VoIP buying guide for small business

Ready to throw Ma Bell from the train? Allow us to lend you a hand. We discuss the pros and cons of VoIP, and offer a look at options.

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Hardware: The newly released Snom One Mini ($599) is a small-office/home-office IP-PBX server that draws just 60 kWh of power per year. If you want a completely in-house VoIP setup, you'll need to buy a PSTN gateway to connect VoIP calls to the public telephone network; such devices cost about $250 and up, and require an active landline. The Snom One Mini, however, was designed around the idea of using an external VoIP provider that provides "SIP trunking" services to handle the analog-to-digital signal conversion. Using one of those services would allow you to skip the PSTN gateway.

Finally, you'll need SIP phones. As with the other services discussed here, the phones that Snom sells directly--priced at $70 to $100 each--work best with this system due to their plug-and-play support. Other SIP phones or analog phones with adapters will also work, but they'll require manual configuration with Snom's server software.

Price: Hardware pricing aside, the cost of this kind of VoIP service will vary according to the provider you choose. Skype Connect, for example, costs $7 per channel per month, plus 0.8 cent per minute on outgoing calls. The number of channels you purchase determines how many simultaneous calls the service will support. 8x8 is another popular business-oriented VoIP service provider, but you'll need to request a quote from the company to get pricing information.

Features: The Snom One Mini supports Power over Ethernet, so you don't need an AC outlet to set it up. It supports SIP-enabled devices, and it has no moving parts. In addition, you can configure the Linux-based IP-PBX to include VPN, DHCP, VLAN, and other services.

As for software, the Snom One Mini IP-PBX includes:

  • Support for up to 20 extensions making ten calls simultaneously
  • Mobile phone support with advanced functionality, including simultaneous ringing with your office phone, automatic transfers to mobile when you don't answer your office phone, and calling schedules that route calls to your mobile phone at specific times
  • Voicemail, optionally sent to email as an audio attachement
  • Caller ID
  • Customizable call routing and screening
  • Customizable trunking and dial plans
  • Multiple virtual receptionists
  • Music on hold, dial by name, and customizable time-based greetings
  • Email notifications for specific events
  • Personal greetings for each extension
  • Outlook integration
  • Conference calling with administrative controls, PIN codes, email notification for scheduled conference calls, multiple conference "rooms," and ad-hoc three-way calling
  • Fax machine support via ATA connections

Most small businesses will lean toward hosted VoIP services, but self-hosted VoIP arrangements offer more flexibility, security, and--if you're going the PSTN gateway route--a monthly cost of next to nothing in exchange for larger up-front costs (and a few more configuration headaches). Snom offers a one-year warranty that includes free setup support by phone or email, too.

Your Turn

As you can see, businesses have a wide array of options when it comes to switching from PSTN communications over to VoIP. Have you made the leap? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments, and help your fellow readers decide whether VoIP is right for them.

This story, "VoIP buying guide for small business" was originally published by PCWorld.

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