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What's The Best VoIP System For SMBs?

Making phone calls using a broadband Internet connection, more fondly known as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), is becoming more and more popular with corporations of every size. The prospect of paying a flat fee for unlimited long-distance phone calls is appealing to every company that has struggled to balance the need to conduct business phone calls with the price of those calls. Calling plans are now available that provide unlimited minutes to any U.S. or Canadian phone number by routing the voice traffic over an existing broadband connection shared with the company's Internet access.

Many companies are also finding that installation of VoIP phones is simpler than traditional Private Branch eXchange (PBX) systems, since the desk sets can share the Ethernet cables already in place for the desktop computers. Some companies are also offering Wi-Fi-based IP phones that connect through Wi-Fi access points, either in the office or at the local Starbucks -- taking wireless phones to a completely new level.

Vonage: The Pioneer
Vonage is perhaps the pioneer in spreading the use of VoIP service. The company's primary market is the residential customer with a cable or DSL Internet connection. Vonage's residential plan includes a Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA) that connects to the user's router. The user's phone connects to the DTA, and when the phone is picked up, the user hears a normal dial tone. The dial tone is supplied by Vonage in the same way traditional carriers deliver dial tone. Vonage's Small Business Plan includes unlimited calling to the U.S. and Canada for $50 per month.

For companies that need extensions and services that are more closely identified with PBXs found in the corporate world, Vonage is not a good choice. Its Small Business Plan is based on a single line, similar to a residential line, and doesn't provide facilities for multiple extensions, call transfers, administrative functions, and the other tasks most corporate users take for granted. Two other vendors are better suited for the corporate environment.

I tested systems from Packet8 and Centrepoint Technologies. Both companies have good VoIP answers for small companies or companies with remote offices, though they differ in their approaches.

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