Do you know how big your business will be over the next two years? Do you know how many employees you will have and where they will be located? Even with the best of planning, it’s difficult to know exactly how much you will grow – and where — and in turn what kind of infrastructure you’ll need. For this reason, many SMBs are switching from traditional PBX equipment to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or Internet phone service because it provides flexibility and a cost-effective path to growth.

VoIP operates through an Internet connection through your computer or through a regular phone that has VoIP capabilities. In-Stat (now DisplaySearch) forecast that VoIP penetration among US businesses will increase rapidly over the next few years, reaching 79 percent by 2013.

Cost savings can be considerable with VoIP, especially if you are making long-distance calls. “VoIP saves the average small business 20 percent to 25 percent of its telecommunications bill,” according to industry blog VoIP Watch, as noted by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

Portability is another advantage of VoIP.  It doesn’t matter where you are; if you have Internet access, you can log into your VoIP telephone, and you will get a dial tone. You just need a headset or IP phone to communicate with your team or customers.

There also are many functions available through your VoIP system. You can conduct on-the-fly video and audio conferencing. Visual voicemail – voicemails converted to email and sent to your inbox — find me/follow me calling, click to call, and call transfer to your cellphone are other capabilities, all of which are easily managed through a web portal.

Hosted versus on premise

Many choose a virtual PBX to manage the company VoIP system. (See: Virtual PBX offers SMBs real benefits.) You also can opt for an on-premise service, in which your VoIP service provider will install the IP PBX at your location and provide a bundle of services, including VoIP trunking and Internet access. Costs may be greater, but you get more control over customization.

Getting started

Whatever way you decide to do, if you are making the switch to VoIP, recommends some things to consider. Among them:

Foundation: Consider how many employees could be on the phone at one time. Track call volume – especially during peak hours and days and data traffic in and out of your system.  Investigate the speed and stability of your current Internet connection to ensure it is robust enough to handle your VoIP needs. Your connection has to be quick and stable.

Needs: Consider exactly what you need from your system – for example will you need to make international calls? How many VoIP connections do you require?

Security: If you go the hosted route, make sure your service provider has the right security measures in place to protect your calls on its network. Also be sure your Internet security is up-to-date, too.

Flexibility and cost savings are hard to pass by.  I’m sure you’ll make the right call.