VOIP or “Voice over Internet Protocol” is a technology that enables you to make and receive phone calls using your Internet connection. While VOIP has been around for many years, only recently has it been offered as a robust hosted business solution.
One such VOIP provider is 8×8 which specializes in offering a hosted online solution for small to mid-sized businesses. Providing instant messaging, web conferencing, unlimited free calls to various regions (depending on where you are based), extension dialing, hold music and more — a small business can benefit greatly from an affordable and robust VOIP solution like the one offered by 8×8.
8×8 has two options depending on your business requirements. Their standard offering, Virtual Office business phone service, includes unlimited calling to the US and Canada, three-way calling, extension dialing and direct numbers for your employees, caller ID and even hold music (which I’m not sure is actually a perk given what most people think of being placed on hold, but it does add a layer of professionalism).
8×8 also offers an add-on bundle called Virtual Office Pro that adds web conferencing, call recording and Internet fax capabilities for a small additional monthly fee. The web conferencing is a great way to cut travel costs and collaborate better with customers and coworkers.
What Does it Look Like
All 8×8 users are given a portal that acts like your control center/dashboard. This interface offers a bird’s-eye view of all of your contacts as well as access to various commands such as making calls, instant messaging (IM), calendaring and more. On the left of the screen is your company directory that you can populate with all of your contacts. The directory automatically includes all the employees on your phone system plus you can also populate it with your Exchange, Gmail, Twitter and Facebook contacts. Once your company directory is online, you can see from there who is busy, who is able to talk and other status information. You can also instant message your colleagues and contact as appropriate.
On the right is your “phone” and users can use the virtual dialpad to make calls right from their computer. All 8×8 packages offer US businesses unlimited free calling within the US and Canada and international calls are charged accordingly.
VoIP Phones, Softphone and Mobile Apps
Of course the service is not entirely online, most people use a physical VoIP phone with it although it’s not a requirement. 8×8 offers a range of high-quality Polycom and Cisco phones to choose from. You can even use your smartphone with the service. Free mobile apps from 8×8 enable you to make and take calls using your business calling plan on your iPhone, iPad or Android device.
Simple Set up
I found setting up 8×8 on my computer fairly simple and when I had questions, the team at 8×8 was very helpful and replied quickly.
Deeper Dive into the Features
Virtual Office business phone service comes with a long list of business features: personalized voicemail, an auto attendant, dashboard, extension dialing, hold music, three-way calling, voice-mail to email, caller ID, ring groups, call parking, conference bridge and much more.
Businesses with geographically dispersed offices or a dispersed customer base might appreciate the more robust meeting features found in the add-on bundle called Virtual Office Pro. With Virtual Office Pro, you get Vitual Office phone service plus call recording, web conferencing and Internet fax.
Here are some of the tools that 8×8 offers:
- Audio and Web Meetings: Users (depending on subscription level) get unlimited web or audio meetings per month. In addition you can have 15 or more participants per meeting for free and there is an extra charge if you go over 15 participants. You also get your own personal online conferencing service and can use webcams if you so choose. In addition you can share your desktop, or take control of someone else’s desktop and you can choose a free US local meeting dial-in number.
- Company Directory: You can populate your company directory many ways – from your Gmail account for example, as well as import contacts from a CSV file, and from Twitter and Facebook pages.
- Auto Attendant: Callers can connect with employees via dial-by-extension, dial-by-name, or dialing from the company directory. You can also define greetings and schedules for business hours, after hours, holidays and business hours exceptions.
- Extension Dialing – This enables you to offer each employee an extension – which makes it easy not only for outside callers to call the right people directly, but helps employees call each other.
Other features 8×8 includes, depending on your needs, is intercom calling, do not disturb features for those who wish not to interact with anyone for an hour or two (oh how nice that would be!), caller ID and more.
Will It Fit Your Budget?
Currently 8×8 is running a special for GetApp readers of $19.99 per unlimited extension for Virtual Office. Normally, prices run $29.99 per extension for unlimited calling in the US & Canada with a number of features mentioned above such as voicemail, extension dialing, caller ID, instant messaging and more. This does not include web conferencing, call recording and Internet fax. For those that want Virtual Office Pro, the cost is $49.99 per extension, which includes all of the features of Virtual Office plus call recording, web conferencing, Internet fax. Currently 8×8 is running a special for GetApp readers of only $24.99 per unlimited extension for Virtual Office Pro.
Is it for You?
The upshot is – having a VoIP system in place will never steer you wrong. I was especially impressed that 8×8 strives to offer enterprise level features at a fairly affordable rate. Unlimited free calling from the US to Canada is a splendid benefit, not to mention the company directory, unlimited audio calls, and extension dialing if you have more than one employee or departments and more. Upshot, 8×8 offers businesses a chance to look and sound professional while reducing expenses.