What happens to the VoIP phone system at my business if the internet goes down?
For anyone who depends on a phone system at their business for sales, service, or support, downtime isn't just an annoyance; it's a serious cut into their bottom line. The reality is that phone downtime is usually considered to be one of the most irritating, inconvenient things that can happen to a business, aside from losing power or the internet going down.
When my customers realize that VoIP phones, unlike traditional premise based phones systems, rely on the internet to work, a normal question that pops up is "what happens to my system if the internet dies?"
That single question is honestly one of the most common questions we get asked. Whether we're training our customer's new employees or in the middle of a sales pitch, it inevitably comes up.
Fortunately, businesses now a days have an option they never had in the past, which simply put is redundancy & flexibility. With VoIP phone systems, you have the availability to build in various types of redundancies to ensure that no one will ever hear a dead or busy signal when they call your office again.
What options are available for VoIP phone systems if the internet goes down at my business?
Example 1 - VoIP Transferring Options
Business XYZ is located in New Jersey, has publicly available internet from someone like Verizon Fios or Comcast, and has 15 employees who work on-site.
One morning, out of the blue, the internet dies. It's the end of the world, right?
Wrong. What could be set up here is called "fail-over", meaning if the internet fails, then the business phone numbers roll over to another line. Here are some options:
Transfer to Smart Phones
What these folks could do is route the main office numbers to an employee's cell phone. Meaning, if the internet goes down, the employee's cell phone would ring when a customer dials the office number.
We usually recommend routing the calls to either an owner, manager, or someone else who is reliable, frequently in the office, and is knowledgeable enough about the entire business to handle a variety of incoming calls.
The pros are it's a simple & easy fix. There's really not much to setting this up in terms of complexity or difficulty.
The cons are it really only works for companies that either don't get a lot of calls, or companies with owners, managers, or senior employees who are really hands on and active at the office.
Transfer to an Auto Attendant
Another option is to transfer the calls to an auto attendant hosted in a data center. So, when a customer calls your number, the call is routed to an automated message which presents the customer with some options.
For instance, it could present the customer with options to connect with various employees or connect directly with an employee's voicemail. If the customer wants to talk to someone, the auto attendant would transfer the call to a smart phone. If the customer wants to leave a voicemail, they're sent right to an employee's voicemail. One of the great features of VoIP systems is voicemails can be emailed immediately to the person, meaning they can quickly and easily access their voicemail, regardless of where they are or what device they're using to access their email.
More robust systems can map extensions with employee's smart phones, meaning if someone calls your business, punches in extension 123, and your internet's down, the system will fail-over to a smart phone, and the customer will never know the difference.
An added perk here is that the staff can use their smart phone for outbound calling since many VoIP services for businesses have features that allow outbound calls to take on the appearance of your business. Meaning, if your employee dials out on their smart phone, the person they're calling will see your business name and number on their caller ID.
The pros here are really in the fact that the customer usually won't notice the difference, especially if the business is already using an auto attendant for handling calls.
The con here is this depends on the entire organization requiring employees to have smart phones to handle fail-over calls. We occasionally see employee push-back in situations like this if employees are using their own personal devices. If employees have mobile devices provided by the organization, then this is a non-issue as you (most likely) call the shots on what the devices are used for.
Example 2 - Backup Internet Connections
Same business as above, with one key difference. They have a backup internet line for the business.
Simply put, this means that the office in question would have two internet providers. The advantage here is pretty easy to understand. Let's say your Comcast internet goes down, but you have backup service with Verizon. In this case, you can fail-over your lines to the other provider.
If Comcast internet goes down, your calls are handled over the Verizon circuit. If Verizon goes down, your calls are handled over Comcast.
Again, your customer never knows the difference. Also, this keeps your system consistent for your employees since the phones in the office will always ring. Of course, if there's a massive internet outage the mutually effects all ISPs then you're out of luck, but the chances of that are slim to none.
So why doesn't everyone choose this option when the get VoIP service at their business?
- You need to have 2 cable internet providers. As much as we like to think we're in a technologically savvy area of the country, the reality is many businesses only have access to one high speed internet provider.
- You need to have 2 cable internet provider. Yes, I meant to repeat myself. I'm saying it again because I want you to think about what that means. It means more money out of your pocket. You'll have two internet bills to pay. Not everyone wants to spend the extra money.
- It can be, but isn't always, somewhat of an IT challenge. You'll need the right IT hardware and a static IP address on both circuits. And, they'll all have to be configured correctly. For smaller businesses this usually means additional IT consulting costs which can occasionally be harder to coordinate or an out of pocket labor fee. Also, most IT vendors are helpful during the process, but some unfortunately make it difficult to make changes on their customer's IT network which ultimately confuses the customer and delays setting up the back up properly.
Example 3 - Transferring to Additional Offices
Same example as the last two, but now instead of one location with 15 employees, it's two locations with 15 employees at each site.
In this situation, the business can simply transfer the calls to the other location when the internet dies at one of their offices.
Problem is, this solution doesn't always work for everyone simply because of staffing issues. For instance, if you have your service department in one location, and sales in another, transferring services calls to the sales staff, and vice versa, isn't a good idea. In a situation like this, you'll need to ensure that staff at both locations can handle the same types of calls.
What the business in this example can do however is utilize the hypothetical setup in the first two scenarios.
Example 4 - Dedicated VoIP Only Internet Line
This is really a similar option to example 2 and it can apply to one or multiple offices.
Some VoIP providers (like us here at Tele-Data Solutions) can install a dedicated internet line to your office if you only have access to one high speed internet provider in your area. This is called an MPLS Circuit. In simplest terms, it connects whatever hardware you have in your IT or phone closet in your office to a data center that hosts your VoIP service for your business.
It's literally a direct connection between your hardware and the data center that handles the behind the scenes stuff that makes the VoIP service at your business work.
It's a virtually fool-proof backup plan, and guarantees extremely high quality communications.
But there's one caveat that holds everyone back from pursuing this, and it involves your budget.
For our customers to get a MPLS Circuit, it generally costs anywhere between $300 and $425 a month depending on their location. Just note that this is a price on top of the existing VoIP costs, and internet costs. Point is, if you go this path, it can end up costing a more, especially for small businesses or organizations with tight budgets.
I make no bones about it; this isn't the ideal option for everyone. In fact, from my personal experience, a business with less than 15 employees usually won't go this route because of the cost, and would usually either stick with choices in example 1 or 2 as discussed above. However, larger businesses (25 employees +) with more users on the IT network will often invest in an MPLS Circuit for their VoIP system.
Flexibility of VoIP phone systems is key for when the internet goes down at your business.
The biggest takeaway here is that there are options if you use a VoIP service at your business. Chances are, even if you have one of the latest & greatest setups of traditional, premise based phone systems at your business, VoIP systems will offer higher levels of redundancy and flexibility.
The fact of life is sometimes the phones just go down. It happens. When it does, whether it for an hour, a day, or God forbid longer, it's sticking you and your staff between a rock and a hard place.
Fortunately, that's an easily avoidable problem with a VoIP system. You need dependable communications, and you need technology that will work for you in a jam, not against you. VoIP systems can do just that in a business setting.
By Vincent Finaldi
Vice-President, Tele-Data Solutions
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org | Direct Line: (908) 378-1218
What brings me satisfaction is meeting with New Jersey–based businesses and genuinely helping them solve communication and business problems. As someone who has lived in New Jersey my entire life, I love working and playing here. I live in Morristown with my wife, Lisa, and root for the New York Giants.