It wasn’t long ago that having phone and fax service for a business was a pretty easy process. You simply called the local phone company and paid an exorbitant fee for them to come “install” the lines you needed. After dishing out a few hundred dollars for that, your company was able to pay a few cents a minute for long distance phone calls outside of the area code. If you were really fortunate, the phone company gave you free local calls as part of the package.

My, how times have changed! In the last half decade, cell phones have made the notion of paying for long distance seem antiquated, and installation and activation charges are commonly waived as competition for business has increased.  No longer can one local provider corner the market on business telephony; the internet and innovation have created an environment where the same phone service available to a Fortune 500 company in mid-town Manhattan is available to a three person CPA firm in Dimebox, Texas.

Ethernet connectivity.

Data connectivity can be complicated.
Image courtesy of

However, the increase in competition and available options means that it can be challenging for businesses to know what is the best option for their company when it comes to communication infrastructure. Phones, fax, and network connectivity can feel like a complicated maze where pricing and features confuse even the most savvy businessperson. Here are a few things to consider when thinking about phone, fax, and internet service for your organization:

1. Location – Are you planning on being in the same facility for a long time?  Or is this a short term solution?  Many phone, internet, and fax providers are happy to relocate your service during a contract…provided they serve the new area to which you are moving. This is most important in internet connectivity, as different companies service different areas and your office location relative to a distribution center will greatly effect network speeds.

2. Contract Length – Is there a benefit to signing a contract?  Some VOIP companies offer new phone hardware if you sign a two or three year contract with their company.  This can actually work out well, as the hardware provided would be a large capital expenditure if you purchased it yourself. But that isn’t always the case; from time to time you can find suitable hardware for a smaller cost anyway, meaning that committing to a three year contract for a few new $200 phones would be a mistake.

cable pbx

An old PBX phone system.
Image courtesy of INetSouth.

3. Size and need – Some internet providers will offer significant business-class speeds like 40/10 (40 Mbps download speed, 10 Mbps upload). Wow!  Oh wait…do you even know what that means?  A 40/10 line is significant enough to run a small datacenter and support close to 50 lines of VOIP service – do you really need all that bandwidth?  Do you need more? For comparison, a 20/2 line (20 Mbps down, 2 Mbps up) is typically more than enough speed for an office of 10 or 20 employees without external VPN or server needs. Don’t be swayed by features; find out what you really need and plan accordingly.

4. Trunk or Seats, PBX or hosted voice – The “old” way of having a phone system meant an in-house PBX and a predetermined number of lines. The phone rang, someone answered. You needed to call out? Pick up the phone and get a dial tone. That’s a trunk system. Having everyone in the office have their own ten digit phone number with call waiting and voice mail is hosted “seat” VOIP. The former is less expensive, but requires greater management. The latter is typically between $20 and $35 per seat, but requires almost no management at all. Make sure you learn about both before deciding what is best for your organization.

VOIP network

An example of how a network with VOIP might be configured.
Image courtesy of Promero.

5. Cloud or in-house – There is almost no reason to pay for a phone line for a fax machine anymore. There are countless cloud providers that offer fax service for just a few dollars per month. Most of these services include email delivery of faxes, reporting, and unlimited outbound faxes. For phone systems, if you have an existing in-house PBX, it might be significantly more cost-effective to have a trunk system that utilizes present hardware.

6. Service and support – In many cases, well-known brands that offer internet service to business locations can provide the most responsive support and service available compared to broadband resellers or smaller providers. My advice it to make sure first, however, before signing any contract. Ask for customers that are as close as possible to your physical location (you will likely be on the same operational circuit) and contact them to discuss the reliability, uptime, and service of the provider.

7. Upfront cost – The reality is that in such a competitive environment, your fax, internet, or VOIP choices should not be influenced by upfront costs, because your upfront costs should be nonexistent.  True, most providers of each of these services will either expect a long-term contract or an upfront setup fee. But just because they expect it, that doesn’t mean you have to give in. Take your time making the right decision and then take your time negotiating the best deal possible. Communication service providers don’t generate significant revenue from installation and activation fees, but rather from monthly fees. Keep that in mind when you are choosing the right provider for your business.

When looking at broadband and VOIP choices, it’s important to start with an idea of what you need and work from there.   Many plans seem to provide robust features like unlimited outbound calling or seated lines, which may not fit your needs. Do not be distracted by bells and whistles. Rather, focus on what works best for your business and includes flexibility to easily scale up (or down) as your needs require.

The days of signing long term telephony and broadband deals are long gone. And if you find yourself stuck in a contract that doesn’t fit your needs, you have no one to blame but yourself. If you are looking for a VOIP and internet service provider that will help you make the right decisions for your organization, click here to contact Mosaic NetworX!