How to Choose a VoIP Phone for System for Small to Medium Businesses

Cloud VoIP has become an essential part of most business communications strategies. It gives real operational cost benefits, and improves business operations and public image.

Part of the process is selecting the correct VoIP phone type for each user for a range of mobile and desktop units.

One of the first steps in any Cloud VoIP implementation is to determine where VoIP handsets will be needed, the type of handset, and if the supporting infrastructure is available at the installation point.  The two main types of handset are software applications on smart devices, and physical handsets connected to a cabled or WiFi network.

Infrastructure Requirements

Networking and Power

Networking and Power

VoIP handsets need to be connected to the business network and from it to the Internet to allow internal and external VoIP calls. Obviously, there must be a digital network in place.

The network connection can be using a standard Ethernet cabled connection, at a cabling level of Cat5e or above. Recently WiFi adapters and handsets with a WiFi capability have become available for use in a WiFi environment.

For a cabled network the usual connection is from the network point to the handset, and from the handset to the desktop computer. It depends on the implementation, but a WiFi enabled handset may not need to be connected to the computer.

The server infrastructure supporting VoIP can be inhouse, or as a Cloud VoIP implementation, outsourced to a managed service supplier.  For a very small business VoIP can be a network connected PC running PBX simulation software.

Be aware that some devices cannot be attached to a digital network, including older alarm systems, fax machines and modems. They need an analogue connection which can be programmed in the VoIP system or one that bypasses  the VoIP network to connect to an existing analogue PSTN connection.

Physical handsets also need power. It can be provided using Power over Ethernet (“PoE”), where the power is delivered over the network cabling, or by a power brick plugged into a po[]=wer point at the wall. For a WiFi implementation where there is no physical connection, a power brick will be needed.

PoE needs PoE capable switches, so some older switches might not have that capability. They can be replaced, or a more economical way might be to use power injectors that add PoE to a network.

Clearly, a power brick needs a power point, so some electrical installation work might be needed, but this is unlikely if there is already a cabled network connection and a desktop computer at the installation point.

The preinstallation planning needs to look at all the places where a physical handset is needed and make sure that it has power and network connectivity. PoE capability also needs to be checked.

Handset Selection

VoIP Handset Selection

Handsets come in a variety of different types and styles. They can be physical handsets sitting on a desk or attached to the wall. Using SIP technology allows smart devices running an app to simulate a physical device.

Physical handsets range from a very simple device with only a keyboard, to highly sophisticated programmable handsets with built-in video-conferencing screens and hands-free audio.

There are also ruggedised handsets specifically designed for adverse environments, for example handsets on a factory floor with very large buttons on the keypad for use by gloved fingers.

The type chosen will depend on the user and their business requirements and is defined during pre-installation planning.

Mobile Users

Mobile User

Some people, for example, managers or executives need to be always in contact. In a large environment, for example an educational  campus or large factory, this could be problematic. However, if the VoIP implementation includes support for the SIP protocol on the VoIP server, this can be achieved.

Most smart devices support an app that simulates the desktop handset environment, communicating with the VoIP system using the SIP protocols. In effect the smart device acts like the desktop handset. Whenever the user is connected to the business network, usually over WiFi, they have access to the VoIP phone system.

Physical Handsets

Physical Handsets

The type of physical handset installed will depend on the business needs of the user. All will need to be able to make and receive calls within their permission levels, and to access personal and corporate phone books.

For simplicity, most organisations have three classes of user, mobile, executive and basic. Mobile users obviously use smart devices.

Executive users need access to advanced features on the handset. These usually include programmable buttons that carry out common tasks such as call divert to voicemail, call transfer and call-pickup. One often used by executive secretaries is call screening, where they automatically pick up calls to the principal.

Basic users need only to make and receive calls.

Choosing the best handset means implies a knowledge of where a handset is to be sited, who is likely to us it, and their business requirements.