What is Voice over Internet Protocol (or VoIP)?
It is a service whereby your telephone call is routed via the Internet. It can be delivered via your computer, your mobile phone or a dedicated telephone (which looks and operates exactly like a normal telephone, except that a few extra functions are available).
Why do I need or even want VoIP?
There are some very significant advantages achievable with VoIP.
- Cost – not only is it cheaper to set up a telephone system, because you require very little hardware, but it is often significantly cheaper to run. Offers available to VoIP customers include domestic & international flat-rate tariffs.
- Scalability & flexibility – it is very quick and easy to add or reduce the number of extensions in your virtual telephone system.
- Increased functionality – functions such as call forwarding, voicemail, conferencing, intelligent call queuing and routing, e-fax (the ability to send and receive faxes via your smartphone or computer) are available at little or no extra cost.
- Contactability – especially if you are a travelling sales rep, or simply out of the office on a business trip, you are able to work exactly as if you are in your office. All you need is an internet connection, and then you can receive and make calls using your main telephone number.
But what are the disadvantages?
Clearly, if you are routing both your email and telephony services through the internet, you are not contactable if your internet connection is down. However, many businesses today find that email is the pre-eminent form of business communication and telephony is increasingly less important. Furthermore, many businesses have functions that rely on an operative internet connection, so routing the telephony services over the internet may not significantly increase your risk.
The key is in obtaining a reliable internet connection.
Many people worry that the telephone service will be unreliable, due to slow internet speeds and high internet contention ratios (where the bandwidth is being shared with other users).
Germany does not have fast internet speeds – 16MBps download and 1,5MBps uploads speeds are quite typical. Vodafone have been rolling out a 200MBps service in the past 6 months, but this is not available outside of larger towns and is unlikely to come to rural areas. However, our own experience (Ars Vivendi has been using VoIP for more than 2 years now) is that a regular internet connection is adequate for stable telephony. We have never perceived a reduction in the clarity of our telephony – even when we have noticed that there was high demand for internet.
Two important questions to ask a potential VoIP provider is, how much of the telephony traffic is routed over the public internet and what are the guarantees over service quality/reliability.
The Ars Vivendi Experience with VoIP
We have been very satisfied with our VoIP service, which is supplied by NFon.
Despite our early worries about whether the bandwidth in Memmingen was adequate for VoIP, we have had no problems with call quality and reliability.
Our implementation costs were very reasonable – about 10% of the cost of implementing a traditional telephone system with similar functions (we saved over €20k).
Our on-going call costs are not more expensive than a traditional telephone system, and indeed we can switch to an international flat rate tariff at any time, when the amount of calls justify it.
One issue we had in the beginning was finding a VoIP Provider – almost all telephony installer/suppliers wanted to sell us a traditional telephone system. It took us 6 months to find some-one who would supply & install a VoIP system at Ars Vivendi. I hope this will not be such an issue now, as VoIP is becoming more widely recognised in Germany – but beware!!