This guide covers the following:
- What VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is
- The difference between VoIP and phone calls
- The costs associated with VoIP
- The key requirements when considering a VoIP solution
1.0 VoIP Introduction for third sector organisations
In this section, we discuss VoIP, the benefits, considerations and approaches when searching for a VoIP provider. VoIP can be more cost-effective for smaller organisations, as being less reliant on copper wires and analogue phones gives greater control over a communication channel, it’s costs and the functions we need them to perform.
Third-sector organisations can benefit from using VoIP as it’s affordable, offers more communication choices to volunteers and donors, and can make your internal communications faster and more flexible. You can have control of services like auto-attendant, automatic call transfer, call forwarding, and voicemail to email recordings through an on-screen dashboard. If you move premises often then you don’t have to worry about moving physical telephone lines, you just need the internet.
2.0 Cloud-based telephony systems
Cloud-based telephony systems allow organisations to run their organisation's phone system through their internet connection rather than traditional analogue phones that use copper wires or optical fibres to make a connection. Cloud-based telephones are hosted (stored/kept) in an offsite secure data centre. Rather than maintaining software on a server at your location, all information and data is stored in the cloud for faster accessibility should you need it.
3.0 What is VoIP?
VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. VoIP is a voice communication that is transmitted over an internet network and not a traditional phone network. VoIP is more affordable and easier to scale for smaller organisations. You can use your mobile, tablet, laptop or computer in any location (that supports VoIP) to make and receive calls.
4.0 Categories of VoIP
There are a variety of devices that can be used for VoIP (if supported by VoIP), including traditional phones with adapters, smartphone apps, computer software or VoIP - enabled phones. Understanding your organisation's access to devices and the requirements of the users will indicate which provider and requirements you should opt for.
- Device-to-Device – Uses your device’s microphone and speakers and is usually used on an instant messenger service. For example, Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
- Device-to-telephone network – When the caller uses an internet-enabled device to call a landline or mobile number. For example, Microsoft Teams (although you’ll have to pay for calls of this kind).
- Telephone network-to-telephone network – The caller uses an adaptor to make VoIP calls from a normal landline telephone. Examples are AXvoice and Ooma.
- VoIP phone-to-telephone network – A phone is IP (Internet Protocol) enabled and so there is no need for an adaptor. Services such as Vonage and BT Digital Voice include VoIP phones.
5.0 VoIP service provider examples
There are a lot of VoIP service providers for you to choose from. Here are two examples of well-known platforms, Google and Microsoft. These examples have been selected as they are widely recognised and have developed robust VoIP solutions for business and personal use.
Example 1: Google Voice for business
Google Voice is compatible with the Google workspace. You can work on a slide show and have the option to jump on a video VoIP call to collaborate should you need it. Google Meet offers SMS, Voice and Video VoIP calls. There is an option to add Google Voice to your google workspace account if you don’t currently have it.
There are three pricing plans, Starter, Standard and Premier, all of which have many features that can support your organisation.
For more details, please click the link below.
Example 2: Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams offers a similar product to Google. Microsoft Teams offers a collaborative platform for voice and video VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) calls that support document sharing and live working, as teams or as individuals. Microsoft Teams is particularly popular with third-sector education providers, governments and the NHS.
For more detail please click the link below.
6.0 Cost considerations
Similar to SaaS (Software as a Service) pricing plans, VoIP providers offer pricing plans and add ons which can come at an additional cost. Listing requirements your organisation needs based on priority is a good place to begin, you can map out short, medium and long-term feature requirements and calculate the cost based on priority.
Hardware and System Management - With devices so widely available and VoIP being an internet-based service, you don’t have to purchase new equipment to use VoIP services. VoIP can be integrated with Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, desktop phones, and web applications.
Pricing Plans - There are discounted price plans available, but your organisation will need to apply for these and they aren’t always obvious. The reason for applying is so that the VoIP provider can verify that your third sector organisation is genuine. Some pricing plans have special requirements that you need to meet to access discounted pricing plans, so checking the service meets your specific needs and budget is important.
Quotes - there are nonprofit organisations that can handle the quote process for you, an example is SwitchAid. You give SwitchAid your organisation's needs and requirements and they find 3 or more VoIP suppliers, that support third sector organisations and understand your needs, for you to choose from.
6.1 Feature Considerations
Your cost consideration should include the features your organisation requires, some features will be added/optional and will have an associated, variable cost that will affect your monthly or annual service cost. Below is an overview of the features a robust VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) system can offer, some smaller providers may only offer a selection of these features.
- Unified communications: Consolidates your business phone system, voicemail, instant message or chat, video conferencing and faxing, and can also integrate with email, web apps, social media, and tools like a CRM (Customer Relationship Management).
- Video conferencing: Cloud-based phone systems offer video conferencing as part of their packages, ask to see if you have to pay extra for it as an add-on feature.
- International calling: Long-distance and international calling are included as free features in most cloud phone packages, but ask your potential provider about this for clarity.
- Ring anywhere: When the work number is called, both the user’s desktop/laptop and their smartphone will ring, and the user can choose which one to answer. You can also transfer calls between devices.
- Artificial intelligence (AI): AI provides customer service and performs functions like speech-to-text and sentiment analysis.
- Instant messaging: Text-based real-time communication that can be run through several devices, including desktop computers and smartphones.
- Cloud communication: Cloud communication includes telephony, instant messaging, video conferencing and any other form of communication that is included in the bundle.
- Call forwarding: Call forwarding allows users to have calls on a single line.
- Auto-attendant: The automated voice menu to direct callers.
- Collaboration: Collaboration tools include file sharing, video/audio conferencing, real-time project contributions and other tools that help people work together without being in the same room or country.
- Voicemail-to-email: Voicemail-to-email transcribes a voicemail and sends it as an audio file to an email address.
- Integrations: Cloud integrations allow for a large number of resources to be combined into a single cloud package or suite.
7.0 Process & management of Cloud Telephony
When choosing a cloud telephony strategy, there are management considerations that will affect people and processes and the successful adoption of new technology in your organisation.
- VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) Phones. Identify the number of phones that need VoIP and which features are needed for these phones.
- Network Connectivity. Calculate how much bandwidth you need (you can make estimations based on your usage so far).
- Communication Costs. Understand the current costs of communication channels and services of your organisation.
- Number Portability. Identify possible issues you may have with porting your number to a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) number and what the timeline could be.
- Get familiar with the portal (Control Panel or Dashboard). Take some time to train yourself and get used to your VoIP phone system dashboard so you can confidently make changes and adjustments as they are needed.
- Develop Training Materials. Make your VoIP implementation successful by developing a training guide for anyone who will be using the VoIP system.
- Test to Discover and Fix Issues. Ensure there’s enough time to test your VoIP system. Remember to consider broadband service upgrades and there may be implementation and service delays.
8.0 Choosing appropriate numbers
When considering providers, ask them about VoIP number selection in particular. It is possible to request a specific number, for example, a locally based number from your chosen VoIP service provider. Many providers offer a dashboard and will set you up with access to feature selection including a number.
9.0 What to consider when choosing a solution
Third-sector organisations have different and varying needs, requirements and access to funding and support.
A list of considerations when you are assessing a VoIP provider:
- Consider the features you need, you may not need all the VoIP features that providers offer in packages. How can you tailor a package that best suits your needs?
- Compare providers for your requirements. This can be done by researching some providers based on the features you need and storing your findings in a spreadsheet format.
- Check the VoIP provider's security and privacy capabilities and policies. This is important to protect data and to be compliant with data protection law for your organisation and your users. Does your organisation have Cyber Essentials or ISO 27001?
- Make the most of free trials where possible. Using a service even if it’s only for a short amount of time will give you a better view of how you could use or even scale the solution to meet your organisation's needs now and in the future.
- Evaluate the feedback users are sharing about their experience of the provider, service quality and cost. Researching feedback and comments about providers is important, however, make sure this feedback is in context and from real users.
- Research the customer support options for each provider. You will want to work with a service provider who has a clear process of escalation and timings for answers should you need support with your VoIP features.
In summary, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is more affordable and easier to scale for smaller organisations. You can use your mobile, tablet, laptop or computer in any location (that supports VoIP) to make and receive calls.
VoIP: stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is a voice communication that is transmitted over an internet network and not a traditional phone network.
Unified communications: Consolidates your business phone system, voicemail, instant message or chat, video conferencing and faxing, and can also integrate with email, web apps, social media, and tools like a CRM (Customer Relationship Management).
This guide was written by Brightsparks.