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The Cost and Convenience of VoIP for SMBs

Given the economic and other advantages of VOIP, more businesses of all sizes are switching over. Once you've made the decision to go with VOIP, the next question is how to implement it.

If you're looking at installing a VOIP system for your business you have essentially two choices. You can purchase the equipment or you can go with a hosted solution where someone else owns and maintains your system and you pay a monthly fee.

Economically, which alternative makes the most sense is closely related with the size of your phone system. For large enterprises it is usually cheaper to own and maintain your own system. Small businesses, on the other hand, will usually save money and hassle by going with a cloud, or hosted solution.

The main reasons for going to a hosted VOIP solution are cost and convenience. Most small and medium-sized businesses find they can save money, at least in the short run, by paying someone else to install and maintain their phone system.

Hosted VOIP also avoids the capital expenses associated with installing your own system. Rather than buying the equipment up front, you pay a monthly chare as an operating expense. This is a particular concern with VOIP because the technology is still evolving rapidly, shortening the life cycle of VOIP equipment. Under these circumstances it makes more sense not to own the equipment but to lease it from a third party.

One of the things that drives small and medium businesses to hosted solutions is maintaining a VOIP system. VOIP isn't rocket science, but setting up and maintaining a VOIP system takes a specialized skill set that most IT people don't have. It makes more sense for a small business to outsource VOIP rather than hire a VOIP specialist to maintain a few phone lines.

Security is another concern that drives many businesses to hosted solutions. The hosting vendor typically has security experts on staff who can do a better job of securing the VOIP communications net than the company's own employees who are not VOIP security specialists.

Hosted VOIP can also save space in your wiring closet since your virtual PBX can be collocated on your vendor's premises. This not only saves space, it puts the equipment closer to the vendor's maintenance people.

Of course, there are downsides to hosted VOIP as well. One of them is the loss of control. This shows up particularly in the feature set on your phones. VOIP provides an enormous range of features that conventional phone services either don't offer or offer at extra cost. However which features are free with your basic VOIP service, which are extra cost features, and which aren't available at all is determined by your VOIP vendor.

If you decide to go with hosted VOIP, it's important to choose the right vendor for a partner. You want someone who is experienced in the small and medium-sized business sphere and who can understand your needs and speak your language. Since hosted VOIP represents a long-term relationship, it's even more important to ask for references and check them carefully.

It's also important to study your contracts and service level agreements (SLAs) carefully so you'll know exactly what you are getting. Pay particular attention to guaranteed uptime and whether the vendor has service available 24/7. Remember too that if something is not spelled out in the contract you're not entitled to it, no matter what the salesman told you.

Hosted VOIP is definitely an option to consider if you're looking at installing a VOIP system. However like most things VOIP it pays to examine costs and benefits carefully in your particular situation.

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