Selecting a VoIP Provider - Top 5 Considerations

VoIP networks couple data service with voice service and use signaling to enable individual network devices to communicate with one another. Both traditional phone service and VoIP networks rely on signaling to activate and mange the various components needed to complete a call.

In a typical telephone network, phones communicate with a multiplexed switches or a traditional digital (PBX) system for call connection and call routing. In a VoIP network, the VoIP components communicate with one another by exchanging datagram messages. To complete a call, two endpoints must be able to open and sustain a communication session.

End users can initiate and receive VoIP calls using a variety of VoIP phones and consoles. VoIP phones can either be hardware-based devices that resemble traditional phones or software based devices, known as soft-phones. Soft-phones offer the same basic features as hardware-based VoIP phones but are typically run on notebook computers. These used to be targeted to mobile users to connect to a corporate network VPN or SLL, but now anyone can have one.

So, how do you know if VoIP phone service is right for you? There are a number of things to consider. I've listed a few pertinent questions to help you decide and not get stuck with the wrong plan.

1. Why are you thinking about VoIP phone service?

Most people indicate they want to save money on their phone bill. This can mean they are spending too much on long distance, or that they simply want to terminate their traditional landline or cell phone service opting for a VoIP plan instead.

Well, before you run out and sign up for the first VoIP plan you see on the internet, get out your current phone bill and understand what you are paying for.

Secondly, make sure you understand what your specific calling patterns mean in relation to your spending, this way you'll have a good idea if a VoIP plan will actually save you money or cost you more. You may be surprised.

2. Do you know about all of your options?

It will take a little time to investigate what's out there. VoIP service providers and equipment vary. Note: cable company VoIP call clarity is best, with hardware-VoIP systems rated second, and software only VoIP plans rated the worst. Because of this, most consumers do opt for a hardware supported VoIP plan. Even the free VoIP providers encourage their subscribers to purchase ATA adapters to improve system performance. Lastly, you can't pick hardware until you've selected a service provider, so start your investigation reading carrier reviews first.

3. Did you test your Internet signal?

This is a vital step. Make sure to test your Internet signal to ensure that your system will support VoIP calls. Most VoIP service providers have the test available on their corporate websites. At least one of them will allow you to test your signal. Do it! If your signal is weak this doesn't mean you can't make VoIP phone calls, but you might have to invest more money by purchasing a signal booster.

4. You have read reviews and want to sign up, but did you read the fine print in the providers contract?

Before you sign up for any service read the fine print. Often this step is overlooked in the excitement to get started, but the contract terms and conditions may indicate additional obligations and fees that your may not be aware of, or acceptable.

Additionally, items indicated as free, such as hardware, may merely be a no cost up front lease of the equipment. At some point in the future the equipment will need to be returned (in the original packaging) to the service provider or fees are incurred...And did you know you had to pay the return freight?

5. Are you 100% sure you know what you are paying for?

Often free trials are not really free. Most plans have activation fees, shipping and handling fees, porting fees, and to have E911 service could mean an added fee. There are also deactivation fees.

To get your business many providers will waived some of the fees, but usually not all of them. Also, if you sign up for a free trail and decide not to stay with the service provider, this can typically result in about $40 dollars worth of fees.

Besides reading the fine print, make sure that your know how many minutes of service you are buying and what the restrictions are. Most VoIP plans are not unlimited even if they say "Unlimited" in the marketing blurb. Check for minute caps and long distance rates in case you go over your plan's allotment.

Take your time and don't be in a rush to sign up for the first service plan you hear about. VoIP phone service can save hundreds of dollars over paying for traditional phone service, especially if you make a ton of international phone calls. It pays to read reviews, and understand the top 5 considerations of selecting a VoIP service provider before you get stuck in the wrong plan.

Happy VoIP Shopping !