3 simple tips on saving fees on International calls

3 simple tips on saving fees on International calls

The advent of Voice over IP telephony (“VoIP”) has radically changed the face of communications for both personal and business users.  It has opened up opportunities for enhanced, and substantially cheaper communications, especially for long-distance and international calls.  VoIP for Business has provided communications options that are not possible with a fixed line environment.

However, the prudent personal and business user needs to be vigilant to make the best return on their investment and achieve the lowest possible international call rates.

Here are three simple tips for personal and business users to make sure that they accrue the full benefit of cheaper international communications.

  1. Reduce Personal Costs

    Reduce Personal Costs

    Smart device apps like Skype and Whatsapp provide the ability to make essentially free international calls.  Clearly, they require a network connected to an internet service provider to operate successfully, but the spread of WiFi networks has made this much easier to manage.

    A personal user can connect from a desktop linked to a broadband service provider at home, and increasingly from a smart device attached to a home WiFi network.  You will need a high-speed connection for an acceptable video image, especially if you make group calls between several participants.

    Out in the wide world, many municipalities and malls are providing publicly accessible WiFi networks and many stores and cafes are also providing their own networks.   In theory, you can connect internationally from your smart device while sitting having a cup of coffee in your local mall.

    There is no difference between local, regional and international calls, just select the person you want to call and off you go.

    If you cannot find a WiFi service, or your smart device doesn’t support WiFi for some reason, there is a second option.  International call service providers will connect you internationally for the cost of a local call.

    Dial the service provider at local rates, enter the international number you want to call, they connect you using VoIP and you are talking.  Some even offer a video call service.  However, local telcos and cell service providers lose revenue when you use this service and some actively try to prevent you making international calls in this way by cutting off the service provider.  Enlightened ones have adopted a revenue sharing business model, but many service providers are short-lived and change their access numbers frequently.   You will need to search for service providers locally.

    VoIP can also be used to call home from overseas, but your options are much more limited, perhaps to Skype from an Internet Café.   If you have a local cell service number, you can use an international call service. Be aware the costs of using data over your home cell provider roaming service, even for Skype or Whatsapp from your smart device are very high and should be avoided.   Many users have been shocked by the size of their data bill when they come home.

    The increasing use of VoIP based call services is worrying cell service providers, since again in theory, if all the people you want to talk to are registered with Skype or Whatsapp and have decent access to WiFi, you don’t need a cellular service at all.  With Skype, you can pay a relatively modest fee and make calls to landlines.

  2. Reduce Business Costs – Improve Outbound Call Security

    Improve  Outbound Call Security

    Most VoIP for Business systems provide the capability of assigning security levels to users and user groups.  The business can assign logon PIN numbers to users and assign users to user groups to ensure that they are restricted to the type of calls they are likely to need to make during the working day.   Call logs and registers provide management information to make sure that call services are not being abused, for example by borrowing the managers phone to make an international call.

    Unauthorised international calls can be largely eliminated by using user PIN numbers and group security levels.

  3. Reduce Business Costs – Use Video Conferencing

    Use Video Conferencing

    Companies with an international presence pay a lot for international communications, particularly video-conferences.  The costs of a video-conference are usually less than bringing all the participants together, but they can be reduced further by using the power of VoIP, coupled with video to provide a video-conferencing environment.

    As an example, Skype for Business allows a meeting organiser to set up a video-conference, and email a conference id to each participant.  They then log-in using a standard browser interface and the conference id.   The meeting them proceeds using VoIP.

    More sophisticated video-conferencing environments, for example Polycom, use a similar principle to arrange conferences.  The difference is that they offer a wider range of ancillary facilities like desktop sharing, file transfer and less common video options.

Overall, VoIP will provide substantial savings in international calls. The prudent business needs to make sure that they are achieving the full benefit of VoIP.

3CX: A PBX System that doesn't break the bank

3CX: A PBX System that doesn’t break the bank

The case for moving to Voice over IP (“VoIP”) telephony is undeniable.  Cost savings, flexibility, and additional functionality are all major benefits of making the move.  However, for some organisations the cost of acquiring and installing a full-blown VoIP PBX System makes the move uneconomic.  There are alternative ways of having a VoIP PBX System that are easier on the budget, and not just by using some fancy financial footwork.

One way is to turn capital expenditure into operational expenditure by moving to a hosted PBX environment. 

In this scenario, you move your telephony to a third party who manages and maintains your PBX System on their equipment, on or off your premises. The only potential one-time costs of the move are any infrastructure upgrades and the supply of appropriate handsets.  In most cases, the handset costs can be included in the hosting charges.

A second way, is to install a software only IP PBX.   The current award winning market leader is 3CX.

Which should you choose?

3CX handsets

If you are budget constrained, then a solution like 3CX is a realistic alternative to a hardware based solution.

 In slightly more technical terms it operates to industry standard SIP and VoIP gateway protocols. It runs on-site on a standalone server or in a virtual machine environment.  It also supports an on-site or hosted cloud environment.

3CX operates on both the windows and open systems platforms, so will easily fit into your existing environment.   It supports most industry standard handsets, and with the SIP option for windows, android and iOS it can support most popular smartphones.  As an added bonus, it also supports a desktop softphone application, ideal for call centres and handsfree environments.   Want video-conferencing? 3CX supports group sessions of up to 25 participants.

The cherry on top is its ability to integrate with many popular CRM applications, Microsoft Office and Google. Many users state that the “no vendor lock-in” policy is a blessing, in that it allows users to choose virtually any handset, provided of course that it conforms to industry standards.

3CX System

How big can it get?  3CX claim to support an unlimited number of extensions.

Pricing is based around functionality and integration it will support.  If you need integrated Call/Contact Centre  or integration with more than Outlook and the Office 365 address book then the standard version is not for you. You need the Pro or Enterprise version. 

Any downsides. Not many, though some users say it is better to choose the version one up from the one you think you need.  Upgrades are costly.

The principal one-off cost is network readiness.  VoIP needs a minimum quality of network cabling, in technical terms, Category 5e or better.   Any VoIP capable network segments that do not meet this requirement will need to be upgraded or replaced.  Obviously, all places that you need a handset need a network point.  That may mean new cable runs.

The second part of network readiness is providing power to the new handsets.  This can be over the network, in which case all your network switches need to have Power Over Ethernet (“PoE”) capability.

The alternative is to have an adjacent power point for a power brick wherever you have a handset.   The two solutions are not mutually exclusive.  Part of your network could be PoE capable, and part using power bricks.  Note though that both shouldn’t be used on the same handset.

You may need to replace existing non-PoE switches or install new power circuits.

Also note that both onsite and hosted solutions need connectivity to your existing telephone system wiring for those extensions having equipment that does not support IP, for example some older fax machines, modems and alarm lines. Don’t rip the cables or frames out when installing the new IP cabling.

Service provider network audit

These costs need to be included in your budget calculations. If you are choosing a hosted solution, your service provider should be able to carry out a network audit for you and advise you of the potential cost of creating a VoIP capable environment.  

If you are going it alone with a solution like 3CX, make sure that you have considered all the potential one-off costs you might encounter.  It may be prudent to use temporary IT specialist support to prepare your network and install the solution, particularly if you are installing it in an existing virtual machine or cloud environment.

The advantage of the off-site hosted solution for the budget conscious is that instead of incurring capital expenditure in buying new equipment you are paying a monthly fee for the service.  In addition to the cash flow benefit, in some places there are also tax advantages in using operational rather than capital expenditure.  

In either case, the cost will be balanced by a substantial reduction in call charges.

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