For companies that do business overseas, maintaining effective lines of communication can be especially challenging. Time differences, unique and sometimes conflicting rules and regulations and, of course, accent and language barriers all pose potential barriers to communicating with partners, clients, investors and customers. There are, however, several methods businesses can choose to set up secure and reliable telephone systems across the globe.
Voice Over Internet Protocol As defined by the FCC, VoIP — often simply called "Internet telephone" — is a system that allows calls to be made over a broadband Internet connection. Unlike traditional analog phone lines, VoIP converts the user's voice into a digital signal that travels over the Internet before being converted back to a regular telephone signal. Although primitive versions of the technology existed before, companies such as Skype made the concept familiar for businesses and the general public alike starting around 2004.
Pros and Cons VoIP requires very little bandwidth and upgrades are simple and handled through software, as opposed to expensive and intrusive hardware updates. VoIP is also almost always cheaper. VoIP-to-VoIP calls are free, and fees for calling landlines and mobile phones come with a nominal, fixed, by-the-minute fee, as opposed to roaming, long-distance and international fees that are inconsistent and vary by country and company. The drawbacks focus on the fact that there can be reception and dropped-call issues when "packets" of data are lost in transition from analog to digital and vice versa.
International Call-Forwarding Services International call-forwarding — or call-diverting — systems allow businesses to reroute incoming phone calls — no matter where they originate — to a remote location in a country with a safe, secure, reliable telecom network. Whether the business chooses a local number, a toll-free number or a vanity number (a toll-free number that spells a product or company, such as 1-800-FLOWERS), they receive a phone number that leads to any location they choose.
Pros and Cons The major benefit is that the business isn't bound by the limitations of their host nation. Telephone communication is drastically limited in some developing countries by outdated, state-run infrastructure, unreliable communications and electrical grids, and corrupt or ineffective managers. Many competing companies offer international call-forwarding services, each with features that are attractive for different reasons to different business with different needs. There are, however, some universal features that should be offered by any company you are considering hiring. There shouldn't be any set-up fees and you should be able to begin using the service within just a few moments of activation. Avoid companies that require monthly or long-term contracts and — if the plan is minutes-based — choose a firm that allows unused minutes to roll over from month to month.
UIFN A universal international freephone number, or UIFN, is essentially a traditional toll-free number, but with an added digit. This 11-digit format allows businesses to gain a modified number for use throughout the entire world, that is essentially the same as their original toll-free number. This is especially important when dealing with vanity numbers that are part of a business's branding. 1-800-FLOWERS, for example, would become +8000-FLOWERS.
Pros and Cons Aside from the retention of a business's original, unique number, UIFNs are available in more than 40 countries and — like all toll-free numbers — cost nothing for a customer to initiate a call to a business. There are, however, some licensing and application hurdles, as well as application fees that apply. Modern innovations such as the Internet and mobile technology have opened international markets — once reserved for global juggernauts — to smaller businesses. With emerging markets often relying on outdated, unreliable, state-run infrastructure, companies that do business overseas must find ways to keep lines of communication open. Luckily, technology has kept up. With systems such as call forwarding, VoIP and UIFN, even small businesses can afford to keep communication pipelines up and running.