by Matt Mullarkey-Toner
Published on 29 November 2016
As cell phone data continues to replace telephone minutes and landlines whirl down into the drain of irrelevance, it's time to take a closer look at VoIP solutions. Although you may have no idea what VoIP means (Voice Over Internet Protocol), you've seen examples or used it before. Have you ever made a call to a phone number with Skype? If the answer is yes, then you've had some experience with VoIP. For those who are unfamiliar, a VoIP solution (at its core) essentially works as an alternative telephony solution. In this article, I've laid out some examples of different types of popular VoIP solutions.
I've also divided the article into two sections: apps that can make external calls, and apps limited to calling within their ecosystem. To clarify, some apps only allow you to make a call to someone that are within their network (e.g. Whatsappers can only call other Whatsappers), while others work as a full telephony service. A number of the apps listed below are free, so it's worth playing around with them to see if they'd be right for your business.
Although Skype is mostly known as a video calling solution, it's probably the most famous VoIP application out there. One important note to make is that Skype for Business is the successor to Microsoft's messaging program Lync. Skype's ubiquity gives it a big advantage when it comes to a user base; there's a decent chance that your clients are available on Skype.
Another strength of Skype is that it will set up a phone number for you. After you've selected what area you'd like to have the phone number be registered to, it works much like a normal landline would: if people call your number, Skype will route it and your phone would ring like it normally would. Otherwise, Skype's features aren't that out of the ordinary: missed calls, voicemail, SMS, etc.
Skype for Android
You might run into some bugs depending on the type of phone or version of Android you have, so it's worth doing a little research before you put down much money. One user writes, "This app is great and I'm glad that we can finally start group calls on mobile after not being able to for such a long time. However, that being said, I have some big issues. My friends always say that they can barely hear me or I end up being muted completely (even though I didn't press the mute button). If those issues were fixed it'd easily be a 5/5."
Note: There is also Skype for Business (formerly known as Lync) which is specifically designed for companies. If you have a larger company it's worth checking out, but if you're a smaller company you should be fine with plain ol' Skype.
You probably use Google to check your email, give you directions, watch (most) videos, translate your menu (or homework), and find the answer to most questions that pop into your head. At this point, why not give their phone offering a try? Google Voice is a service that gets you a U.S. user-selected telephone number, and allows you to receive and make calls from it. For example, you could set up a Google Voice account with a northern California number. If somebody calls that number, your phone will ring.
To get the most out of your Google Voice account, you're also going to want to download the other Google apps (e.g. Hangouts) in order to get access to features such as MMS.
Google Voice for android
User reviews on the Google Play store point to a tremendously useful app, with a poor design. One reviewer, Gian Carlo Barretto, wrote, "Been using my Google voice number as my main number since I have more than one phone (iPhone & Android) for 5 years. This service lets me get my calls on whichever device I am carrying and even routes calls to the Hangouts app on my desktop so I can take calls on my laptop. I understand this app operates in the background since hangouts is the new front facing interface but I certainly hope Google shows this application some much needed attention by updating it. Google please keep this critical service going."
Nextiva doesn't just work as a VoIP solution, it's also a fully-featured call center (number 11 in our Category Leader ranking) solution. The difference between Nextiva and an app like Skype is that Nextiva was built for businesses (as opposed to consumers) and therefore has features such as:
If your business spends a lot of time on the phone with customers, it's a good idea to try Nextiva because it's built to handle large numbers of customers and it provides the infrastructure to organize it.
Nextiva For Android
Mary Douglas, a Nextiva user, writes, "I have been using Nextiva for the last 7 months and service is great. The app is so useful, too. It has lots of features and it is regularly updated, which is important because technology keeps changing and I like to know that the developers are keeping it current."
Like Nextiva, Aircall is a much more robust application than just a VoIP app. It came in second place in our Category Leader ranking for call center. If you are already using a number of cloud-based solutions, it's worth checking out Aircall as it integrates with heavyweights such as Slack, Zendesk, and Pipedrive. Some of Aircall's features include:
Aircall for Android
There's been a few negative comments on the Aircall's Google Play page, but the company has reached out to each angry customer that posted. One user on GetApp writes, "Excellent phone system. Very easy to use and compared to other phone systems I've tried in the past, they have above average call quality and connection. Excellent customer support team and their sales team really eases the transition from one system to another."
Viber is similar to WhatsApp: it's primarily a messaging app that also offers voice and video calls. However, through its feature Viber Out, you can make calls throughout the world. The price of those calls depends on the country, and you might be better off using an alternative service as a line. However, Viber does offer excellent Viber to Viber calls which could be useful with clients. Aside from the calls, Viber also has some nifty messaging features such as the ability to delete messages after they've been sent and group chats that can hold a mind-boggling 200 people.
Viber for Android
Some users have reported problems with call quality due to their Internet connection, but most on Google Play report positive results and suggestions (with Viber occasionally responding).
If Facebook is a big part of your business, it's worth looking into using Facebook Messenger as a VoIP program. If you aren't familiar with Messenger, it's an app exclusively for handling Facebook messages which separates it from the fully-featured Facebook app. The advantages of Messenger are obvious: it can make the most of your Facebook page via customer service and, most importantly, there are over 1.5 billion daily active users.
Facebook privacy concerns, which have been plaguing Facebook for over a decade, are a concern for messenger. If you are concerned about permission changes or new features that might be added, Messenger probably isn't the app for you.
Messenger for Android
Justin Hreha writes, "Facebook Messenger has shown to be a great communication tool. However I would like to echo what other users are saying to the developer. You need to be fair to us and disclose a full change log for every update you deploy. I have looked through your description extensively many times and never see a change log. As an IT Professional and as an app user it's important to me to know what I'm installing and using on my devices plus what you are doing to the app. Please heavily consider this request."
If you have a friend that's travelled or lived somewhere outside of the U.S. (e.g. Europe), then you've probably had to download Whatsapp to talk to them. It hasn't taken off as much in the U.S. because most people don't worry about the costs associated with messaging people from different countries. In Europe, where there's people from all over the world, getting on Whatsapp is a great first step into breaking into the market. In terms of VoIP features, Whatsapp lets you call and provides a notification of missed calls. Unfortunately, group calls are not a feature at the moment, but it's not difficult to imagine this functionality eventually being integrated later on.
Whatsapp for Android
Call quality initially suffered, but it appears to have improved. One user wrote about their experience and updated the review to reflect changes. They write, "The quality of the calls is getting worse and worse. When I started using it is I was amazed at how good it was, now whenever I need to make a call (and this has been often) it doesn't connect, or the connection drops, or I can't hear the other caller or they can't hear me. It's sad. It was such a great feature. UPDATE: Much improved, still minor sound quality issues sometimes, but on the whole a much better experience."
Although these aren't the only VoIP apps out there, you should give a few of these a try. For example, why not use Skype for landline numbers but also try and incorporate Facebook Messenger into your customer service? Obviously it's not a long term strategy as you don't want to become buried under multiple channels, but experimentation (at such a low cost) is worth it. What's been your experience with VoIP apps? Is there one that covers all your calls, or are you using a mix? Let us know in the comments below!
Note: There is something that's important to keep in mind when using one of these programs: if you aren't on wifi, you'll have to use cellular data and that can add up quickly after a long call. With that in mind, it's a good idea to make sure that you've joined a secure network. I wouldn't recommend making calls over any sort of "free" network that will likely require you to give up your phone number or some social network information.