VoIP for home workers.

This article was written by Graham Hill, who has worked in the telecommunications industry since 1976. He is the founder of Foxhall Solutions, which provides a range telephony services, including VoIP setups, to small and medium sized enterprises.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technologies can be extremely useful for home workers that need to set up on a budget. Easily integrated with existing broadband connections, VoIP also offers future-proofing for home workers should they move to commercial property. In this case, phone numbers can be preserved, minimising the disruption to clients and service provision.





What VoIP technologies are best suited to home workers?

In most cases, home workers suit the hosted VoIP model, where a telephone can be deployed by the service provider, and connected to their services by simply plugging it into a broadband router at the subscriber’s office. Several VoIP phones may be supported in this way – but note that some Quality of Service mechanisms (these are ways to ensure voices are transmitted successfully) are required in the router and if possible, the network switch – to prioritise the voice above data traffic. This is to ensure that telephone calls are high quality, even in situations where large file downloads or transfers are occurring across the network.

In a situation where a company has several home workers, then the ideal VoIP system is a central VoIP server, running remote extensions through the Internet. This configuration has the benefit of offering free calls between the home workers and their colleagues – either at other home offices, or at the head office – and central billing for business calls, as all ‘outside’ calls go via the internet terminated on the IP-PBX (the system used to create the company’s VoIP network) at the Head Office.







What benefits do these technologies offer home workers?

Where there is a line and broadband already in place, Hosted VoIP or an IP-PBX can be installed and set-up extremely quickly. Numbers with any area codes may be allocated to the system (or 0844 non-geographic numbers), and existing business numbers may be ported to and used on the VoIP systems.

A big advantage is that once set up, the VoIP system may be moved to any location, plugged into a new broadband service and be receiving calls again in minutes. This portability means that moving into a different home, or out to a new office no longer involves painful negotiation with your telephone company, nor does it involve re-education of your customers and suppliers.

VoIP systems using the Internet to carry calls to other phone numbers benefit from low call tariffs. This is due to the carrier being able to bulk-rent bandwidth and connections to local, international and mobile services and pass that saving on to their customers.

VoIP users are able to access many different facilities that are not readily available to a single ‘traditional’ phone line. These include free voicemail, voicemail to e-mail, diversion to mobiles, auto-attendants (“press button 1 for … etc.”), integration with CRM databases, voice recording, and free calls to other users in their business extension range.







What are the cost savings that can be made for home workers?

Typically, to add a hosted VoIP extension to an existing broadband service, and to generate a phone-number for that service, will cost less than installing a new line and cost less per month than rental for a new line.

Tariffs for calls via VoIP carriers are around the 1p per minute level, where BT recently upped its standard tariff to 7.5p per minute.







What kind of installation process is there, and how long does it take?

The installation of a hosted VoIP telephone should not be considered to be a DIY project, as the configuration of the phone and router do require specialist knowledge.

However, the phones can be pre-configured before being sent to a customer, and remote access tools can be used to give installation support when the phone gets to the site. The user simply needs to plug the phone into a spare data port on the router or network switch, power it up, and usually, it will be running in less than a minute.

In essence, the phone is configured to log onto an Internet server in much the same way that an e-mail account is set up. There are additional settings that make the phone identify and publish its public IP address so that calls can be put through to it, and further settings to ensure that the router’s firewall will allow calls through to the phone. Most routers need no configuration changes, but in some cases small changes will need to be made, and very rarely a router may need to be replaced.

A qualified installer could provide a fully functioning hosted VoIP extension within three to five days from date of order – with the install time taking less than an hour.