By moving to internet phone technologies, companies are not only able to save a lot of money but also improve their communication infrastructure. Small home-based businesses that could never have a fully-equipped telephone system installed in their premises can now enjoy all the benefits at a fraction of the cost. Some VoIP services offer value for money business call plans that are specifically targeted at small home based businesses.
On the higher end of this space, hosted PBX providers, such as RingCentral Office, will generally offer (sometimes even require) on-premises handset hardware, like desk or cordless VoIP phones that get sent to you pre-configured to work with their service. Plug the phones in, make sure they see an internet connection, and after some self-configuration time, your VoIP service goes live auto-magically.
In IP telephony, no such direct link between location and communications end point exists. Even a provider having hardware infrastructure, such as a DSL provider, may know only the approximate location of the device, based on the IP address allocated to the network router and the known service address. Some ISPs do not track the automatic assignment of IP addresses to customer equipment.
One important advanced feature that's ubiquitous in the world of business VoIP services, and quickly growing in the residential market, is the softphone app. Imagine a piece of software that simply uses the network connection, speakers, and microphone of your computing device to turn that device into a phone. If that softphone is attached to your VoIP account, that software will ring whenever your home phone does and when you place calls on it, those calls will register as coming from your home phone number. Just by installing the software you'' be able to immediately place and receive voice calls over your home phone account on your PC, your Apple iPad, or even your smartphone. That last one is a gotcha, however.
On the customer service front, RingCentral receives mostly positive reviews, offering phone assistance during standard work hours, 24/7 online chat service, and ticket service, in addition to weekly webinars and an extensive online knowledge base. Businesses of 20 users or fewer should note, however, that RingCentral favors larger enterprises for US-based support and outsources smaller-office support overseas.
Michael Muchmore is PC Magazine’s lead analyst for software and Web applications. A native New Yorker, he has at various times headed up PC Magazine’s coverage of Web development, enterprise software, and display technologies. Michael cowrote one of the first overviews of Web Services (pretty much the progenitor of Web 2.0) for a general audience. Before that he worked on PC Magazine’s Solutions section, which in those days covered programming techniques as well as tips on using popular office software. Most recently he covered Web 2.0 and other software for ExtremeTech.com.