There are a lot of reasons to switch to VoIP phones in your office, but the best one has to be the value that comes with SIP trunking. We prefer flowroute.com because of its ease of connection with Switchvox, and its very affordable rates. There are no contracts, you just pre-pay for time, and when the account gets low you fill it up again.
Below is a screen shot from flowroute’s admin panel showing minute usage and cost for the last 12 hours, 3 days, week, and month. As you can see, we’ve managed to keep the phone bill for our small office to around $17.00 a month. (We spend a good bit of time on the phone providing technical support to our clients)
How does it work?
Flowroute sends our calls over the internet to a phone server, or PBX (Private Branch Exchange, or the “brain” of the system). The PBX is nothing more than a not-so-powerful computer running special software that routes voice calls around the network. At each desk we have a network phone (SIP phone, for Session Initiation Protocol), which plugs into the computer network.
When someone dials our phone number, they are connected to flowroute, our SIP Trunking Provider. Flowroute bounces the call into our network, where it arrives at the PBX which checks it’s configuration to decide how to route the call. The PBX is programmed to ring all the phones, and sends a ring signal to each registered device. (We can also set it to ring specific people for specific numbers, or ring one place first and then try another if nobody answers) . When someone answers, it sends the call to that extension and the user can begin their conversation.
Outgoing calls work the same way, the call is sent over the network to the PBX. If it’s a 3 digit extension it will ring that extension. If it’s a 10 digit phone number, it routes it over the internet to flowroute. Flowroute then makes the “real” connection to the receiver’s phone number.
Before anything else, you will need a solid, reliable internet connection. In Baltimore, Maryland, at least in the city, nothing beats Comcast Business class internet for speed and reliability. It does cost more than DSL, but the rewards are well worth it in the network-intensive world we live in. When we meet a new SMB client, our first recommendation is usually to drop the DSL (or Clear WiMax, or whatever else)
Getting a simple VoIP system up and running can be simple, depending on what you’re after. Linksys and Cisco SIP phones are the most affordable, and can often be had for under $150.00. The create your own PBX, you have several options for free software that is easy to configure, including elastix, FreePBX, SwitchVox Free, TrixBox, and many more. Run the installer, connect to your SIP trunking service, forward a few ports on your firewall, register a couple of phones, and you’re off and running.
Once you’ve got basic call routing working, you can turn on some of the bells and whistles, such as an after-hours greeting or an auto-attendant (press 1 for sales, press 2 for accounting, etc). They sky is the limit.