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The technology behind Hosted VoIP is essentially the same regardless of which provider you choose for your business. The major difference comes in how the technology is delivered: every hosted provider will have its own strengths and weaknesses. To further complicate the issue, each provider uses its own keywords and phrases making comparing your available options more difficult. When choosing a company to provide you with the best solution, it's important to have some basic questions to ask so that your research will be based on level ground. So, with that being said, here are five questions to ask your hosted phone provider.

1.  How is Call Quality Controlled?

Call quality is king. There isn't much use to any hosted provider if you can't understand the person on the other end. Some of the sub-standard providers have given hosted voice products a bad name. Echo (hearing yourself) or jitter (only hearing parts and pieces) are two of the most common problems you can have with typical providers. They have given hosted voice products a bad name. As I mentioned in a previous post there are several different ways to try and guarantee quality. It is vitally important that any hosted provider not only provides a quality call, but also has the ability to monitor that quality in an ongoing fashion.

2. When was the last time you were down, and how long were you down for? 

It's important to know the details of the past performance of your provider. Asking questions about the frequency and duration of past outages will give you an idea of what to expect. Also, you may want to know about planned maintenance as well. A lot of times planned maintenance may take longer than expected and carriers will not count this against their service level agreements. Another thing you may want to look at is options for fail over in the event your internet connection goes down. Some hosted providers allow options to keep your office connected through alternative methods. For example Star2Star phones allow you to use plain telephone lines in case of an outage.

Also, you could fail over to alternative connectivity such as fixed wireless as well. This allows you to get around local loop issues or inside wiring problems.

3. What disaster recovery do you have in place?

In the event of a disaster, what options do you have? It's important to plan for the inevitable. Most carriers will have at least two data centers. These are essential to continue to operate at least in a reduced manner should a disaster strike. Some carriers have an even larger foot print with additional data centers. In the event that a natural disaster hits the east coast, the west coast servers would be able to handle your calls. In the event that your office is down for the count, or even one of the data centers is down. The alternative data center would take over handling your calls. You would be able to have an automated attendant answer and route your calls to any available numbers. So for example, someone calls your main number during a natural disaster. A message would come on saying "Thank you for calling ABC Company, press 1 for sales, 2 for support" etc. They could press the number of who they would like to get, and then instead of routing to a desk phone, it could route to a cell phone. Alternatively, it could also route to another office, or perhaps a copper land line.

4. Who provisions and installs your equipment?

Do you want to spend the time to install your own telephone equipment? Do you know where to plug everything in? Do you know how to troubleshoot your network if something goes wrong? The best technology in the world is nothing more than a expensive door stop if it isn't installed properly. There are an incredible amount of considerations that must be taken into account. Network switching, and the appropriate configuration of VLAN's would be one of the less thought of yet incredibly important install considerations that most DIY installers would not be able to do. There are also a lot of follow up options that are equally important. Training is typically not done, or not done well in a DIY install. Even if it is done, its pretty tough to be trained by someone that has no more experience than you do. Finally, managing the porting (transferring your numbers from the old carrier) takes a bit of knowledge.

Also, taking the time to make sure that the old lines are terminated with the previous carrier is important and a very big potential pitfall.

5. How much bandwidth do you use per call?

This is pretty self-explanatory the more bandwidth required per call the more bandwidth you need to have. Often times any savings you may have from switching to a hosted phone system, is lost on additional bandwidth.

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