If you’re like most small business owners, you rely heavily on the phone to communicate, so the reliability of your phone system is critical. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) uses data packets to digitally transmit voice calls over the internet and performs extremely well – as long as your network is set up to accommodate your needs. Internet speed, routing gear and office data network configuration are all crucial factors in getting the best VoIP service for your company. Here’s how to optimize VoIP at your business.
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Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) explained
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) uses the internet to carry voice calls instead of the traditional copper wire network that standard phone lines use. To make a VoIP call, you must first connect a handset to the web via Wi-Fi or an ethernet cable. On a cell phone, you’d open your VoIP app and connect it to a Wi-Fi network or to 4G/5G service.
When you dial a number, your VoIP service provider sets up the call. It converts your voice and the voice of the person you’re speaking to into small data packets, similar to how web pages and online videos are transmitted. Both your phone and the phone of the person you’re calling then turn these packets into the sounds you can hear. You can place VoIP calls to any number in the world, even if the number you’re calling is a standard landline or cell phone number.
Did you know? According to Comcast, VoIP and video conference usage increased by 210% at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and were vital in keeping remote employees engaged.
How to optimize your network for VoIP
VoIP relies on the internet to work. To optimize your company setup for VoIP calls, follow these recommendations.
1. Check your connection.
- Ensure your current connection is suitable. VoIP traffic puts extra demands on your internet connection. If your staff use the phone a lot to help customers, bring in sales, and organize internal work, this might cause bottlenecks. If you’re already connected, run a VoIP speed test to check how fast your connection is.
- Diagnose problems. Your speed test will indicate how well your current connection handles the four key elements required for a great VoIP connection: latency (how long it takes the data packets to arrive), jitter (how consistent the latency on your line is), speed (how much data you can send or receive on your internet connection) and packet loss (the number of data packets that never arrive).
- Upgrade if necessary. If your test results are poor, let your internet service provider know. If your current provider can’t help you, shop around for a new one. You should have at least 100Kbps bandwidth so there’s enough room on the network for normal internet traffic and VoIP. If you can, choose fiber-optic internet rather than cable internet. [See the best internet service providers.]
Tip: VoIP requires a latency of 250ms or less for the best results. If your latency is above that, call quality and speed diminish; you’ll also experience delayed sound and increased disconnections. Make sure your latency rates are within limits when you check for adequate bandwidth. Learn more in our business internet buyers guide and take advantage of BroadbandNow’s bandwidth calculator.
2. Get the right kit.
- Networking gear: If your routers and switches are more than three years old, upgrade to new ones. They’ll be more resilient and perform much better. Try to choose Quality of Service (QoS)-compatible switches and routers. For routers, Wi-Fi 5 and 6 are fast and more secure than previous versions. Tri-band routers are preferable – choose one band for VoIP and two for your standard web traffic to mitigate potential blockages. And you’ll be able to give each device its own connection to the company network with MU-MIMO routers.
- Cabling: Modern Wi-Fi connections are stable, but ethernet is better. For VoIP landlines in the office, consider CAT6 or CAT7. CAT8 is available, but it’s really only needed for the most bandwidth-hungry companies. [Read related article: How Much Internet Speed Does Your Business Need?]
- VoIP handsets: There is a wide variety of devices to choose from. Depending on your preferences, you could select standard-looking handsets with a cell phone type display or tablets with a base station.
- Firewall and antivirus software: You’ll need firewall and antivirus software to protect your wider network and VoIP connection against cyberattacks. Check out our roundup of the best antivirus and internet security software.
3. Create a VLAN.
Your office computer network is a local area network (LAN). A virtual local area network (VLAN) is a LAN that is both on top and within your LAN. If you want the best VOIP connection, create a VLAN that gives the highest broadcast priority to voice packets.
Purchase a business-class router with QoS features and pair it with a managed or smart switch. Create a VLAN with a separate Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) range and apply it to the switch to specific ports. Give high priority to the ports used for VoIP lines. Invest in switches with high throughput gigabit ports and auto-configurations that adjust to QoS for each phone.
FYI: Most VoIP networks allow the sending and receiving of business faxes.
4. Invest in Power over Ethernet (PoE).
Wouldn’t it be helpful if you didn’t have to find a mains connection to power up each VoIP device your business uses? That’s exactly what a Power over Ethernet (PoE) switch with a UPS backup power can do for you. With this setup, if the mains electricity goes off, your VoIP system will still have power, as will all other devices connected to it, like wireless access points, security card readers and IP intercoms.
A regular PoE switch can output a maximum of 15.4 watts, whereas business-class smart and managed PoE+ switches offer up to 30 watts per port. This means each switch can send power to a greater number of connections. Some VoIP phones require more power, especially those with cameras or video displays. Check the maximum power wattage your company’s phones need and the minimum power budget of the switch. The consumption by phones or other powered devices in the office has to be less than the switch budget.
To work out the minimum PoE budget of the switch, multiply the number of devices connected by the maximum PoE consumption of the peripheral (camera, VoIP phone or another device). Don’t forget to plan for the future. Buy a bigger switch with more ports and one with a bigger PoE budget so you can easily add devices as you need them in the future.
The benefits of using VoIP
All of the best business phone systems incorporate VoIP technology. That’s because this type of communication has many advantages. The main benefits of VoIP phoning for companies include the following.
- Cheaper call charges: Compared with standard call charges, long-distance and international calls can cost just 1 cent a minute.
- Lower line rental charges: Per-person charges are as little as $5 a month, and you often get a large volume of monthly inclusive call minutes.
- No bulky hardware: Your VoIP piggybacks on your existing computer network and internet connection. There’s no need for PBX rooms and quarterly maintenance.
- Scalability: Your system can grow or shrink instantly depending on your business needs. Want an extra line? Want to switch off a number? Go to your VoIP dashboard, and you can do it straight away.
- Feature-packed: VoIP providers include handy features with their services, like call waiting, call groups and more. Make a list of the functions that would be most useful to you before you start looking for quotes. That way, you can be sure from the beginning that the providers you’re considering offer the features you desire.
- True portability: You can make every staff member accessible via a single number, no matter where they are. Employees can answer the phone whether they’re at their desk, working from home, or away on business travel. All they need to do is download your VoIP provider’s app to their phone and it becomes part of your VoIP system.
- Great call quality: Both parties can hear each other loud and clear thanks to the superior audio quality of VoIP calls.
Tip: When choosing a business phone system, sit down with your team and discuss everything you want the platform to do, including how it integrates with your CRM.
Achieving high-quality VoIP
With a standard business phone system installation, your provider’s engineers are responsible for making sure all technical requirements are met to provide the level of service required. With VoIP, you’re responsible for ensuring you have a good enough connection, the right networking gear and a battery backup to protect your office in case of power failure. That said, if your business is big enough and you’re willing to commit to a VoIP provider for a minimum time, the provider may foot the cost of systems integration so you don’t need to pay a developer separately.
In any case, the investment in VoIP is worth it, especially for companies that rely on phone communications. Make sure you plan as far in advance as possible. If problems occur after your VoIP system has been fitted, work closely with your provider and IT team to get the most out of your investment.
Wayne Newton contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.