- Deciding between a landline and VoIP phone system is not as simple as it sounds. Since both offer unique benefits, the best option depends on what your business needs.
- Cost, internet connection and reliability are key factors to consider when making your decision.
- VoIP offers greater flexibility, but landlines are known for being reliable and delivering consistent quality.
The phone system you choose can be a make-or-break decision for your business. There are many things to consider when deciding between a landline or VoIP system, including cost, reliability and functionality. While you may be inclined to write off a landline as an antiquated system compared to modern VoIP systems, there are many benefits to a traditional system that may work better for your business. Read on to see which telephony solution is right for you.
What is VoIP?
Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, is a type of communication technology (comprising hardware and software) that allows you to make phone calls using an internet connection rather than a traditional analog phone line that uses wires or optical fibers to make a connection. VoIP is also known as internet calling, IP or voice over network telephony.
VoIP is transmitted through a variety of methods, including traditional phones, smartphone apps, computer software or specific VoIP-enabled phones.
How does VoIP work?
VoIP works by breaking your voice up into digital packets, like electronic envelopes, and sending those packets as data to the recipient over the internet.
VoIP is available in a variety of systems, making it accessible to anyone with a reliable internet connection. You can make VoIP calls via
- A phone and VoIP adapter. With an adapter, you can use a regular landline phone to make calls over the internet. The adapters plug into a phone outlet in the wall or directly into your router.
- A computer (i.e., a "softphone"). There are many programs or applications available that will let you make voice calls over the internet, including Skype, Google Voice and Apple FaceTime.
- A smartphone. With your smartphone, you can download apps, such as Google Voice or Skype, that allow you to make internet calls.
- A dedicated VoIP phone. These look like traditional analog phones but connect directly to a computer network rather than a phone line.
What equipment do you need for a VoIP system?
The equipment you need for a VoIP system depends on which type of VoIP you are using. First and foremost, you need a strong, reliable, and secure internet connection. Call quality and reliability depend on the strength of your internet connection, so it's crucial that you can count on it not to drop service or be susceptible to hacking.
Next, if you are using an adapter, you will need the adapter and a compatible landline phone. If your adapter plugs into a wireless router rather than a phone outlet, you will need to have a router.
To get VoIP over a computer, you will need a laptop or desktop computer with an internet connection, the proper software or program, and speakers and a microphone. Many people opt for a headset that plugs into the computer for better sound quality and ease of use.
If you are using a smartphone, you will need a smartphone, a Wi-Fi connection and a VoIP app. Most apps (Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger) offer free calls to other users with the same app, and other apps allow you to call a regular landline or mobile number, though this usually costs money.
There are providers that offer a hybrid option where you can make VoIP calls using minutes included in your home phone plan.
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Pros and cons of VoIP systems
VoIP systems are becoming more popular as the world continues to digitize. They offer significant perks like lower costs, increased reliability and better sound quality. But VoIP systems aren't right for everybody, especially those with unreliable internet connections or businesses that require significant telephony features. [Read related article: What Is SIP Trunking? Do You Need It for Your Business?]
The main benefit and draw of a VoIP system is its low cost. Because calls take place over the internet, you are only charged for internet access rather than for call minutes or for extra phone service. With traditional phone systems, a system with multiple lines can be expensive, and additional features like call transferring or queuing can run up costs. VoIP offers a budget-friendly solution for long-distance calling, since international calls over a VoIP app are often free.
VoIP systems also offer enhanced functionality compared to traditional phone lines. The world of business is moving rapidly, and many business professionals need to be reachable anytime and anywhere. VoIP phone systems enable this by automatically routing phone calls to your VoIP-enabled phone. Wherever you are able to connect to the internet, you can make and receive phone calls.
Sound quality is usually clearer with VoIP than with analog phone lines, but this, too, depends on your internet connection. A slow connection can negatively affect the quality of your call, but a strong connection typically results in clear, consistent sound quality.
VoIP solutions tend to offer greater functionality over landlines by allowing users to host video calls and transmit multimedia messages. Systems often include add-on features like voicemail, call analytics, anonymous call rejection and voicemail-to-text transcription.
A major con of VoIP systems is that emergency call service (like a call to 911) is not guaranteed to be supported. This is largely due to VoIP's flexible nature – any call that came in from a traditional landline was easily traced to one geographic location, but VoIP (and mobile phones) can be used anywhere without being tied to one place. Thus, VoIP providers must have E911, or Enhanced 911, enabled. E911 customers set a physical address that shows up when they dial 911 on their phone. VoIP providers must cooperate with traditional phone companies that control access to the public telephone system and 911 operators, which can be complicated, because VoIP and the public telephone system are direct competitors.
The best way to find out if a VoIP provider offers 911 service automatically, if it must be activated or if it is not supported at all, is to call the provider and ask.
The second major con with a VoIP system is that, because it is fully dependent on the internet, you must have a strong and reliable internet connection to ensure decent sound quality and to avoid dropped calls.
What is a landline?
The landline phone system was invented in 1876 and has remained largely unchanged since then. Landline telephones work by sending signals through a series of physical switchboxes via copper wire from one phone to another, making them reliable and fast, though maintenance can be complicated and time-consuming.
Pros and cons of landline systems
Traditional landline phones are extremely reliable. Because the connection uses wires, you can count on your service not to be spotty or spontaneously drop. This can be vital to businesses, both in terms of maintaining productivity and in that customers can consistently reach you. Additionally, when a natural disaster or bad weather strikes, phone lines tend to remain functional or are fixed more quickly than the internet, which can reduce downtime for your business.
If you have unreliable internet service, a landline phone can mean significantly better sound and call quality with no dropped calls.
The world is increasingly moving away from analog or traditional systems in many senses, and telephony is no exception. Being able to call anywhere in the world at any time is becoming more of a business necessity, and landline systems do not allow that and can restrict your business capabilities.
Landlines are more expensive than VoIP systems, especially when you add features like voicemail, call waiting or caller ID. Landlines are also subject to taxes and additional fees, which further raise costs.
You may be more susceptible to spam calls on a landline than on a VoIP or mobile number. While it is technically illegal for telemarketers to call you on your cell phone, no such regulations exist for landlines.
VoIP vs. landline: Things to consider
If you are deciding between a VoIP and landline system, there are many factors to consider, including the following:
- Equipment: You will need to determine what equipment you already have – like many landline phones, for example – and if you are willing to replace or get rid of that equipment should you switch systems.
- Costs: Determine what features you pay for under your current system and what features you would like to have with your new system. Would those desired features be included as part of your package, or would they be separate add-ons? VoIP services tend to be cheaper than landlines, but they may lack some key business phone features.
- Internet reliability: Landlines are known for their reliability in terms of call quality and outages. VoIP systems are dependent on an internet connection, so without strong bandwidth or constant connection to internet service, you will be unable to use your phone.
- Scaling and maintenance: VoIP systems can be easily upgraded and maintained, while it may be more difficult to scale or upgrade an analog system depending on how old it is. If you have a rapidly growing company or are unsure what your telephony needs will be in the future, a VoIP system may make more sense for you.