the plan (local, unlimited calling, global) you choose to go with. BestWebBuys.com offers a great chart that breaks down the different prices side by side so you can pick the best provider for your company’s needs. To give you a quick idea, local calling with AOL is $18.99 per month and $29.99 per month for unlimited calling.
  • Service providers sometimes offer deals for the first three months of service. For example, AT&T offers the first month for free for online orders. Keep this in mind and ask for any specials the provider may be able to offer your company.
  • Some providers charge an activation fee of anywhere between $9.95 $14.95.
  • The actual handsets are no more expensive than a handset that works through a telephone line. Prices will vary depending on the look and type of phones you are interested in buying, but generally cost between $70 and $200.

Is your company comfortable using VoIP technology? Do you use a soft phone or device approach? Let us know in the comments!

Photo Credit: By Andres Rueda via flickr.com

Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer on topics ranging from social media to phone services. She writes for an online resource that gives advice to small businesses and entrepreneurs for the leading business directory, Business.com.

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