VoIP

If you’re expecting to make or receive a lot of calls in your small business or home office, you should seriously consider switching to VoIP.

VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol to be precise, is a combination of software and hardware that allows you to make and receive calls via the internet rather than traditional phone lines.

With a VoIP system, you’ll save money on long-distance calls and enjoy many other benefits, such as being able to:

  • make and receive conference calls from anywhere in the world
  • enable call waiting
  • create a voicemail service for multiple workers
  • set up several phone numbers
  • route calls to other employees
  • conference with in-house workers
  • set up a digital receptionist or interactive voice response system.

And on top of all this, a VoIP phone system is easier than you might think to set up and operate. 

Here’s what you need and how to set up a VoIP phone system in your home office or small business.

Getting Started: The 5 Things You Need To Set Up VoIP

Setting up a VoIP phone system in a home office is slightly different to setting one up in a small office for a business. But you’ll need a total of just five items no matter which space you’re setting up your VoIP system in.

You’ll need:

1. A Wired Ethernet Router

For businesses, a VoIP router needs to provide the right combination of connectivity, security, and speed. You don’t need to buy the most expensive router on the market, but you should choose one of the most reliable. Once the VoIP phone system is set up, you may need to make a few adjustments on the router. Wired connections offer some advantages over wireless connections such as improved speed, but sacrifice mobility. 

2. Cables, handsets, and headsets

When setting up your VoIP phone system, you will need to buy an additional connection cable for your computer. You should also invest in one or more phones that are VoIP compatible. If you have more than one employee, you may want to set up your computer as a PBX (Private Branch Exchange) server to allow internal calling between workers.

3. VoIP, PBX, and Additional Softwares

There are several different software options you will need to investigate in order to find the one that is right for your particular setup. PBX software is best for basic and general phone calls. It is also the best choice if your home office doesn’t receive or make many calls. An all-in-one software program is best for small businesses. In addition, there are specific software programs for operating a computer as a phone, which frees up a lot of valuable space in small offices.

4. A Broadband Internet Connection

This may seem like a given because, nowadays, everyone has an internet connection in their home. And no business would get off the ground without a website. But the speed of your internet connection is more important for a small business than it is for your home life. Keep in mind, the more calls your company is making, the higher the bandwidth you need.

5. VoIP Provider

Just as you need an internet provider, you will need a company to provide your monthly VoIP service. Prices for this service vary depending on where you live and what kind of package you choose. But without this plan, or monthly service, what you have would be more like an intercom system than a phone line – your employees will only be able to call each other in-house. 

Two Main VoIP Options: Hardphones Vs. Softphones

Before we explain how to set up a VoIP system for your home office or small business, let’s look at which of the two types of VoIP system will work best. The first is a physical VoIP system and the other option is a software-only plan, sometimes referred to as hardphones and softphones, respectively. 

VoIP Hardphones

Similar to your traditional landline phones, a VoIP phone has a base and a handset or a headset. Some of these phones have a touchscreen or a display screen. They are typically larger than portable home phones and the base contains many more buttons for your different phone numbers and connections. If you only have a handful of employees, don’t waste your money on a larger phone – go for a smaller set.

Softphones

This is where your VoIP phone system is installed entirely on your desktop computer, laptop, or smartphone. This option may come with a GUI, or graphical user interface, which is basically a keypad displayed on the computer screen. You will use this keypad, either with your mouse or your finger (if it’s a touchscreen), to type out the telephone number or answer a call.

Setting Up The Hardphone VoIP Option

For a small office, including a home office, you’ll need a PBX server. It’s a pretty straightforward setup but the main thing to remember when setting up the VoIP system is that it needs to connect to a network. This can be done with a standard Network Interface Card (NIC). It must also have a fixed IP address so that it is always accessible for phone calls. This means the network can’t be shared with another system.

Setting up the actual phones is the next step. Use the ethernet cable to connect the phones to the same network as the PBX. If your phones have PoE (Power over Ethernet) technology, you can skip this step.

Once you’ve completed the hardware install, the only thing left is to install the VoIP software. Most software is easy and self-explanatory. Once you start the install, the computer will take over and you will only have to click ‘open’ or ‘start’ at the end.

To obtain the full amount of compatibility for your VoIP phone system, you may need to adjust your ethernet router’s configuration. Here are two options for doing that:

1. Permit Universal Plug and Play (UPnP)

These are the linkage protocols that allow the networks to locate one another. When this is enabled, it allows your VoIP system to connect to the PBX server.

2. Permit Network Address Translation (NAT)

This will modify the network address information. It is to enable the IP address to reconnect to another network over the traffic routing device.

Setting Up The Softphone VoIP Option

This is an even simpler set up than the hardphone option. Mostly because you will not have to worry about hooking up the VoIP phones. Instead, you’ll use your smartphone, tablet, or computer to make your phone calls. Once the software is installed, the computer program will search for any devices connected to that particular system.

You will need to follow the instructions for installing the VoIP system software from your VoIP provider. This will either be in the form of a disc or a webpage that you’ll need to visit. Both setup types will require an authorisation code, which you will receive when you pay for the VoIP service.

Things To Remember When Setting Up VoIP In a Home Office

When you are setting up a VoIP system in your home office, you will need to make sure you are not setting up your traditional phone. The difference will be easy to recognise when you use a special VoIP phone adaptor. 

There are many different models and styles of VoIP phone adaptors. Some of the VoIP phone adaptors will need to be plugged into the router, while others plug in between the computer and the router. No matter how it is plugged in, you will need to turn off or disconnect all the components before the installation.

Troubleshooting Your VoIP System

You may find that when you’ve followed the above instructions, something still isn’t right. One of the most common problems is one-way audio call. This means a person you call from your home office can hear you, but you can’t hear them.

One way to fix this issue is to connect the VoIP phone adaptor directly to the modem. Another fix is to place the adaptor in the DMZ (the dramatically-named ‘demilitarized zone’) or secure area of the router.

As a last resort, you may try disabling the router’s built-in firewall. But hopefully the other options will work before you need to resort to this option. If your VoIP call quality is still suffering, it’s probably best to contact your internet service provider and VoIP provider who can assist you further.

And that’s it. That’s how simple it is to set up a VoIP phone system at home or in your small business office.  

Sam O’Brien is the Senior Website Optimisation & User Experience Manager for EMEA at RingCentral, a global UCaaS systems provider. Sam has a passion for innovation and loves exploring ways to collaborate more with dispersed teams. He has written for websites such as BambooHR and Vault.

Phone system stock photo by Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock