Making Sure Your VoIP Provider Is Here for the Long Haul

Updated: April 30, 2009

Sometimes the signs of a corporate collapse are easy to see, but sometimes it happens without warning. Given recent news about companies such as Vonage and SunRocket, it's only sensible to stay aware of your VoIP provider's strengths and weaknesses, as doing so could give you a sense of how long it's going to be around. At the very least, monitoring the state of your VoIP provider could give you some clues as to what to look for in a replacement should things go south.

The most obvious signs of trouble are the headlines. There might be, say, a patent suit that threatens your operator's business at its very core. There might be a delisting from a stock exchange or a failure to comply with filings deadlines. But a lot of VoIP providers are too small to have gone public or to be the target of lawsuits by giant competitors. With them, you'll have to look for other clues.

Some research firms provide fairly detailed subscriber numbers for even relatively small VoIP operators. Comparing these numbers quarter by quarter or year by year, particularly in relation to the competition, can give you some idea of how well your particular provider is doing. Unfortunately, some of those numbers are available only in reports that costs thousands of dollars, and buying them would defeat the penny-pinching purpose of going with VoIP in the first place. Scouring the trade press can also yield subscriber numbers and other information about individual companies, but it's a haphazard and time-consuming process.

Fortunately, though, all this uncertainty doesn't make you helpless. You can save the day with the classic strategy of converting potential disaster into opportunity. So if you're worried about your VoIP provider, use the chance to look for a better one by comparing what you're getting now with what you could get. All you need is some idea of what questions to ask.

One question should involve geography. VoIP providers can't provide service where they don't have E911 coverage, which can take a fair amount of effort and expense. So you can find out a lot by entering your address — as well as those of your college roommate, your ex-spouse, your Aunt Tillie and anyone else you know scattered across the country — into different providers' Web sites to find out which regions they serve. Lack of nationwide coverage isn't necessarily a handicap since some operators concentrate on being strong regional players. But consider hit-or-miss results in your unscientific survey a warning sign.

Another important question to ask is how much, and whether, the provider charges for various aspects of its service. For example, is local number porting — that is, transferring your existing phone number to their service — free, or do they charge for it? Do they charge for the adapters necessary to let your conventional phones connect to the Internet and work with their service? And do they charge a setup fee? If the answer to one or more of those questions is yes, it could negate a large part of the savings you were anticipating.

And how is their support? Do they have hot lines you can call 24/7, or do they merely list a support email address? Here's where it helps to know others who use the service you're looking at; they can tell you whether it's a delight or a nightmare.

Last, what are their international rates? Domestic rates are usually pretty similar, but overseas calling charges can vary widely. Do they have the lowest rates to the places you call most? Do they offer overseas virtual numbers in places where your relatives live, assuming you want them to call you at all hours?

If all the answers add up, you may find yourself deciding to move to a new provider regardless of the health of your current one.

Featured Research
  • The New SMB Phone Systems Comparison Guide

    Does your small or medium-size business need a new phone system? Then you're in luck! Our new, updated comparison guide helps you cut through superfluous information and narrow down your list of solution providers. Get the latest data on phone system features, pricing, and performance metrics in an easy-to-use format. more

  • How UC Can Help Your Business Survive the Holidays

    The holiday season is filled with frenzy and excitement for businesses and consumers alike. Consumers prepare gift lists, compare brands and prices, and begin shopping with a vigor that is not present most other times of the year. For many businesses, the holiday season accounts for a large profit bump at the end of each year, and companies strive to exceed their goals and keep customers happy during this rush late in the year. more

  • [Infographic] Switching Phone Systems

    There are a lot of possible reasons you might want to switch to a new phone system. The old one might cost too much or be too troublesome to operate and maintain. It might not be flexible enough. It might not be reliable enough. Or it just might not have the kinds of features and capabilities that you need in today’s competitive business climate. more

  • Business VoIP on a Budget

    Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems represent the next innovation of telephone connection and communication by making it possible to conduct calls over a broadband internet connection, rather than an analog phone line. more

  • [Infographic] The Advantages of Unified Communications

    Did you know that according to 8x8, the tangible ROI of a unified communications solution for a 10,000-person enterprise is approximately $15.5 million? This isn't the only way unified communications can improve your business. more