In many instances, a phone call is the first (and preferred) form of contact between companies and clients, which makes selecting the right solution crucial for business success.
Today’s phone system technology has advanced at such a rapid pace that the options have increased substantially, making the decision of choosing a solution increasingly more difficult. Add to this the sheer customisation capability of each solution and the options increase…
Whether you’re a small business or a large corporation, centrally located or with a distributed workforce, the decision of choosing the correct solution, and from a qualified partner is significant. Finding a partner who works to understand your business will ensure that you get the value you need and deserve.
Are you tired of paying high monthly fixed costs for your business phone system? At WhichVoIP, we help you find a scalable, reliable and cost effective business phone systems solution in South Africa that are cost effective for small, medium and large businesses.
At its core, a phone system is a phone system – many of them do the same thing, and some will have a few things it does more, or differently.
Phone systems will be built or configured to provide the functionality which is relevant to your specific business, to drive your desired outcomes such as increased productivity, mobility and customer satisfaction. The question of which one is right for you certainly depends on your company strategy, buying policy, and industry compliance, amongst others.
As we introduce you to VoIP-based phone systems, we acknowledge that there are other solutions and platforms in the market, however, most vendors only sell VoIP-based phone systems which can be supplied in physical form, or as a hosted service.
VoIP-based phone systems have been instrumental in enabling new forms of work, such as the support for Work From Home (WFH) and remote call centre agents.
An IP PABX is a common upgrade from a traditional PABX, which is mostly software-driven, provided on a set hardware device from the vendor based on your required configuration. However, in some cases, the software can be provided separately and installed on a standard computer server.
IP PABXs are built and/or licensed according to your requirements, where things like users, with the required functionality are “switched-on” and activated as required.
With IP PABXs you purchase what you need upfront, and may even be able to choose where it could be installed – either onsite at your office, or hosted offsite which is referred to as a private cloud PABX deployment.
A Hosted PABX or Cloud PABX, is a phone system which is delivered as a hosted service. This is typically where a provider has one “big” PABX which is shared by multiple customers and users.
With Hosted PABX’s you never own anything – you only pay for what you use, as and when you need it. You also needn’t worry about any of the service and upgrade costs as that is usually included in the monthly service fee.
We can’t possibly rule on this one. This is a consultative process, and you should not rush to decide. The right partner will work closely with you to understand more about your business dynamics, vision and strategy, and then guide you to the option that best aligns with this strategy.
Although most businesses prefer to go for hosted platforms, the majority of the market is still using on-premise platforms and many of the mid to large market still find purchasing and managing a dedicated phone system favorable when compared to hosted options.
Take time to write down all the functionality your business uses and requires in a new system.
Depending on complexity or importance, you may even want to consider developing a formal Request For Proposal (RFP) specification or appointing a consultant to develop and manage this process for you.
Having a well-defined list of your short-long term business goals and objectives, the current systems and channels used in your business, and agreeing on how you want to buy/pay for the solution are important factors to understand before you embark on your journey.
In some cases, what you are quoted will have a validity date, and may not be fixed for the duration of your agreement. This is usually the case for products and services which are sourced from international vendors, and as with anything you import, you will have to pay a fee based on the rate of exchange at that time.
Pull out your old contracts – look at the agreement terms, early settlement penalties or cancellation fees which may be applicable.
Chances are you’re moving phone line providers as you move phone systems, so you need to consider your phone service as a separate element.
Most businesses have phone numbers which they have used for years and need to keep these numbers even when moving to a new phone system. Not all SA phone numbers can be moved or ported between providers, and usually there is a cost to port each number between networks.
Make a complete list of all the phone numbers your business uses and share this with your provider who will advise how they can retain these numbers. And if you have a number which cannot be ported, you’ll want to understand how the current and future service will work together, as well as the costs involved so that you do not sit with unexpected extra forwarding fees.
If you intend moving away from traditional PSTN fixed lines (analogue or ISDN) over to VoIP, you’ll need to assess the impact that adding the additional bandwidth will have on your internet line and service.
In addition to this, If you’re like most other businesses, you probably intend sharing the same line you use for internet, email and so on, and not install a dedicated internet line for VoIP. Therefore, you need to carefully plan how to set up your internet line so that voice takes priority over other traffic, and that the bandwidth required for voice is consistent.
Anything that is based on the internet (IP) has a deep reliance on an internal and external internet network. Therefore, buying a new phone system and VoIP phones is not quite as simple as just plugging everything in and walking away.
Connecting internal networks (local area networks or LAN) may require internal reconfiguration to prioritise voice traffic over other network traffic. Additionally, any firewalls need to be made aware of voice traffic, and your cabling and power infrastructure needs to be complaint.
When working with your phone system provider, ask for a detailed rundown of the prerequisites and best practise for running VoIP and IP telephony. Ask this before you sign up to avoid unexpected investments to upgrade your network and other elements thereof.
Unlike traditional legacy devices, VoIP phones require power to operate.
Power can be provided by purchasing a local power adapter, or through your LAN as long as your LAN supports Power over Ethernet (PoE). Phones are usually shipped without a power adapter, so it is advisable to understand what your environment requires, and for you to plan accordingly.
Work with your chosen provider to understand all the FIXED and VARIABLE costs involved in receiving the service for your business.
Fixed Costs – are usually made up of line rentals, subscriptions, hardware and service level agreements.
Variable Costs – are made up from usage-based services or ad hoc services, including any out-of-bundle charges.
Ask what costs there are at the different stages of your partnership too.
Start-up Costs – these could be costs related to any service activation, installation and provisioning, training and hardware required for the service.
Note: If there are no setup or hardware costs, make sure that you understand whether you are liable for any of these costs at any stage of the partnership.
Subscription Costs – these are the anticipated costs for use of the services. Be sure to understand what other costs may come into play and ensure that you agree to those costs upfront.
Conclusion and Exit Costs – at the end of the agreement term, ask what happens. Is there a cancellation notice period, is there an automatic renewal? What happens to the hardware, and are there any fees for removal of the equipment or infrastructure?
Having clarity and complete transparency on all costs will help you to do an apples for apples comparison between providers, and ensure that you don’t sit with any unexpected surprises.
Under the current regulations, not all numbers can be ported. You may only port geographic numbers such as 010, 011, 021, 031, etc.
If your business uses non-geographic numbers like 087, 0800, 0860, etc. then you may be forced to keep your existing lines so that these numbers remain in service.
Find out about the costs and conditions to move your phone numbers, and if your provider has a “work-around” for moving numbers which cannot be ported, be sure that you understand how that service works, and what costs are involved – you do not want to land up with possible call forwarding costs which will leave you paying for both incoming and outgoing calls for your business.
One of the biggest value propositions for next generation communication platforms is compatibility and interoperability.
Devices you buy now should be compatible with other phone systems, and you should consider what provision the phone system has for connecting devices from third party vendors.
BYOD extends beyond VoIP phones and conference devices, to things like mobile phones and personal computers. In an ideal world, you should have many options for what device you use (and from whom) and you should consider that an investment that will move with you, irrespective of whether you end up changing your phone system in the future.
Knowing how long the product is proven to last is vital in understanding what future costs you may be in for.
On the one side, you may be expected to subscribe to an additional programme for annual software upgrades and support, whereas in other cases all costs are included in their subscription fee.
If you do have purchased hardware, find out what the past failure rates are, what the warranty is, and what is included and excluded. We all know that hardware has a lifespan, so understand what happens when the manufacturer decides to stop making your device – what is the upgrade path, how long will your hardware still be supported, and up until what point with the manufacturer have spares, if needed.
GOOD TO KNOW: Usually you’ll need to include your telecoms equipment under your office insurance!
Take a moment to look a bit into the future… with both business and sales becoming global and virtual, workers are no longer localised in one particular space.
With that in mind, think about the tools your business may need in the future to keep your stakeholders connected to your business – maybe this is by having everyone work from their mobile phones or laptops at home?
Although one assumes that you’re already aware of all the costs involved in using another phone system, it goes back to the understanding of what functionality your business needs now, and in the future.
Have a clear understanding of what features and functionality you get with your package or platform, and what is an optional extra.
With optional extras, find out what impacts the pricing? (such as additional integration fees, SLAs or fees impacted by the exchange rate).
It is always advisable to read and understand the full service terms and conditions which will state the contract duration, renewal and cancellation terms.
You may want to place particular focus on notice periods, automatic renewal clauses, and fees associated with renewals and cancellation – especially when new equipment was provided at no direct cost to you at the start of your agreement.
Most of the time everything should work as expected, but when it doesn’t, the real difference between providers can be realised.
Each service should be accompanied by a service level agreement which will give a clear understanding of how you can expect to be supported.
Questions you may want to ask you provider include:
This is where it becomes extremely important to research the various providers before you make your decision! Read past customer reviews, see what their other customers have to say about them online, and don’t be shy to ask for references which you can personally contact!
Network uptime and guarantees
Make sure you understand more about the network your service provider has built or manages. Ask what network redundancy and resiliency is in place, and what uptime guarantees there are? If these are important to you, then they will be important to the service provider too.
Network and device monitoring
Find out whether your chosen provider monitors your connection and the hardware required. Will they know about connectivity issues before you do? And what happens in the case of faulty hardware? What will it take to restore services and at whose cost for collection, delivery and provisioning?
We are committed to helping you to make an educated buying decision, and to find the best telecoms partner for your business.