Ask Dave Taylor: Tech and Business


Is VOIP Telephony Ready for Small Businesses?

I've been experimenting with a couple of voice over IP systems and in the last week have finally gotten some new hardware configured, so I thought I'd share some of my experiences and ask for others to share their experiences with VOIP for Business too. Let me say up front that I am well aware of the expensive VOIP solutions from companies like Cisco, but I'm more interested in the value proposition for small, 1-2 line businesses or satellite offices, not larger corporate settings.

First off, like millions of other people, I have a Skype account, but honestly, I don't use it very often. Skype is built atop peer-2-peer (or "p2p") networking technology, so it's really a world unto itself, though with something called SkypeOut you can tie it to a traditional land-line telephone, albeit awkwardly.

The two problems I have with Skype are that I find the voice quality to be mediocre, and that since I don't yet have dedicated computer telephony devices, I end up using my computer audio system, and for a business environment, disembodied voices coming out of my computer speakers and talking into a screen are just too weird. In my experience, it's far too difficult for me to focus on a conversation with Skype as I currently have it configured.

The good news is that I expect that to change in just a few days when I hook up a new device I just bought from HelloDirect. If it lives up to its hype, the amplified headset will be a perfect office telephony solution: it's a noise canceling headset and amplifier system that lets you connect to either your computer (via USB) or your regular telephone (via 2.5mm jack). I'll be able to use that both for regular telephone calls and for high-quality conversations via Skype. At that point I might well become a bit more of a Skype convert.

Meanwhile, the company behind Vbuzzer send me some telephony gear, a Sipura telephone interface box, and set me up with a Vbuzzer...