November 01, 2005, 10:53 AM — Voice over IP (VoIP), or Internet telephony, is a technology that has been around quite awhile without directly affecting most businesses. It's been a technology that most businesses could safely ignore.
That's beginning to change though, as broadband gains in popularity, computers get more powerful and companies are competing to provide you with free and premium VoIP services.
More importantly, businesses are starting to realize advantages to VoIP. For example, with VoIP, calls can automatically be routed to any system connected to the Internet. For a small or medium business, this means that you can take a VoIP phone or your computer with you on a trip and receive your incoming calls.
VoIP services are available for free. Depending on the nature of your business, this could be a big advantage. Companies can add premium services as needed.
Internet telephony lets you locate call center agents or support staff anywhere. The most visible (and controversial) aspect of this trend has been the outsourcing of large call centers. The same technology can make virtual call centers feasible for small and medium companies.
Finally, there may be advantages to integrating VoIP calls with other services. For example, you may be able to send data files or do audio conferencing.
Testing Your Connection
If you're interested in getting started with VoIP, one of the first things you'll want to do is to test your system to see what sort of quality it is capable of.
Brix.com, a company that provides performance management solutions for VoIP, provides a free service for checking your computer and Internet connection's suitability for Internet telephony. The site, TestyourVoIP.com, will make a test call from your site to one of the company's US or international test locations. The test is free, doesn't require registration, and takes about 20 seconds if you have Java installed on your computer.
To test your system, just choose a Destination from a drop-down menu, and then select if you want better speech quality or to use less bandwidth.
I tested my home PC going to Boston and to San Jose, California. I connect to the Internet using a recent, but not cutting edge machine, an HP Pavilion 2.8GHz with 1GB RAM, and cable Internet service.
TestYourVoIP scores your VoIP quality on a scale from 1 (Forget the phone, try Pony Express) to 5 (Better than being there). My machine scored 4.2, which is somewhere between As good as a decent cell phone call and Like calling next door.
If your connection or system isn't up to the task, TestYourVoIP will at least let you know, so you won't struggle trying to get decent quality from an underpowered setup. If you have remote users, you can have them test their systems with the site, too, to check compatibility.