- The best hacks for VoIP calling you're not using - The Daily Dot
- A 21st-century system for a 21st-century firm: What to know about VoIP phone systems - ABA Journal
- How Much Does VoIP Cost? | Guide + VoIP Provider Quotes - TechCo
- Dedicated vs. Shared Cloud Voice Services | Insight for the Connected Enterprise - No Jitter
- California's ISP Deregulation Law Allows Recording VoIP Calls without Consent - EFF
Posted: 21 Mar 2018 12:00 AM PDT
Maybe you've switched to only communicating entirely in emoji. If you're like me, you probably love a good phone call now and again. Yes, actually speaking to another human being verbally is a great way to get clear answers, catch up with friends emotionally, and avoid hundred-response email chains about mundanity like, "where should we go to dinner?" VoIP is one way you can make these calls, often for free. Here's everything you need to know about VoIP.
What is VoIP?
VoIP stands for "voice over IP" or "voice over internet protocol." Simply put, VoIP is a method for taking analog audio signals, like the voice on the other end of a phone call, and turning it into digital data that can be transferred over the internet.
Back in the days of landline phones, which, believe it or not, some people still use, making a call created a (literal) wired connection between you and the phone you're targeting. It involved passing the call through a person known as a switchboard operator and in more recent times, a device that moves physical cables from jack to jack to connect calls.
VoIP is a digital technology that records a caller's voice, turns it into data (ones and zeros), and sends it over to a target address using data connections on the internet. The receiver hears your voice decoded back into sound and played back.
Even if you don't fully understand VoIP, it's probable that you've already used it. The most well-known companies that use VoIP services are Skype, Google Voice, and Vonage. Many other companies use the technology for internal phone conversations (like when a receptionist tells you your 4:00 meeting is "here"), for telemarketing campaigns to make high-call volume affordable, and for working with international clients.
How does VoIP work?
There are three different ways VoIP technology works.
ATA: Also known as an analog telephone adapter, ATA allows users to connect a standard phone to your computer or internet connection for use with VoIP. Even if you have a hamburger phone from the '80s that connects to the wall, an ATA can take those landline signals and convert them to VoIP. Now you don't have to pay a landline bill! Everything, even your calls, now works with the internet.
IP phones: These are special phones that connect to computers using an ethernet connector on one end and directly to your router to make VoIP calls. Wi-Fi phones are the cordless version. If you work a job that involves making a lot of calls while sitting in front of a computer, you may be using an IP phone already.
Computer-to-Computer: If you've used Skype, it's likely you've made a computer-to-computer VoIP call. If you have a built-in microphone and speakers, you can download any computer-to-computer VoIP software. No matter the distance, you will not be charged for these calls, since they're made using your internet connection!
In all three, your voice is digitized, turned into data, sent through the internet, and decoded back into an audio file on the receiver's computer. Allowing users to choose their hardware makes VoIP one of the most versatile technologies out there.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of VoIP?
The biggest benefit to using VoIP is the cost. For computer-to-computer or computer-to-cell calls, the cost is free. You just have to pay your internet bill on time. For computer-to-landline calls, the cost is significantly less than paying for a phone plan. In traditional landlines, companies were once limited to how many "lines" could be added. There's no limit to how many VoIP lines can be added, however. It all depends on your connection's bandwidth. VoIP also has a sound quality that is often clearer and better than a traditional phone.
The biggest downside to using VoIP is the possibility for latency. Just like a TV connected to the internet that sometimes loses sound syncing when the internet is throttled, this can happen while speaking over VoIP.
How to get VoIP
You can download and create an account with Skype for desktop here or Google Voice here. There are many other providers out there who will add features and personalized plans if you're going to be making a lot of calls.
If you want to have a landline phone that connects to VoIP and cut the cord on paying for landline service, you'll need to follow a few steps. You'll have to create a free account with a VoIP provider. Then, you'll have to make sure you have an ethernet cable and an ATA, like this $35 OBi adapter. This how-to guide details the steps you'll need to connect everything together. Now you'll never have to worry again about your apartment's crappy cell service.
The best uses for VoIP
Here are some ways to implement VoIP technology.
Posted: 22 Mar 2019 12:00 AM PDT
Law Practice Management
In last month's column, I discussed the ins and outs of a somewhat recent advancement in communication—online fax services, which provide lawyers a cost-effective and convenient way to send and receive digitized faxes in 2019. As I explained in that column, lawyers seeking to use fax tools have two options. The first is that they can use stand-alone e-fax software. Alternatively, that same functionality is often built into voice over internet protocol phone systems. So let's dive into VoIP systems and discuss the many benefits that they provide to small firm lawyers.
Do you remember when law firm phone systems used to be incredibly costly? Between purchasing the phones, subscribing to a voicemail service, and paying the salary of a receptionist to answer and transfer calls, the costs added up quickly. And the more features you required—for example, the ability to host conference calls—the higher the price of the phone system. For many law firms, the cost of phone systems and maintenance constituted a sizable portion of their practice's overhead.
How times have changed! Small firm lawyers have more options than ever before when it comes to their law firm's phone systems. Rapid technological advancements, including VoIP and cloud computing, have proliferated, providing small firm lawyers with much-needed, low-cost alternatives to the old-school phone systems of yesteryear. Twenty-first-century VoIP technologies make it easier—and more affordable—than ever for lawyers to seamlessly and effortlessly communicate with their clients and colleagues.
If your law firm hasn't yet made the leap from outdated and expensive 20th-century phone systems to the 21st-century cost-effective alternatives, now is a great time to make the switch. It's simply a matter of choosing the right system for your firm's needs.
VoIP will provide your firm with far greater flexibility and mobility. With VoIP, calls are routed over internet protocol networks, sometimes using software alone, and other times using both hardware and software. Of course, keep in mind that calls are routed using the internet, so if your internet goes down, so, too, does your VoIP service (just as your firm's landline will sometimes go down since no service has 100 percent uptime). Even so, the many benefits of VoIP systems greatly outweigh that risk.
By using VoIP systems, you typically can make and receive unlimited phone calls (including international calls, in many cases), conduct conference calls, forward calls to your mobile or home phone, receive (and store) messages in different formats, manage calls on the go, send and receive online faxes, and much more.
The good news is that if you're ready to transition your firm to VoIP, you have plenty of choices. Of course, the challenge then becomes sifting through the various service providers and figuring out which one is the best fit for your law firm. To get you started, here's a rundown of some of your options to help you sort through the most popular VoIP providers.
Note that because Google Voice is fairly limited in terms of its options, and, thus, isn't a good fit for most law firms, I won't be covering it here. But if you're just starting out or are a true solo, it might be a cost-effective choice for your firm. You can learn more about Google Voice (and some of its limitations) in this article.
And, as is always the case, whenever you entrust your law firm's data to a third party, you have an ethical obligation to thoroughly vet the technology provider that will be hosting and storing your data. This includes ensuring that you understand how the data will be handled by that company; where the servers on which the data will be stored are located; who will have access to the data; and how and when it will be backed up, among other things.
Now let's take a look at some of your VoIP options.
• First, there's RingCentral, which is arguably the most well-known VoIP provider. RingCentral offers the greatest number of features compared to most other providers. There are four pricing tiers available, with the lowest tier starting at $19.99 per user per month and capping at 10 users. One hundred toll-free minutes per month are included in the first level, in addition to videoconferencing for four users. As you move up the pricing tiers, with the highest being $49.99 per user per month, unlimited users and more features are included, such as unlimited online faxing, automatic call recording and voicemail-to-text. Also offered in some of the higher-priced tiers are online collaboration tools; videoconferencing; and integrations with Microsoft, Google and Box. You can learn more about RingCentral for law firms here and its pricing tiers here.
• Another option is Nextiva. It offers three pricing packages: Office Pro, Office Pro Plus and Office Enterprise. Prices range from $19.95 per user per month to $27.95 per user per month. All plans include unlimited calling, free phone numbers and unlimited fax. Higher-tiered plans may include features including a conference bridge, text messaging, a mobile app and more. Nextiva does not provide international calling plans, and online storage is not included in any of the plans. But it can be purchased separately for $4.95 per month. You can learn more about the Nextiva options available to law firms here.
• Ooma is another VoIP service to consider. It requires a one-time purchase of $199.99 and installation of Ooma's hardware, which is reportedly a fairly simple process. After that, it costs $19.95 per user per month. Included in that price is one local or toll-free phone number, a virtual fax number, and a conference line number and 500 minutes of inbound calls per month. The cost for additional local or toll-free numbers is $9.95 per month for each new line. Ooma provides unlimited calling to the United States, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. Features also include a conference bridge, voicemail, a virtual receptionist, virtual fax and call management tools. You can learn more about Ooma for law firms here and find a full pricing chart here.
So those are just a few VoIP systems to consider for your law firm. Although the idea of switching from a landline to a VoIP system may seem strange at first, you'll quickly realize that the benefits far outweigh any misgivings that you might have. After all, you're running a 21st-century law firm. Shouldn't your firm have a 21st-century phone system, too?
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York, attorney, author, journalist and the legal technology evangelist at MyCase, legal practice management software for small firms. She is the nationally recognized author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers and is co-author of Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier, both published by the American Bar Association. She also is co-author of Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for ABAJournal.com, Above the Law and the Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. Follow her on Twitter @nikiblack, or she can be reached at email@example.com.
Posted: 05 Jun 2019 12:00 AM PDT
FAQs on VoIP Costs
Is VoIP cheaper than regular landline phones?
Yes, a VoIP system offers the same functions as a landline phone system, but costs far less as there's no need to install additional wiring or hardware. A hosted VoIP system can run entirely on an existing internet connection and desktop computers.
This doesn't mean landlines aren't without their merits. You can visit Tech.co's VoIP vs landline page for a more detailed look at the differences.
Is VoIP free?
Some VoIP services are available for free, but none of them are likely to work well for a business, as they have limited functionality and bandwidth. If you're using VoIP services day in and day out, your operation will save more money by opting for a paid, hosted VoIP service in the range of $25 and $40, per user per month. A paid monthly service will ultimately increase your productivity far more than a limited free service.
What is the cheapest VoIP service?
RingCentral is one of the cheapest VoIP services, starting at just $19.99/user/month for between one and ten users.
But there are plenty of factors to consider, and another top VoIP provider might beat them out for your operation in particular. The only way to know for sure is to collect customized quotes from each of the best services, and the fastest way to accomplish that is to fill out Tech.co's quick quotes form here.
What can go wrong in a VoIP system?
A VoIP system offers more features than a landline system, at a cheaper price. So what's the catch? Below are the factors you'll need to keep an eye on — and that might cost a little extra to address.
Does VoIP slow down my internet?
In a word, yes. Running a VoIP system will take a toll on an internet system, and you won't want to run them on a public network. You should factor in the costs of running a top-notch broadband network when looking to get a VoIP system for your business.
VoIP Total Cost Example
We know there are a number of factors at play when establishing total VoIP cost, but let's break down a typical example.
We'll assume that your business has 20 members of staff, and wishes to make the leap to a full VoIP system from a traditional PBX setup.
We'll take RingCentral, one of the providers we recommend, and a popular provider of VoIP. They charge $24.99 per user per month, if you sign up for an annual account (otherwise its $34.99). That's just under $500 as an ongoing monthly cost for 20 employees, and includes a toll-free or local number, 1,000 toll free minutes, and video conferencing.
In terms of equipment, in this scenario we'll assume that each user needs a new phone. The Polycom VVX-101 is available from RingCentral for $79, or $5 a month. If you purchase 20 phones outright, that's a cost of $1,580. For staff that spend most of the day on the phone, a headset is invaluable. RingCentral recommends the EncorePRO 710/720, at $79.
To sum up:
Add this all together, and you have a one-off setup cost of $3,160, and ongoing monthly costs of $500.
Without the need to host any of your own equipment, maintenance or dedicated staff, it's a small price to pay for what you're getting. And of course if you can reuse some existing equipment such as softphones or headsets, it works out even cheaper and helps to minimize the total VoIP cost.
Next Steps Getting a VoIP System
Moving over to VoIP is an excellent way to modernize your business and fulfill your customer needs, without having to invest heavily. For a few hundred dollars a month you can ditch your traditional phone system, saving money and increasing the features available to you, such as automated call handling, video conferencing, and real time call monitoring.
If you're ready to start benefiting from productivity gains and a streamlined, internet-powered workflow, your next step is to begin connecting with the best VoIP providers to figure out which one of them offers the features you need at a price you want. Take one minute to use our quick VoIP comparison form, and you can start collecting quotes today.
Posted: 02 Oct 2019 09:25 AM PDT
Despite the rise of cloud-based voice services, some companies are still waiting for the bugs to be worked out, features to grow richer, or the ROI to improve. Prudence guides many enterprises to let others break the trail and share their stories before they join the crowd.
When consulting with others, I sometimes tell my customers that there's really no such thing as a "cloud." What I mean is that your phone system is sitting in someone else's data center, and all the care and feeding of that system is someone else's headache.
A significant factor when deciding between a cloud-based solution and customer-premises equipment is service resolution. When an issue arises, how quickly can the issue be resolved? If hardware fails, do you have a DR solution or a crashkit of parts on-hand? Can your staff to swap out parts, reload software, generate a new license key, etc?
The flip side of the coin comes with its own challenges. Putting your voice systems in the cloud does take much of the troubleshooting process out of your hands. While it can reduce your staff requirements, it can also leave you feeling helpless and less informed. Once a help desk ticket is submitted to your provider, communication usually comes slowly.
Is Dedicated Really that Great?
Not all cloud solutions are the same. It's important to understand that there are distinctions between different models.
Salespeople are notorious for touting proposals of a cloud-based solution with a "dedicated" solution for your company. For some reason, they tend to pitch this as the "best" offering. "We are going to stand up a dedicated and customized solution for you and no other customers are going to be on it." When they paint their platform as picture-perfect in which nothing can go wrong, beware.
Here's my problem with that proposal. I don't "want" a customized or unique platform. When something goes awry and my "dedicated server" that was built "just for me" crashes, I will be the only customer that is without service! All the other customers will be operating just fine. Will the carrier respond quickly? Will my issue be addressed quickly if my company is the only customer without service? My experience says "no, not quickly."
If there's a service issue affecting my company or client, I want to be on a common platform that can be fixed with a routine and repeatable process any time of the day by ordinary technicians. I don't want to hear that my platform is "different" or that it requires a "special engineer" who needs to be called in.
Multi-customer issues move to the head of the line in the repair department. When a cloud-based voice solution is built on a shared platform with many other customers and a service disruption occurs, then many of the service providers' customers are affected. The provider will be under pressure to resolve the issue quickly. In fact, multi-customer solutions tend to be more robust in the first place. When it comes to finding reliability in the cloud, this is where I prefer to be with my systems – in the shared space with many other customers.
It doesn't happen often, but when a system is down, I tend to check a couple of browser bookmarks. Downdetector and Is The Service Down? are two good crowd-sourced resources who often have details of an issue before I can finish opening a ticket with my carrier.
Is cloud-based voice the right solution for every business? No. There is no "one-size-fits-all" platform. There is no question that for some companies, premises-based solutions are a richer experience and more capable platform. However, I've implemented cloud-based VoIP to over 100 locations with great success and highly satisfied customers.
Posted: 21 Jun 2019 12:00 AM PDT
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been opposing A.B. 1366, legislation by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, which would renew a law that effectively shields a huge part of the telecommunications industry from state and local regulation. Comcast and AT&T law backed this law, Public Utilities Code Sec. 710, in 2012—and are backing its renewal now. Renewing this law would reaffirm that state and local governments cannot regulate VoIP—a term used to refer to any technology that allows you to use the Internet for voice communication or receive telephone calls over the Internet—for another decade.
We oppose A.B. 1366, largely because of the damage the existing law has done to the state and local government's ability to promote competition and access for broadband access, but many other problems are present due to this law. Religious groups and human rights groups have also raised concerns with how deregulating VoIP will harm inmates in prison who need to stay in contact with their families. AT&T has asserted it is not subject to state oversight when building our Next Generation 911 emergency system, simply because it uses broadband. And it now appears that the law also makes it legal for Internet companies to record your calls without your permission, as long as they use VoIP.
Tell your lawmaker to oppose A.B. 1366
How Deregulating VoIP Carved Out a Loophole in California's Invasion of Privacy Act
California's Invasion of Privacy Act (CIPA) in 1967 prohibited calls from being recorded without your consent. Specifically, Section 632.7 of the California Penal Code states that anyone who "intercepts or receives and intentionally records, or assists in the interception or reception and intentional recordation of, a communication" shall be fined or imprisoned. The law applies to communications that occur between any combination of two cellular telephones, cordless telephones, or landline telephones.
However, when the California legislature enacted P.U.C. § 710, it distinguished VoIP calls from other calls as a legal matter—despite serving the same function in the real world. In fact, because of the way telephone networks have evolved, the distinction between VoIP calls and traditional phone calls is essentially non-existent. Calls made on smartphones or landlines regularly travel through the traditional and Internet-connected call infrastructure. In some cases, it can be forwarded in multiple directions simultaneously—for example, a recipient with both a Mac and an iPhone will receive the call at both locations. This is possible because the phone and Internet services are interconnected at the network level.
We explained this to the FCC when it repealed net neutrality. The agency at that point claimed that mobile broadband did not have to be neutral by incorrectly concluding that the traditional phone system was a separate, isolated network. (The FCC had to make this argument because, legally, communications over the phone system have to be non-discriminatory.) Today, as anyone who uses a phone knows, this is a false distinction.
The problem is that, despite technical reality, the law the state passed for Comcast and AT&T is pretty explicit that VoIP must be treated differently. This distinction was recognized by a California Superior Court decision involving a class action lawsuit against Yelp for allegedly recording conversations without consent. The court found that California's Invasion of Privacy Act simply does not apply if you use VoIP to make the phone call.
As the court stated in its opinion, "the Court finds that Yelp has met its initial burden of showing section 632.7 does not apply to VoIP calls." While Yelp won the initial round of its litigation on other grounds as well, the fundamental fact remains that a company can assert that just because it uses VoIP to call you—or anyone in California—it is not subject to a communication privacy law we've had in place for decades. That's unacceptable. Our privacy rights should be enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows.
Our privacy rights should be enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows.
Californians Have Received No Benefit from the 2012 Comcast and AT&T Law
The ISP industry claims that the law, which mirrors the Trump Administration's Federal Communications Commission (FCC) efforts, promotes broadband deployment. But that has not happened. In the years that followed the passage of the original law, Google Fiber left the market, Verizon had already stopped building out its FiOS service, and AT&T announced in June that it will no longer aggressively deploy fiber to the home and is instead cutting jobs and investment. This leaves people with only their local governments and small ISPs as possible alternatives to their cable company in a vast majority of markets for high-speed access to the Internet.
In short, California residents have received absolutely no benefits from the existing law and what we've seen instead is monopolization of high-speed broadband access that has hurt rural and low-income people the most. We are also seeing the corrosive effects of this ISP-backed law spilling into arenas of public safety, privacy, and justice. It is time to end it.
A.B. 1366 is pending a critical vote in Sacramento before the Senate Utilities Committee on July 2nd. By voting it down and letting this law expire, state and local governments can proactively explore how to bring fiber connections to all Californians without fear of litigation that incumbent ISPs would bring under the status quo. It will also put an end to the collateral damage the law is causing to other very important issues.
If the largest ISPs refuse to deploy services that are ready for the 21st century, then it is the duty of local and state officials to ask how to change the status quo to ensure they can bring those services to their communities.
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