Monday, June 12, 2006

VoIP News: VoIP provides small business with a defense against hurricane damage

The cost of phone service was bad enough for Aaron Lee. The potential expense of poor business continuity after a hurricane threatened his business.

As a small business owner, Lee was spending hundreds of dollars each month for two business lines and a fax line at Illuminati Studios, his graphic design and Web production company in Miami Lakes. Even at home, his personal, business and fax lines were topping a combined $150 a month, when features like voice mail and caller ID were added. He also knew that should a storm hit, if his phones went down, he would be incommunicado.

So Lee went from analog to Internet. He signed up with Vonage voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) service, first for his home, and later for his office. For around $100 a month, his office has all the lines and features his landline service formerly offered plus unlimited domestic long distance, and some overseas. The three lines at home, plus a toll-free number, run less than $80 atop the $45 a month for the cable modem service.

"That gives us a lot of telecommunications for not a lot of dollars," he said.

Voice-over-Internet protocol, or VoIP, is changing the way corporate and home-based businesses communicate. In the corporate environment, IP telephony accounted for 8 percent of the business lines installed worldwide in 2004, according to statistics from VoIP provider Avaya. The number is expected to quadruple by 2007.

For most applications, VoIP is relatively simple to install. Its router plugs into the existing broadband Internet connection, which can be DSL, cable modem, satellite or T-1 business-grade service. Then standard or business phones can be plugged into the VoIP router to complete the connection.

VoIP also can become a remote office solution should an office be damaged or closed after a hurricane.

That's the plan for Illuminati. After Lee's office was closed last year after Hurricane Wilma, a large client requested a business continuity plan. Lee knows that if his office loses its T-1 broadband Internet connection, his VoIP service will be lost as well. Should Illuminati lose service, Lee will unplug his VoIP router, and relocate to hotel or office where broadband service is accessible. This way, he can plug in his modem and phone set, and have phone service.

Since VoIP service stores all functions, greetings and voice mails on its servers, messages await retrieval once Lee has accessed the service. Lee can log on to his VoIP account and forward all calls to his wireless phone.

He's also considering the provider's "soft phone" service. With a simple software download, Lee can plug a headset into his laptop and use it to gain full use of his VoIP service. The cost is around $10 a month.

"I can open my laptop in a Starbucks and be in business. There's a degree of flexibility, especially in a disaster scenario," he said.

Jeff Zbar is a freelance writer. Reach him at jeff@jeffzbar.com.

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