VoIP can be cheap to roll-out, it’s pretty cheap to hook a headset to your computer and make internet phone calls. However, it is not likely that as a reader of this blog your needs are that small-scale. You are learning about VoIP for your business, and you should be informed on commercial-grade solutions.
The Traditional Phone System
Nowadays, the traditional phone system is not the only option,but for some it may still be the best one. Telecommunications equipment are the most relaible pieces of equipment in any office. Their number one job by far is to be bullet-proof. They don’t need to be fast, powerful, or pretty. Form always follows function. As an example, an auto repair shop is dirty, hot, and not very high-tech. If they need multiple lines and the ability to page/intercom, a traditional phone sytem is the way to go.
Fortunately, most phone systems today are fully VoIP capapble. They can be configured to accept both VoIP trunks and stations (local and remote). The right phone system can fit into any conceivable telecom scenario because they can perform each and every task that the other technologies can, plus more. The only negative aspect is price. They do represent the highest inital cost of just about any other solution. The good news is you own it, and there should be little recurring costs (unless your business needs major changes).
A hosted (virtual) phone system
This can be a good option for a company looking for something to connect their workers who are spread across the country, or even the earth, without the need for a “main office” location (a traditional phone system needs to be installed somewhere). There are two types of hosted systems: the type that uses your cell phones or existing lines to act like extensions, and those that give you an IP phone on your desk.
The cell phone hosting type requires no extra equipment, they just direct your incoming calls to one of their servers that plays a menu and transfers calls to the appropriate telephone number (i.e. your cell phone). All you are paying for is an automated attendant, a simple system with simple features.
The IP phone hosting type is a real phone system, it’s just not located in your office and you don’t own it (a provider charges you each month to use their system). Often using an open-source phone system running on a conventional PC server, they do the best job of emulating a traditional phone system. You get a phone that sits on your desk, you can call other stations on intercom, and you can answer phone calls. All you need is an internet connection to run the VoIP through. This technology falls short when you have a main office with multiple phones, because the station-to-station calls have to pass from one phone out to the provider’s server and back, doubling the internet bandwidth needs. Also, you can forget about on-site louspeaker paging, monitored burglar alarms, fax machines, and any other feature that requires a local phone system/line to plug into.
Most small businesses don’t require any type of system, other than maybe a plain-old telephone. For the ones that do require something more, I usually recommend a traditional phone system. It is the most reliable option, and it is the only complete solution that you never have to change, even if you decide you want to change providers or phone techs.