It used to be easy to figure out phone service. You got a phone number from AT&T, and then you could make and receive calls. But making and receiving calls are actually two very different services that aren’t at all connected (except that they both use a phone). So let’s define the terms and look at why some providers are better for one than the other.
What you need to know:
Since they are different services, your VoIP origination provider doesn’t have to be your VoIP termination provider. It comes down to knowing what you need from each, and being aware of the factors that make some providers stand out from others.
Simply put, origination is incoming calling. It sounds backwards, you’re not originating the call, but the name refers to the act of handling the originating call and delivering it to you. Because your number sits with your provider, the call comes to them first, and is then routed on to you. You need a phone number to receive origination service.
Assessing origination providers:
Price is one obvious consideration when choosing a VoIP origination provider, but the real measure is value. Just because they’re delivering calls that came from another provider’s routes, doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about the quality of your provider’s inbound routes. If they are sending you media through their gateways as a proxy, the call is affected by your provider’s system. So assess the quality of the calls, listen to the audio, make sure calls don’t drop.
You do have to worry about the access or control they give you over your account services. Make sure the option you choose gives you the kind of control you really need. Find out how easy it is to manage how calls are delivered to you, and if there are options. Keep in mind, for SIP calls, the more data you have passed to you, the better you’ll be able to route and manage calls once you receive them.
Look for flexibility and real-time activations. Time spent waiting for new numbers to be available is time wasted. And if you want to drop numbers, you want to be done with it in just a few clicks on your account dashboard.
You’ll also want an origination provider that lets you create backup routing in the event your primary system is down (power outage, server failure,…). That way, calls will still get through and it’ll be like business as usual.
Features and functions will vary from provider to provider. But there are core functions that you should not go without. For safety’s sake, E911 is a must. Caller-ID Name (CNAM) storage and lookup are both key for business because they can help boost answer rates and build customer loyalty. Whether you use them now or not, toll-free numbers make it easier for customers and leads to get in touch. Don’t assume all providers offer toll-free phone numbers.
On the network, and in the industry, phone calls are seen as having two ends and traveling in one direction (even if there is a whole bunch of back and forth). The originating end is where the call is dialed from, and the terminating end is the party being called. Hence, termination is the act of delivering your outbound calls to the numbers you’ve dialed. You don’t need a phone number to terminate (send) calls.
Assessing termination providers:
When talking termination, price and value are closely locked. Your termination provider decides which routes your calls go over, pays for that service, and bills you a markup. Low cost routes are often low quality. So very cheap termination providers are likely going to provide terrible audio quality, the kind that makes you hang up and try again and again but never gets better. The quality of your provider’s peering partners (the carriers it uses to route calls outside of it’s own network), has the biggest impact on your outbound call audio quality.
Outbound toll fraud is a serious risk to your organization. Find a provider that protects your bottom line with customizable restrictions to outbound call access. IP authentication, which you can employ if your users are connecting from behind a static IP address, is one way to add a level of security. Rate and destination restriction also limit the damage fraudsters can inflict with your account credentials by blocking high-cost calls.
The way your provider routes calls to the network also matters. If there are multiple layers to get through (your provider’s servers, their providers, and their providers’ providers…) your calls are subject to more risk in the form of transcoding and other potential handoff issues. Where your provider is sending calls is important too. If they have only one upstream partner, as opposed to a bank of reliable routes available, you’re out of luck if their one option fails. So it pays to know how your provider is sending out your outbound calls to the network.
Making it work:
If you can’t find a provider that give you what you need in origination and termination, you can absolutely use different carriers for each service. It’s a matter of configuring your PBX with the right rules. Some providers are better at one than the other, but for the sake of convenience of billing and account management, one provider that meets all of your needs is best (if you aren’t running your business as a service provider).
The upside of getting set up with multiple providers is redundancy. When carriers go down, it’s often termination or origination that goes off line, not always both at once. Having multiple providers configured on your system will make a switch easy if your primary connection ever goes down and you need to swap out quickly. Knowing your providers will help you build a hierarchy in your queue, so that you’re always using the best option available.