Is an IP Phone investment right for you…

Businesses which utilize voice over internet protocol (VoIP) service along with IP phones acquire several advantages. No surprise desktop IP phones are widely-used by more than a third of small and medium-sized businesses surveyed in Europe and North America.

Costs of IP phones may vary by hundreds of dollars. If you have multiple phones to purchase, sensible shopping will bring your business exponential savings.

To make the most effective investment-for now and the years ahead-answer 7 important questions:

1. Is HD voice important? High-definition voice is clearer than older VoIP technologies (and traditional landline voice) because it delivers at least twice the sound range (about 7 kHz). It’s now a standard feature in business-class IP phones, including the affordable Cisco SPA 300 Series and 500 Series IP phones. HD voice quality is especially important for international, technical, or long conversations; conference calls; and speakerphone use.

2. How many lines are needed? Where will the phone be used? You’ll likely need eight or more lines for the front desk or a group assistant. A single-line phone may be ideal for backroom and warehouse locations; the new Cisco SPA 301 is a basic one-line phone priced under $100. IP phones connect to your data network through Ethernet cabling or Wi-Fi; some also receive power over Ethernet (PoE). Wi-Fi support is a must-have for mobile users who need the phone while moving around your site.

3. What will the phone need to do? Like other phones, IP phones offer features such as speakerphone, caller ID, call forwarding, and conferencing. But unlike cellular or traditional phones, some IP phone models can also:
•Operate seamlessly between cellular and VoIP services: Answer calls (and continue conversations) that originated on a smartphone, connect through Bluetooth, and import your smartphone address book.
•Unify all your messages-voicemail, email, and faxes-into one inbox, so that you can retrieve and respond faster and more easily.
•Increase the productivity of employees by enabling them to use the web and XML documents directly on their phone.
•Give employees access to information on your data network, such as customer records, order status, and schedules. Some IP phones can monitor video from your IP surveillance cameras, play MP3s, and display digital photos.

4. Are the features easy to use? They must be intuitive. The keypad should be easy to touch, the button lights and display screen (monochrome or color) easy to see.

5. What VoIP system will you use now? In the future? These answers have the biggest financial impact. No IP phone is compatible with all VoIP systems, due primarily to differences in their VoIP protocols. The Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is the most widespread. Cisco IP phones support both SIP and the Smart Phone Control Protocol (SPCP) to help ensure interoperability in both modes. The VoIP system options are:
•A hosted VoIP or Centrex service that you contract from a service provider
•An onsite VoIP system, such as a Cisco Unified Communications 500 Series solution, that you own or lease

6. What security do your phones require? Encryption of voice, password protection for signaling and configuration data, and Wi-Fi security features protect against unauthorized use. An embedded virtual private network (VPN) client on your remote users’ IP phone allows them to securely connect to your network and make calls over the Internet.

7. What technical support will you need? IP phones that are designed to interoperate with one another and your VoIP system should be the easiest to set up, move, upgrade, and manage. Review the warranty, and know what free and paid support is provided. Cisco provides a full range of technical support specifically for small businesses, including an online community and call center, as well as value-added resellers with VoIP expertise.