For company owners at or near the point of making a decision on which hosted VOIP phone system to choose for their business, welcome to BusinessCostSaver’s in-depth guide on VOIP and UK business VOIP providers.
You’re in good company.
Thousands of businesses continue to switch from their current standard telephone or ISDN communications set-up every month to embrace the advantages of this new, exciting, and constantly developing technology.
Why switch to VOIP?
First, you can save up to 70% on the cost of your calls and even more in line rental charges.
Second, you benefit from all the useful functionality you’d expect from a state-of-the-art PBX and more.
BusinessCostSaver definition – a PBX (private branch exchange) is a private telephone network used exclusively by a company or organisation for enhanced internal and external communications. A traditional PBX is a heavy, bulky item of equipment contained within a cabinet on the wall in most businesses. Separate PBXs are often required for larger companies for each of their premises.
Third, it’s the way of the future.
PSTN (public switched telephone network) and ISDN (integrated services digital network) are on the way out. BT will switch off these systems in 2025 and go completely digital.
In this article, we examine:
- what VOIP actually is,
- how VOIP works,
- what equipment you need for VOIP,
- how VOIP can be integrated with your smartphone and your staff’s smartphones,
- the advantages and disadvantages of VOIP,
- the current tariffs and services offered by some of Britain’s biggest VOIP providers, and
- how to choose the right VOIP provider for you.
Welcome to BusinessCostSaver – our team is here to help our readers lower their costs and increase their profits.
Communications are a significant expense for most companies so you’re right to want to save money.
But the advantages of adopting VOIP for your business are much greater than the potential cost savings alone.
We appreciate that most of our readers are very busy people and that you may not have the time to read this article let alone compare and contrast the various different options on offer from dozens of suppliers.
Let us do the work for you – our VOIP advisors will recommend the most suitable supplier and tariff for you based upon your current and expected future phone usage and upon the VOIP functionality your company and its staff would most benefit from.
Our service is free, we’re completely impartial, and there’s no obligation to accept any of the packages we recommend to you.
What is VOIP?
VOIP stands for “Voice over Internet Protocol” – you may hear it referred to sometimes as internet telephony or IP telephony.
It’s a way of transmitting data and voice traffic incredibly efficiently over very narrow frequencies using the existing telephone network infrastructure.
How does VOIP work?
For decades, the telephone lines connected to people’s homes and businesses have been made out of copper wire.
When the internet started to mushroom in popularity, the major telecoms companies had to find a way to allow homeowners and business owners to receive and send data much more quickly over those wires.
They did this by using technology to split the copper wire into dozens and dozens of little mini-channels all operating at different frequencies.
If you have BT-backed broadband, that’s why you have an adaptor between your phone socket and your computer.
Your adaptor is able to hear and differentiate between those hundreds of very narrow-band frequency channels.
It sends everything it hears from those hundreds of connections to your computer which has special decoding software on it which knits all the data back together again.
In the race to provide homes and businesses with the fastest possible service, telecoms companies started replacing as much copper wire as they could with fibre optics.
If copper wires can carry hundreds of extra channels, fibre optics can carry millions.
VOIP takes advantage of the much greater bandwidth made available by these newly-created channels to send and receive voice and data in a much more efficient way.
Why is VOIP cheaper?
In the old days, an entire phone line was taken up when one person wanted to speak to another.
If 25 people worked in your office, they needed separate phone lines and a PBX to manage those phone lines.
Today, there’s now no need for 25 separate landline connections for which you pay 25 separate line rentals.
With VOIP, you only need one broadband connection to your office for those 25 members of staff.
Your broadband connection can carry far more voice traffic than the old telephone network ever could by using VOIP technology.
The infrastructure required to carry voice and data traffic over VOIP is just a fraction of the infrastructure required in the past.
As a result, it’s much cheaper for telephone companies to build VoIP networks.
And that’s why VOIP is so much cheaper.
Plus, because it’s hosted over the internet, you can do much more with your phone system than ever before.
Do I need any extra equipment for VOIP to work?
You definitely will need a broadband connection to your office – the quicker and more stable the better.
Fibre optic connections are generally preferable to non-fibre connections however they’re not available in all parts of the country yet.
VOIP control panels
Virtually all business VOIP systems feature an online or app-based control panel allowing you to add, remove, or alter user permission settings as well as additional features on the platform.
We’ll explain more later in this article but, to give you more control over the users connected to your VOIP system, it might be better for you to choose a provider which allows you to change system settings both via their website and their mobile app.
If you only have one or two handsets and you don’t feel that you need the extra functionality offered by a phone system, all you’ll need to purchase to use VOIP is an adaptor and a compatible phone.
Some of the VOIP phones available on the market are able to take calls on Wi-Fi whereas others depend on you having a router.
If the phone you choose can only make and receive calls when plugged into a router, please make sure that you have the right connector.
Connection via a computer
You can connect to your VOIP phone system using a desktop or laptop computer logged into your broadband connection.
Your VOIP provider will send you the software you need to install on your desktop or laptop to use their service.
You can then make and receive VOIP calls using the inbuilt microphone and speakers on your laptop or desktop.
A better alternative however would be to use a headset with inbuilt microphone because this will provide you and the person you’re speaking with greater clarity through improved sound quality.
Can I use VOIP on my smartphone?
Most VOIP provider phone systems allow you and your colleagues to connect to their services via a smartphone app.
To access the platform, you open the app and dial the telephone number of the customer, supplier, or colleague you wish to speak to.
Apps connect to VOIP platforms in one of two ways:
- Wi-Fi – you and your colleagues calls will be carried out over your company broadband connection
- Mobile data – VOIP calls made via your mobile airtime supplier’s network will either be charged or deplete any inclusive monthly allowance your business pays for.
What can VOIP do…other than make calls?
If you want, VOIP can simply be just a cheaper way for your company to make and receive calls.
But it can do a lot more than that.
For most small businesses taking traditional telephony services from BT, Virgin, or one of their competitors, the service you chose will include basic additional line features like call waiting and call transfer.
Your company would not have has the opportunity to take full advantage of the array of features and functions which larger customers enjoy with their PBX because the investment required in a PBX was too high.
However, the features built in to VOIP systems means that your company will now benefit from, in many cases, functionality which is superior to PBX functionality.
A small section of the types of additional features your company can benefit from with a VOIP phone system includes:
- Auto-attendant service – auto-attendants are automated menu systems which give callers to your company the option of dialling a direct extension number to speak to the person they want or selecting a specific department from the choices you offer (for example, “press 1 for sales, 2 for support, 3 for accounts, and so on).
- Call monitoring, whisper, and barge – when a colleague is on the phone, call monitoring allows them to listen in without either their colleague or the person they’re speaking to knowing. You can speak direct to your colleague without the person they’re speaking to hearing you with call whispering. With call barge, you can make an ongoing call a three-way call between you, your colleague, and the other person.
- CRM integration – VOIP systems integrate with many of the leading CRM packages meaning that, in addition to colleague notes on their phone calls with a client being stored in that client’s file, you’ll be able to listen back to the call at a later date if necessary if there is a disagreement or dispute. A CRM-integrated VOIP system also makes it much easier to check to see whether your colleagues are achieving the key performance indicators you’ve targeted them with.
- On-hold messaging – instead of asking your customers waiting to be answered to listen to the sound of silence or library-sourced soft music, use that time instead to share important company news and product promotions with clients instead with a recorded on-hold announcement.
- Ring groups – set other phones across a team or department to ring if your colleague is away from their desk or on holiday so that important inbound calls aren’t missed. You can set up dozens of different rings groups choosing exactly which colleagues’ extensions will ring with most VOIP phone systems.
BusinessCostSaver note – larger companies replacing the PBXs they maintain across their network of offices benefit from significant costs savings on equipment maintenance and rental when they switch to a VOIP phone system.
Advantages and disadvantages of VOIP
While the advantages to investing in VOIP outweigh the disadvantages by a significant margin, we’ve included some of the main points you need to know below before you make a decision.
Advantages of VOIP
VOIP offers your company the opportunity to substantially lower its telecommunication and telecoms-related costs.
In most cases, you should expect at least a 50% reduction in your overall bill through price reductions in both line rental and call charges.
VOIP services are generally charged at a fixed rate per user per month and many tariffs either offer unlimited or very generous inclusive call allocations.
If your company currently operates a PBX (network), moving to a cloud-based VOIP service will save significant sums of money on the purchase/rental of a new PBX (network) or the maintenance of your existing one.
VOIP phone systems also offer a great degree of additional functionality over and above standard BT Featureline services and PBX services.
In addition to more features, a VOIP phone system also offers much greater flexibility and adaptability.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, many more staff are working from home.
Because VOIP systems are cloud- and internet-based, it’s much easier to quickly configure your phone system to accommodate people working from home.
The control panel of your VOIP system will allow them to take advantage of functions like conference calling, video calling, auto-attendant, call-waiting and more wherever they are.
If the trend for much greater working from home persists, you may benefit financially from being able to downsize your commercial premises to better reflect how many people do come into work.
For those people coming into work and those working from home, they can all benefit from wider VOIP services like call queueing, group ringing, and call transfer.
For companies upsizing or downsizing, a VOIP phone system can be upscaled or downscaled according to need much quicker and more cheaply as VOIP services are normally priced on the number of active users.
For example, you can add temporary workers to your system to cope with periods of increased demand and reduce the number of users once demand has passed.
Plus, if you open a new office, adding the extra extensions needed to your VOIP system can be done as soon as the premise’s broadband connection is switched on rather than waiting up to 3 months for BT to wire up a traditional PSTN system.
Disadvantages of VOIP
Although much less of an issue than a decade ago, you need a reliable internet provider to benefit the most from your VOIP system.
Most ISPs provide well in excess of the minimum recommended 100kbps upload speed.
If yours will be a VOIP system with a significant number of connections, bandwidth may eventually become an issue so it may be worth investing in a leased line instead.
Unlike the standard telephone network which has its own source of power, your ability to communicate internally and externally will be affected if there is a power outage.
You’ll need to make sure that the security protocols your VOIP service provider follows are up to date because the more of your business activity you move online, the more vulnerable your company becomes to data breaches.
Ask for clarification on the cybersecurity certificates your proposed VOIP providers hold – if they’re based in the UK, they should be Cyber Essentials qualified as an absolute minimum.
Ten of Britain’s biggest VOIP phone system providers
- companies with single premises,
- SME’s seeking flexibility in their voice and data infrastructure, and
- larger organisations and businesses with the need for significant data bandwidth.
They offer both telephony hardware and software to clients offering to completely subsidise the standard upfront costs of hardware and its installation if you take out a long enough contract with them.
They work on the basis, as do many companies in the sector, of creating bespoke quotes for their clients based upon their expected voice and data usage and any anticipated need for system expansion following future business growth.
The 8×8 X Series is a sophisticated business-orientated VOIP service offering users unlimited calling and faxing for the competitive price of £20 per month per user (or £37 per month for users requiring the analytics services).
The company has offered VOIP services for 20 years and, in that time, it has built a platform whose features are much greater in number and versatility than standard PBX exchanges by some distance.
The £20 per month service features:
- call handling
- HD & secure voice
- intelligent call routing
- multi-line support
- visual voicemail
- VoIP fax
Price start from £8 per month per user – this service offers unlimited local calls and a restricted range of additional features.
They currently serve over 8,000 companies in the UK with a mixture of traditional PBXs and VoIP systems.
The company still offers both types of telephone system however, with the impending switch-off of the BT analogue and ISDN services in 2025, they will likely steer you towards their VOIP option.
The firm does not publish any of its charges online – anecdotal evidence online seems to suggest they prefer clients to sign up to a lengthy contract (one client happily for seven years) but their customers seem genuinely happy with them in the main.
The firm’s basic package includes auto attendant functionality, ACD, hunt groups, pick up groups, paging groups, voicemail to email, and on-hold marketing.
Although both of their primary systems are VOIP-based, they both require engineer installations meaning that, depending on how the work is organised, there may be temporary disruption to the operational abilities of your company.
Prices start from £1,400 for installation and you can expect to pay line rental charges for every user.
BT will likely reduce line rental and phone charges depending on:
- the size of the system you want to install,
- how long you agree to be in contact for, and
- the profile of the types of outbound call you expect to make.
The Starting Up package from Circleloop is targeted towards smaller companies wanting a low cost, app-driven VOIP data and voice system controllable from their smartphone. Browser and Windows-based apps are available as are apps for Apple and Android.
Through their app, you’re able to access analytics tools showing call traffic and patterns by users and groups of users, cloud call recording storage and retrieval, conference calling functionality, greeting and menus, and book and control virtual numbers assigned to your account.
There are 2 tariffs – £5 a month and £15 a month. Users of the £15 a month tariff benefit from unlimited calls to UK landlines and mobile phones although calls to international numbers cost from 3p per minute.
The company also offers a wide range of Jabra headsets for use with the platform.
Lily’s Cloud offering requires commitment – up to 5 years – however, given the customer loyalty to the company driven by their well-trained and always available customer service teams and their desire to cut client’s bills in half, most of their customers seem very happy to agree to Lily’s contractual requests.
Enabling better collaboration between staff and with customers underpins Lily’s sophisticated yet easy to use platform.
Their standard offering delivers to clients audio conferencing facilities, hosted PBX features, instant messaging, Outlook integration, video conferencing, and web collaboration.
The Mitel MiCloud platform is built for team collaboration and it incorporates a sophisticated and customisable blend of video chat functionality, multichannel messaging, and traditional voice calling over its robust VoIP platform.
Prices start from £13.79 per month per user – for around £10 a month more, you can add additional devices, unlimited calling, access via desktop and mobile softphone apps, parallel ringing, and team collaboration tools.
Interoperability with your business productivity tools is offered through 50 apps (and growing) in their app store including the Google Suite, MS Dynamics, Salesforce, Service Now, and Zendesk.
Their per user tariffs range from £7.99 a month to £24.99 a month – the most expensive “Ultimate” tariff offers has 4,000 inclusive calling minutes a month, equivalent to over 2 hours per working day.
Although the company works with businesses of all sizes, companies with 10 users or more are likely to enjoy the greatest commercial benefits from the features offered on the platform.
Users may also store and share documents online securely – there’s unlimited storage space for your company documentation offering clients potentially significant savings by transferring their online storage to RingCentral.
There are hundreds of different apps on the company’s app store – some free, some paid for – offering companies an extra opportunity to tailor the platform’s functionality to their needs.
It’s suitable for companies wanting to improve their external and internal communications by marrying it with an extensive selection of popular productivity tools like Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Office 365, Google Suite, Clio, and Zendesk.
Packages start from £9.00 per month per user rising to £16.00 per month.
The higher tariffs feature an array of PBX-type functions together with unlimited UK mobile and landline calls.
For an additional fee each month per user, you can make unlimited calls to mobiles and landlines in dozens of different countries.
There are two tariffs both of which come with a free handset per user – the £9.95 per month per user tariff is a pay as you go calling service.
For £18.95 per month per user, you benefit from unlimited UK landline and mobile calls.
If you make a lot of calls internationally, you can pay an extra £5 per month per user for unlimited calls to 36 countries. For £10 extra per month per user, the number of countries you can call rises to 72.
Reviews online about the company are mixed however it did win the Customer Service Brilliance Gold Award at the 2018 CXAs. Over 500,000 companies rely on XLN for connectivity and their entire operation is UK based.
4 steps to choosing your business VOIP supplier
When working with our readers to assist them in choosing the right business VOIP supplier and set-up for their companies, we advise strongly that they take the following four steps.
1. Know what your business’s communication requirements are
VOIP is a flexible technology which you can adapt to meet the internal and external communication requirements of your company.
As with all other essential business purchases, it is possible to end up purchasing a system which either:
- does not do enough to meet a company’s needs because budget was the primary driving factor or
- does more than is needed because budget was not necessarily an issue and, during the decision making process, there was a lack of clarity and certainty on the features and functionalities that were actually required.
Making an alteration to a company’s communication infrastructure, no matter how small, has the potential to cause severe disruption to overall business performance.
We recommend that you, your fellow decision makers, and the colleagues you turn to for advice approach the purchase of a VOIP replacement for your current infrastructure extremely seriously.
Earlier in this article, we listed many of the extra functionalities offered to businesses by VOIP systems.
You should make a list of “essential” and “desirable” features for your VOIP system and then approach suppliers about planning and quoting you for a suitable solution based upon those essential and desirable features.
For smaller businesses using PSTN or ISDN networks at the moment, most VOIP providers have one or more tariffs available for you to choose from.
For companies either wishing to grow and/or which rely heavily on data currently using PSTN or ISDN networks, a bespoke unified communications solution is likely to be more suitable.
Unified communication systems combine your voice and data channels with the productivity apps you’re using in your company.
By combining the two, you’re much better able to measure company performance as well as the performance of individual staff members.
Certain VOIP providers offer specialist solutions for contact centres which make and receive a very high volume of inbound and outbound calls.
Contact centre solutions bear much in common with unified communications solutions but with a much greater focus on the gathering of data from staff interactions with customers and the analysis of that data.
For large companies which have multiple sites, you may benefit from making a gradual shift from PSTN and ISDN to VOIP.
One approach to doing this is to convert selected premises individually over time to minimise disruption and identify any additional features you’ll need when the conversion is completed which hadn’t been factored in at the start of the process.
2. Initial shortlist and invite to quote
Once you have submitted your requirements to as many different VOIP phone system suppliers as possible, you should examine each of their responses to get an indication of how well they’ve actually understood your communications needs.
At this stage, engage with as many representatives as you can at each potential suppliers asking them about any issues you might expect from switching to VOIP and what they’ll do to mitigate the effect of any of these issues.
3. Test-drive and make your final shortlist
Based upon the relevance of each provider’s plans, how you feel they answered your questions, and the proposed price of their package, ask each provider to allow you to test-drive the control panel they offer as part of their service.
You’ll get a strong indication from the ease-of-use and efficiency of each control panel into how straight forward and quickly it is to periodically alter the settings of your VOIP system.
This is important because, if you have staff on the road, staff in the office, and staff working remotely, you’ll need to make many ongoing VOIP changes to your system.
This is so that staff are able to continue to make and receive calls as well as connect to the system and the functions it offers.
4. Invite shortlisted companies to submit best quotes
Finally, invite the companies which have impressed you most onto a shortlist.
Encourage them to compete against each other on price to make sure that the cost of your new VOIP phone system is as low as possible without substituting the essential and desirable elements you identified earlier on in the process.
With any major change in a company’s infrastructure – and this qualifies as that – make sure that you receive the assurances you need from each supplier on how they’ll assist you on the transition.
VOIP phone system FAQ
Should my business get rid of its landline connections?
It depends on how your current office data and voice traffic is carried.
If you currently have a broadband connection which requires a landline to operate, you will need to either keep that broadband line or replace it with a new one.
If you currently have cable or fibre broadband not dependent on a landline, there is no particularly compelling commercial reason to keep your standard landline connection.
That said, VOIP is reliant on broadband and if your broadband connection develops a fault, it may be worth having a back-up single landline on which you and your staff can make and receive calls during the outage.
However, if you and your colleagues have your provider’s mobile apps installed on your smartphones, this will completely circumvent the need to have a backup landline particularly if you are in an area with strong, quick, and stable mobile network coverage.
Can I keep my old number if I transfer my service over to VOIP?
This depends on the standard telephone supplier you’re currently with and the VOIP provider you choose. It may not always be possible.
One way to circumvent this is to adopt a non-geographic number like 0800 or 0345 for your main inbound telephone number and for individual staff members’ inbound telephone numbers.
Can we continue to use our existing phone equipment?
You can as long as you have the correct analogue adaptors for it.
When switching to VOIP, many companies prefer to replace their existing equipment with brand new digital phone equipment.
That’s because there are a number of directly accessible functions from a digital VOIP phone which users cannot access easily or at all with a legacy analogue phone.
How much bandwidth should my broadband connection have?
In its earlier days, VOIP suffered from a reputation for poor call quality.
The major issues VOIP users had ten or more years ago with the technology were delays on the line and constant echoing.
These issues were caused by:
- a still-developing broadband network,
- VOIP providers struggling to keep up with surging demand, and
- slower chip sets within the computers and handsets of the time.
These problems have now been resolved meaning that broadband connections of virtually any speed can easily handle the additional traffic created by a VOIP system.
Is VOIP call quality as good as the call quality on standard phone lines?
Yes – many VOIP services now offer the option of High Definition (HD) calling offering far superior sound quality to standard phone lines.
However, your staff and the people they’re speaking too will almost certainly not be able to notice a difference on standard definition VOIP calls either.
I still need fax for my business. Is VOIP suitable for fax traffic?
In previous years, VOIP has struggled with fax because of various technical issues surrounding lag, jitter, and latency.
Ask the providers you approach if they support the sending and receiving of faxes through the T38 protocol.
Should I get cloud-based VOIP or host the VOIP system at the office?
Cloud-based VOIP is significantly less expensive that self-hosted VOIP which requires the purchase/rental, installation, and maintenance of a specialist PBX.
Get help choosing a VOIP supplier with BusinessCostSaver
We encourage all readers to take up the opportunities offered by VOIP to save money and add useful extra functionality to your telecommunications set-up.
The good news is that, with increasing competition among providers to carry your voice and data traffic, prices continue to fall.
And this competition is driving another major benefit too – the growing number of apps offered by each provider to make using their systems easier and more productive.
If you want to speak with one of our VOIP advisors, please leave your details by filling in the form at the top of the page.
Let us know about you, your company, and what the future holds for your business in the coming year or two.
Our advisors will scour the market to find you the VOIP provider and tariff best suited to cope with your company’s current communication needs and best able to cope with the future growth of your business.
We’re completely impartial too – the recommendations we make will solely be for your benefit and based upon our knowledge and experience of the market.
Our service is free and you don’t have to accept any of the recommendations we present you with.