Phone Power Review for Home and Small Business VOIP Telephone Solutions By GrandStream HT502
Small Business Phone System
We run a small business to support our family. Things have become very tight and long story short, every dime counts. This means even the $40/mo we spend on a phone system comes under scrutiny and lucky for us it did.
Cost of Small Business Phone System
We had been hooked to a business phone solution that came in at about $40 per month. We used it because we wanted to have connection to a legacy number after we moved offices to an executive suite that included phone services. It was redundant but again, the motivation was to keep the legacy number. While we could forward phones from our legacy number to the office it was a bit clunky and you had to do everything over the phone lines typing in a series of numbers. The rate included no calling features like 3 way calling or voice messaging.
Small Business Phone System Requirements:
Fast forward to today and we have now moved to a place where we need our number back as our primary phone. Time to research solutions. Our list of needs included the following;
- At least 2 lines with ability to call in/out
- Answering machine message if both lines were busy or not picked up.
Here's a couple of features we wanted to see if we could add;
- Follow me & Forwarding to a cell for when we were out of the office
- 3-way calling
- Caller ID
Our needs were not huge but we were certainly looking for something more than what we had. We looked into just adding a cell phone to our account and having all calls forwarded to that cell but then you have minutes charges and the additional expense of adding a phone to our plan. If we went unlimited on our cell plan it would be just as expensive if not more to add a line as having the $40/mo plan we now have.
These dead ends let me to looking at other solutions, namely VOIP for small business.
Small Business VOIP Phone Systems
I had looked at VOIP type phone solutions a number of years ago when we had a 8 line PBX and replacing it with VOIP. We decided against it for a number of reasons mostly there were some short term costs involved and we'd already sunk $2000 into our system a couple years ago so it made no sense to make a change at the time. That was in the good old days where a $250 phone bill was not unusual and didn't worry us.
Again fast forward to today. I started researching solutions and there are a number of what appear to be some very good, affordable home and small business (1-2 lines) VOIP phone systems.
Small Business VOIP Phone Systems
I had looked at VOIP type phone solutions a number of years ago when we had a 8 line PBX and replacing it with voip. We decided against it for a number of reasons mostly there were some short term costs involved and we'd already sunk $2000 into our system a couple years ago so it made no sense to make a change at the time. That was in the good old days where a $250 phone bill was not unusual and didn't worry us.
Again fast forward to today. I started researching solutions and there are a number of what appear to be some very good, affordable home and small business (1-2 lines) VOIP phone systems. Costs range from as little as $10/mo per line to a typical $20/mo. The differences are in things like sound quality,hardware requirements, features and minutes.
VOIP Phone Sound Quality
There are extremely inexpensive $5 or less but generally the cost for a system is in the $18 to $25 range to start with for most business systems. As you can guess, the reviews and info I found suggest the entry level systems don't necessarily offer the most reliable call to call consistency or support. This would not work for a small business.The next tier which was in the $15 to $24 range seemed to be my best bet in terms of quality.
Phone Sound Quality Rating
Now a little bit about my philosophy for quality so we have a common understanding. Here it is; voice fidelity is not as important as clarity. By this I mean, so long as I can hear and understand someone on the other end without distracting background noises, that is acceptable. This is in large part thanks to the proliferation of mobile phones. We all have them. We all use them and we have become accustomed to dealing with less than perfect sound. While it is nice to be able to hear someone as if they were next door it is not necessary.
That said, on a scale of 1 to 10 for voice clarity on a phone call, I'm looking for a 7 or 8. I don't need a 10. This means I should be able to find something in the mid-tier price range for voip phone solution.
In looking around, my thoughts on this subject were confirmed. You seem to pay a lot more for high performance. By a lot more I mean $35/$45 a month instead of $20/$25. If that is important to you, then you'll need to look at the higher end services.
Use Standard Analog Phone
VOIP Hardware Requirements
The first thing you find when looking for a VOIP phone system is you need a broadband Internet connection. This means DSL/Cable/Satellite or some other high speed connection. While many Internet connections offer high download speeds because their primary job is to deliver information to the end user, VOIP requires a certain level of upload speed because you are talking and sending information over the Internet. This is where you need to be careful before you make a purchase. Most VOIP providers have some sort of test on their web page that allows you to see if your connection is sufficient to use their services. Verify this before purchase.
Next the system will require some piece of hardware to go between your Internet connection and you analog phone. This is called an analog telephone adapter (ATA). Many companies provide this piece of hardware if you make a long term (1-2 years) commitment. Even if you don't make the long term commitment, the price of this hardware is often less than $100.
Convert Internet to Analog Phone Signals
VOIP Telephone Features
Features for your VOIP phone system vary all over the board. I listed my to required features and a few that I'd love to have. There are others like electronic voice mail, voice email where your recorded messages can be emailed to you. Here are a few that may be of interest to many:
- VoiceMail Viewer
- Web Based Call Logs
- Remote VoiceMail Access
- Incoming Call Routing
- Outbound Caller ID Block
- Anonymous Caller Rejection
- Block List
- Incoming Caller ID with Name
- Outgoing Caller ID with Name
- Call Waiting Caller ID
- Call Forwarding
- Call Waiting
- 7, 10 & 11 Digit Dialing
- *69 Call Return
- 3-Way Conference Calling
- Local & Long Distance Dialing
- Keep Your Number
- International Call Block
I won't go into details on each as providers have different twists on each of them, most are sufficiently self evident and are a good place to start a conversation when looking at your phone solution.
Emergency VOIP Features
There are two features that every system needs to have. These address the two main reasons people use to argue against having a VOIP system so you need to make sure your selection has these items covered;
911 Service The argument is that if you have a VOIP system you won't have 911 coverage. These days most voip systems have some form of forwarding service to a 911 dispatch. You just need to list the local address correlated with the location the phone is being used. If there is a 911 call, the service provider forwards your location information to the local 911 dispatch even if you can't talk. So a simple check with the service provider will satisfy this requirement in most all cases.
Internet Outage This to me is a far better argument against a VOIP solution. I know at my house the Internet goes down far more often than the phone lines. In short there is some exposure here. The solution? A fail safe provision where if the phone does not right to the number it forwards to an alternate number. For this you can use a cell phone or pay for a cheap land line. Make sure your provider has that kind of solution and you are good to go.
The VOIP Solution for Our Small Business
OK drum roll please. For our small business the VOIP phone solutions we purchase PhonePower with the GrandStream HT502 ATA converter and the Zippy USB travel adapter. The ATA allows a second line to function taking and making calls on a second line when the first line is in use. Best of all when you sign up for 1 year service you get your money back on the ATA device in the form of a credit toward monthly service.
Cost of Phone Power & Features
The price point for us was under $20/mo. Some of the features that attracted us included having the 2nd line free and the configurable ":Find Me" feature. This feature works like this; if someone calls the main line and nobody answers in a prescribed number of rings, you program the system to call on a cell phone of some other device. Then if the cell does not pick up after within the prescribed time, it rolls over to the voice mail.
The beautiful part of this is that you get a missed call notice on your cell, (Because it called and you did not answer) and an email and/or text is sent to you with the voice mail. You can then either listen to it on you computer of call the voicemail to pick up your message.
There are a ton of features that seem fun to play with and I'm sure I'll get to them. So far it has worked well for us. The sound quality is fine.
More Extended VOIP Features
There is a softphone feature where you can make a call from your PC. The quality is like a 5/10 because there is a clicking sound on the receiving end but in a pinch I can see how it might be nice to have.
The only thing I wish they had was more of a programmable voice mail box. For instance if you want to leave a message for me press 1. If you want to leave a message for my partner press 2. If you want to leave a message for general delivery press 3 etc.
In short, in the first month of use, we like the PhonePower system a lot. For reference we do have cable Internet service and we easily passed the bandwidth test. To top it off we are saving about $20/mo or more depending on long distance charges. Couldn't be happier.
Other Techology Links
- Plantronics PC Headset Review
Here's a headset you can uses with your Soft Phone VOIP service to make calls from your computer.