VoIP has been around for a long time, gaining popularity as early as 2003 with the first release of Skype. In contrast to traditional phones, VoIP setups use the internet to connect with other devices. Skype is arguably the most well-known VoIP service, and its support for connections with conventional landlines and cell phones differentiates it from self-contained platforms like Facetime and Slack.
Contemporary VoIP technology is surprisingly easy to install, and it works just as well as (if not better than) the typical connection on a cell phone or landline. Another bonus of VoIP phones at home is access to a wider range of features while saving a significant amount of money on your phone bill.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the steps involved in setting up a VoIP phone for your home or business. Make sure to check out our list of the best VoIP services if you’re ready to get started with VoIP.
How to set up a VoIP phone at home: Preparation
VoIP is simple to set up and works well on most broadband connections. With that in mind, there isn’t much prep work involved other than confirming that your internet is robust enough for the demands of a VoIP system.
If you’re setting up VoIP at home, you shouldn’t have to worry about the strength of your connection. Conversely, if you’re interested in configuring VoIP for your business, you may need a substantial increase in bandwidth.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to say exactly how much you need without testing the system out. Cisco has helpful guidelines for VoIP bandwidth, but the right amount depends on several factors, including the total number of concurrent calls and the codec used to encode and compress vocal inputs.
Depending on your provider, you may be able to upgrade your bandwidth as needed after installing VoIP.
Step 1: Get the right hardware
You don’t need much specialized equipment to get started with VoIP. That said, there are a few purchases that can make things easier or open up new opportunities.
An IP phone, for example, gives you the experience of a traditional phone while over VoIP. These phones are available from a wide range of brands and with a variety of unique features. Cisco, for example, sells IP phones with as many as 16 lines. Alternatively, some companies sell adapters that enable traditional landlines to be used for VoIP.
IP phones typically connect to computers through an Ethernet cable. It’s technically possible to run VoIP over a Wi-Fi connection, but wired connections tend to be faster and more reliable.
On the other hand, a physical phone isn’t strictly necessary for a VoIP system. Digital phone apps offer the experience of VoIP without any additional hardware, and these services are typically affordable.
Skype for Business, for example, is now being absorbed into the Microsoft Teams subscription. Enterprise subscribers can add Calling Plans depending on their needs. Nextiva, another popular VoIP platform, offers annual subscriptions for as little as $19.95 per user per month. You can often get the same excellent sound quality with a small over-ear headset rather than a physical phone.
Step 2: Find a VoIP provider
With so many VoIP providers out there, it can be tough to tell which one is right for you or your business. Different options come with different pricing and offer vastly different sets of features, so you should take the time to compare at least a few providers before committing to a subscription.
One key factor to consider in a new VoIP is whether it charges by the user, by the minute, or a combination of both. You may also need to weigh the benefits of advanced features against the additional costs.
RingCentral, one of the most popular VoIP providers in 2020, has an Essentials subscription for just $19.99 per user per month when paid annually. While Essentials subscribers get unlimited calls within the US and Canada, they’re also limited to just 20 users. Standard users ($24.99 per month when paid annually) receive 10 times as many toll-free minutes, along with 24/7 support, video meetings with up to 100 participants, and convenient integration with apps like Slack, Office 365, and the G Suite.
Ultimately, the only way to find the “best” provider for your business is to look at a few promising options and compare them in terms of both features and pricing. Some organizations save money by using VoIP exclusively for calling outside numbers, while others prefer to invest in an all-in-one solution for VoIP calls, as well as internal meetings and other forms of communication.
Step 3: Connect your equipment and get started
Once you have the tools and software that you need to get started with VoIP, you’ll be ready to put everything together and get the system up and running.
Of course, the specific steps will vary depending on your setup—you might need to connect your existing phones to VoIP adapters or replace them with IP phones. Similarly, some IP phones and routers support power over ethernet, allowing you to power the phone and connect to the internet with a single ethernet cable.
RingCentral, for example, has pre-configured phones that will work with VoIP after being connected to the internet. You’ll simply plug it in to your router via Ethernet and wait for it to show up in your VoIP software. But this process could be different depending on the provider you’re using, so make sure to closely follow the setup instructions.
Setup should go smoothly for most users, but you may run into technical problems or other unexpected issues. Again, it’s best to check with the manufacturer of the product that’s malfunctioning if you’re having trouble with your VoIP setup. It will be able to offer more specific instructions based on the hardware and software you’re using, and many VoIP providers have detailed guides for both setup and general use.
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Switching from a conventional phone system to VoIP can seem intimidating, but the transition doesn’t have to be as complicated as it sounds. These three steps will help you get up and running with VoIP, giving you the opportunity to access new features and capabilities while potentially cutting costs.
VoIP users have more options than ever in 2020, so check out our guide to best VoIP services for more information on the top providers. These brands cater to everything from sole proprietorships and small businesses to large-scale enterprises with tens or hundreds of lines.