Even considering how easy it is to find data plans with room to spare on them, is it practical for the average SMB to go VoIP-only? We investigated the feasibility of cutting voice service entirely by testing the T-Mobile/Wal-Mart prepaid plan. It offers 5Gigs of 4G data on T-Mobile’s HSPA+ 14.4 network for $30 per month.
Voice Service: Do Users Still Need It?
Mobile broadband connections – 4G LTE – have by now become fast and extensive enough that, in theory, you should be able to axe the voice part of your cell plan. The problem is that mobile Internet connections do not approach the stability of the average cable modem or DSL connection, simply because the latter uses hard wires, and the former relies on radio waves. Because of this, both mobile bandwidth and latency can fluctuate wildly.
These sorts of connection issues are pretty easy to deal with when streaming music or video, but they’re much more of an issue when talking about a real-time voice or video conversation between two or more people. It might not be a noticeable thing if a phone needs a few extra seconds to buffer the latest CNN newscast, but if a phone conversation lags even for a second, that’s going to be noticed immediately. Since the plan we are looking at is just $30 a month, that lag might be something that some SMBs might be willing to tolerate.
How to Go VoIP-Only
The T-Mobile/Wal-Mart plans that are geared for consumers and SMBs provide 5GB of data at 4G speeds. It also gives 100 voice minutes. It should be noted that once these caps are reached, the user is slowed down to 3G speeds. Voice-wise, they are charged 10 cents per minute.
There are lots of VoIP apps one can get in the Android Market, but it’s best to do research before picking one. T-Mobile’s has pre-installed application but, by default, it uses cellular minutes first. So does Google Voice.
We tried a few others, and eventually settled on Skype for testing. Basic limited usage of Skype is free, and a basic unlimited usage plan for the US and Canada is $3 a month. Since the average SMB will want to receive calls as well as make them, they’ll need to pay an extra $6 a month for an Online Number. All told, $9 a month for a static number and unlimited calls to and from that number is a pretty good deal.
Skype-Only for a Week
The new system worked well with 4G, and even better under WiFi. Call quality was excellent, although it didn’t sound quite as good as it usually sounds on a PC with a stable broadband connection. Still, it sounded a lot better than the average cellular call. There were some issues with dropped calls, lag and echoing, and calls would drop when going through 3G/4G dead spots that the T-Mobile voice network normally handles well.
So Is Switching Worthwhile?
When the experiment ended, we found that the usual cellular voice networks aren’t perfect, either. One has echoing, dropped calls, and the other network had similar issues as well. When it comes down to it, one’s network choice depends on how much one is willing to pay for a fairly reliable, dedicated, always-on voice plan.
Consider how much time one spends in areas with WiFi coverage. In those areas, there wouldn’t be any worry about dropped or missed called. When outside those areas, the 4G network should work well enough for daily use. If one is particularly worried about poor IP reception, there’s always the 100 minutes of fail-safe voice service to use instead. So perhaps for your SMB, paying $39 for the T-Mobile/Walmart plan, and adding a cloud based VoIP service would be worth the occasional dropped call. Weigh that against the $80 a month that a comparable cellular plan would cost from T-Mobile itself. Over a two year period, that’s a considerable savings.
Still, stopping voice service is not for everyone. When one is on the road, using their phone for important calls that cannot afford to be dropped, then maybe the technology should be a little bit more robust before the switch is made.
It’s not yet a perfect tradeoff, but for the right kind of SMB, going VoIP-only is a good way to cut their phone bill in trade for an intermittent minor inconvenience. Simply put, though – the pricey cell plans aren’t going to last much longer.
Call Dove Communication today for all your VoIP communications needs. We offer Toshiba award winning cloud based telephony – VIPEdge as well as other products and services.