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Saturday
Mar172012

Whither "home" and "business" phones in the age of cellular?

There is certainly a change under way in area of telephone usage. It's not new, but it is accelerating, and it affects decisions about "home phone" acquisition and usage as well as "business phone" acquisition and usage.

The game changer is, of course, cell phones. Cell phones (and in recent years smartphones, which accelerate the discussion) and their corresponding cellular plans have key characteristics:

  1. They're always with us.
  2. The price gap between limited and unlimited plans is closing.
  3. Even with limited plans, there are unlimited segments (cell-to-cell calls) and timeframes ("free nights and weekends").
  4. "Long Distance" is included at no additional charge.
  5. Younger people, more and more as the years go by, are using cell phones exclusively - not even bothering to have a "home phone".

This trend affects home phone usage patterns dramatically, but it also affects business decisions around phone technology selection and use.

Our topic, then: how a business decides what to do about phone service.

Note: I'm talking about InterConnected Technologies' target market here: small businesses with fewer than 20 computer users. The considerations, requirements and costs can be significantly different for a larger business.

 

Decision Point

Key Question

Discussion

Example

Business number vs. cell phones  

Do we need a business number for in-bound calls, or do we just use cell phones?

More and more people and small businesses are just using cell phones for communication, foregoing home and business lines altogether. There are several advantages (cost avoidance, free calls to other cell phones, "free" long distance), and several disadvantages (no “business image”, no ability to share calls).

I chose to use a hosted, virtual phone service for InterConnected Technologies to present a professional image and separate out, to some extent, business calls from personal calls.

Advanced call routing functions 

Do we need routing of calls to each employee, or can we just have one phone ring, and take a voicemail message if no one answers?

A simple traditional phone line or VOIP (like Comcast or Vonage) line that rings a single phone in a single location, and takes a message if needed, may be suitable. If a “big business image” is important, then the added features of “automated attendant” functions may be preferable: transferring to extensions, ringing individual cell phones or desk phones, and so on.

I chose a provider that allows me to have business calls go to a business number, but have those calls routed to any phone I choose. In recent years the target of those calls has become almost exclusively my cell phone, since I use the cell phone for almost all calls. That said, when and if I need to route calls to another number (temporary office, or land line in a location lackng cell service), I can.

Mobile device call initiation

Do we need to receive AND make calls from the business number on our cell phones, or just receive calls at the business number(s)?

Some hosted PBX providers have Android and iPhone/iPad apps that allow users to make calls from a mobile device as though they were calling from the business line.

My current service does not offer this. When I make calls to clients, they see my personal cell phone number on callerid, which can lead, and has led, to some confusion on their part.

Limited vs. Unlimited 

Can we make due with a limited number of call minutes, or do we need unlimited minutes?

Most hosted PBX plans have tiered offerings that increase in cost when the number of included minutes increases, and then have a substantial adder if the user wants “unlimited” minutes. Which option fits best depends on how the business line will be used, and how calls will be taken and initiated.

My choice here has been to always get an unlimited plan, even with the price premium, because I make a large number of calls, and don’t want to worry about going over my quota and paying high overage charges.

Toll free number

Do we need a toll-free number, or will a local area code suffice?

800 numbers were once the gold standard in incoming business calls: businesses cared enough to pay for a line for the free use of their clients. With cellular and VOIP providers (including Comcast and Vonage) including at least US-wide long distance in their plans at no additional cost (or at least a fixed monthly cost), this is becoming a less important service, especially for younger clients who think nothing of calling an out of state number, since there is often no additional cost for doing this vs. calling in-state.

I chose not to pursue this, primarily because I don’t have a large number of callers from out of state. As my California and Oregon client base has grown, I’ve considered this, but the trend toward cell and VOIP service usage means that my clients really don’t care enough about this to warrant the extra cost to me of an 800 number.

Specific features

Are other specific features needed?

This is a catch-all of smaller, specific features that some may need and some may not. The item above that deals with mobile apps is a larger example of this type of feature – big enough to warrant its own discussion above. There are lots of little features that are similar, but narrower of scope.

In our example, I want to be able to send and receive text messages to and from clients on my business line using my cell phone. My current service does not yet provide this; nor does it provide Android-based outbound calling discussed above. The combination of these two deficiencies has led to confusion on the part of some of my clients who have seen the callerid of my cell phone, but know my business line, and tried to text my business line, only to be frustrated by those texts never being received.

 

As always, InterConnected Technologies can adapt this type of high-level understanding to a specific solution for any business.  Call if you need more!

 

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