If you haven’t dipped your toe into the VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) waters yet, it’s time. You may just want to set up your own phone system. Or maybe local phone vendors are poaching your customers and you need to protect your turf. No matter, small Internet telephony systems are much easier to work with than the key systems from the old days, but they’ll still cause you to scratch your head a few times. In fact, set up your own phone system before you sell the service to a customer so you can get a head start on the VoIP learning curve.
This review focuses on RingCentral, one of the leading small business VoIP services in the market today. The company, RingCentral Inc. of San Mateo, Calif., has reseller programs, but it also sells to anyone who calls or responds to its website sales pitch. Because of RingCentral’s retail customers, the company has a friendly management portal and has streamlined the phone system setup as much as possible, especially when you use one of its pre-configured phone models.
With the two dozen or more VoIP services that appear in reviews and roundups, how do you choose the one that works best? In this case, I chose RingCentral because the company offers a wide range of services, from basic phone to remote desktop, appears high on every search page, and has a good reputation in the industry. Plus a coin flip.
Setup and Phone Configuration
Setting up RingCentral doesn’t take long even though you have to talk with a company rep to start the service. That person will assign your numbers and the number of lines you request, all of which will be detailed in a forthcoming series of emails. Later you can add lines and numbers on your own through the Web portal.
If you have one of the phones RingCentral has pre-configured to use with its service, new phone installation is a snap. There are 10 Cisco desk phones matched by 10 Polycom desk phones and two conference phones for sale directly from RingCentral. A softphone app can be downloaded to your computer for free, as can a smartphone app, and a Cisco analog adapter is also available.
I tested a Cisco SPA-303 phone, one of the least expensive of the Cisco models. When setting up a new device you have to scroll all the way through the phones RingCentral wants to sell you to reach “Existing Phone” at the end.
After booting up the Cisco desk phone, I went to the RingCentral Web portal, logged in with the Cisco phone’s extension (if callers dial the main company number they need to provide an extension, or they can call each phone directly), and drilled down through Overview > Settings > Phone Systems> Phones & Devices, and then Add Device. In this case I chose an unassigned phone that I later paired with an existing user, but you can also take an existing user and assign that person a phone.
Each Direct Extension Number can be a phone, a fax, or both. Save your choice, and you go to Phones & Devices to order a new phone directly from RingCentral (two-day shipping offered) or choose an existing phone—for me that was the Cisco SPA-303. You need to ensure the phone has the “Provision Enable” on, which the Cisco phone did by default. You’ll also need the IP address, which is the only information other than the phone model you really need.
You then wait for provisioning as the phone and VoIP service shake hands. The screen warns that it could be two minutes, but it finished in about 10 seconds. You’ll have to agree that you understand 911 calls need to be handled differently, because once configured, a phone can be plugged in anywhere on the Internet, and you don’t want your client’s 911 call from, say, Baltimore to appear to the 911 dispatcher that the emergency is at your client’s office in Miami. After a few more prompts, the phone is all set. But you aren’t. The system will send an email to the user about how to get connected.
Once a user clicks on the link, he or she gets to decide all sorts of details, including whether or not to record a personal “Please hold while I try to connect you” message that is normally done automatically by the “text to female voice” feature. Music for hold and during connection is also selected at this point, or you can provide your own music. VoIP phone systems are more customizable than an old hot rod.
Would you like a professional voice actor to read all the various prompts, and your company name for the outgoing message? RingCentral has that optional service available starting at $50. My favorite VoIP feature is dual-ring, where a desk phone can be paired with a cell phone so both ring together. You can also enable several phones to ring sequentially, but what impatient customer has time for that?
Other phones, like the Snom 715 reviewed here, take some time to configure, but with RingCentral at least you can make the changes in the Web portal rather than typing long strings of text into the phone itself. After you configure a non-provisioned phone once, you’ll know all the URLs for inbound and outbound calls and other details.
Here’s what you need to know when adding a non-provisioned phone to RingCentral:
full phone number, starting with 1 then the area code and number
UNbI9BEY – assigned by the system, changeable later
60428140012 – assigned by the system
The phone is natural to use. You pick up the handset, dial, and talk. When you get a voice mail, RingCentral sends an email that includes the message. The Message button on the Cisco phone takes you there directly, with no passwords or PIN needed, as opposed to when you call the voice mail line (your number, then *86, then your PIN).
Smartphones in the hands of salespeople can be dangerous, because if they give out their own numbers they keep those customers when they leave. RingCentral provides an app that turns a smartphone (Apple, Android, and Blackberry) into an extension of the RingCentral system.
Calls that come into the extension tied to the smartphone ring in the RingCentral app on the phone, not the regular phone carrier interface. You can dial out through the app, manage most of your RingCentral settings, and even launch meetings and audio and video conferences. If your company is full of smartphone fanatics, they’ll be happy with RingCentral. You can even use your smartphone as your primary phone, or just until your “real” phone arrives.
Being a RingCentral partner provides four advantages:
- Extra support, training, and sales information
- A path to becoming a Certified Partner for extra benefits
- Commissions both upfront and as long-term residuals, plus the revenue received from installation, configuration, and ongoing management
- Options to sell phones from RingCentral’s Plug & Play desk and conference phones provisioned for their service (plus many phone models from Cisco and Polycom have been pre-configured for simple installation)
After more than a decade, VoIP systems are now mainstream, especially for SMBs. If your company’s offerings include telephony, your services become stickier with every ring. For resellers thinking about telephony, it’s not a bad option to add to your services portfolio.
- Standard: $24.99 per month per user
- Premium: $34.99 per month per user
- Enterprise: $44.99 per month per user
- 30-day free trials available on all plans
FEATURES (COURTESY OF RINGCENTRAL)
- Cloud PBX
- Toll-free minutes per month per account
- Unlimited Internet fax - $39.99/month value, FREE
- RingCentral for the iPhone, Android, and Blackberry
- Toll-free, local, or vanity numbers for voice and fax
- Shared Lines
- HD Video Conferencing
- Online Meetings
- Auto-receptionist and dial-by-name directory
- Call Park
- Call queues
- Advanced call forwarding
- Flexible answering rules
- Presence based on multiple devices
- Implementation advisors, FREE when you sign up for 2 or more users
- Keep your existing phone numbers, FREE
- 24/7 Customer support
- No set up or activation fees