Most building service contractors have at least heard of Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, telephoning. VoIP technology allows users to make phone calls via broadband Internet vs. the landlines uniformly used before cellular and Internet technology made other options possible.

VoIP has taken many years — at least a decade, in fact — to catch on in the business world. A vast majority of businesses have yet to even consider switching to VoIP, says Patrick Oborn, co-founder and VP of marketing for Telarus Inc. in Draper, Utah.

“People expected VoIP to be the end-all back in 2003, and here we are five years on and it’s still in the early adoption phase,” Oborn says.

Working out the kinks
Some are a bit distrustful of the reliability of VoIP, and for good reason — its reviews haven’t been spectacular. One of the biggest challenges to VoIP’s success has been call quality, Oborn says. The phone calls are not flowing through trusty copper wire like with the older, traditional analog system, but rather flowing with Internet traffic as data. Therefore, VoIP traffic has to be prioritized over e-mail and Web surfing. Data flow interruptions can affect sound quality and cause echoes, latency and garbling.

“It’s a new technology that not everyone can embrace and they haven’t necessarily worked out all the kinks yet,” says Rod Cohn, IT consultant for Access Brokers in Richton Park, Ill. “[Providers are] a lot further along than they were two years ago and they’re getting better and better at this. Inevitably it’s going to be what people will be using because all communications, I believe, are going to be IP-based.”

Other fears include a power outage, during which the Internet router would die and a company would lose its phone lines.

“So a lot of people have been sitting back and waiting until they can get a guaranteed quality of service so they can conduct their business and not have to worry in the back of their minds that VoIP is going to cut out on them,” Oborn says.

That time is now, he says, thanks to an effort by carriers to bring traffic onto their own networks to ensure priority. That traffic is no longer competing with data traffic, so “everywhere it goes, it gets a green light,” Oborn says.

And that, in turn, is giving businesses the green light to switch to a system that, after some initial investment in equipment and set-up, is cheaper than analog systems and offers enticing features.

Businesses of all sizes can benefit from VoIP systems. Large businesses with multiple locations — even across the country — can operate on the same phone system as if they’re all in the same location, using four-digit dialing between phones.

How to get it
VoIP services can be purchased in two ways: by “seats” or as a system.

Seats can be purchased for each person in an office who needs a VoIP phone, and each seat costs anywhere from $15 to $50 depending on the plan, Cohn says. Those IP-based phones get unlimited national calling, and are hooked up to a VoIP provider system. The phones are expensive, at up to $250 each, but a real benefit is that they can go anywhere.

“I can literally just put my phone in my suitcase, plug it into the Internet connection in Miami, and my phone will still ring like I’m at the office,” Oborn says.

VoIP systems are basically computer servers, Cohn says, and offer a lot of capabilities and features.

“These systems are so simple to use that the customers themselves can make changes that they normally would have hired the telephone vendor to have someone come out to the location to do,” Cohn says.

The biggest challenge now is getting carriers and systems providers to come up with an industry standard so that services and products work well together, Cohn says. VoIP is a technological innovation that will become more prevalent, he says, and those who purchase it properly will find they’re getting more technology and services for less money.