VoIP phone service has improved significantly since the mid-2000's. When VoIP first became available to residential and commercial users, call experiences were spotty at best. Call quality was inconsistent, and users would experience delays, dropping off of calls, clicks, echoes, and other undesirable effects. But how times have changed: call quality through VoIP now sounds as good as what you'd expect from copper-wired telephone service.
To ensure reliable VoIP service, you need to consider the network of your small business. If you work in a home office, your existing high-speed internet connection likely provides more bandwidth than is necessary for a hiccup-free VoIP experience, but for business users with multiple lines, bandwidth is a serious consideration.
In 2010, the Small Business Administration reported that 90% of small business owners have adopted broadband, but internet speeds vary. If you plan on using a VoIP service provider, your first step is to ensure you're working with a strong enough DSL or cable internet access provider. If you work from a home office, you might should elect for a wired Ethernet connection over WiFi.
Solid Internet Connection Means Solid Voice Quality
You can tell your network has enough bandwidth by investigating the VoIP service provider specifications. When looking into these levels for your business, you may hear the terms "upstream" and "downstream," which are used to refer to the direction that data flows over your business' network connection. Each VoIP providers have different requirements, and most will make it clear what amount of bandwidth is needed to support their deployment. For example, Vonage suggests a minimum setting of 90 kilobytes per second (kbps) for each line you plan to run, whereas Ring Central recommends your business' internet connection has dedicated upload speeds of 64kbps or higher. Cloud communications vendor 8x8 suggests that most small businesses have only 25-30% of their employees on the phone at any given time.
If you can make the investment for your growing business, cable internet is about 4-5 times faster than DSL upstream speeds. That said, both DSL and cable services provide sufficient broadband access bandwidth to support a small business' choice of any of the top VoIP providers.
But, with a growing business comes growing internet usage. Normal internet surfing will not pose a problem, but if you or your staff consistently download large files, send faxes over VoIP, or conduct video conferences, you should ensure that your connection can provide enough bandwidth for these activities, as well as simultaneous voice calls. If you attempt VoIP phone calls while doing other things that stretch your bandwidth, your call quality will be severely diminished or you may not be able to make calls at all.
Tools to Speed Test Your Bandwidth
Most VoIP service providers have speed tests posted on their site or available in their customer support forums that allow you to check your available bandwidth levels. There are neutral utilities available as well, including VoIP Bandwidth Calculator and info-techs.com. These tests require nothing more than a click of a button to begin, and most return results within 15-30 seconds.
To get the best idea of how much bandwidth you are working with, you may want to run several of these tests at one time and average the results. You should also test your network during your peak business hours when you and your staff are conducting business as usual. This will help you get a feel for how your current internet usage and downloading activities affect your system.
There are many factors to consider when planning to implement VoIP phone service for your business. Bandwidth is one, but shouldn't keep you from moving your phone system to VoIP. After running a few speed tests, you should have the assurance that your VoIP experience will be interference-free. Keep in mind that most internet service providers have more than one bandwidth setting, and if you're concerned about having limited bandwidth, it may be that you're currently working with the minimum.
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