VOip appropriete for small office of 8 employees ?

  I am just starting to read into voIP and it's advantages. I help an office of 6 employees. The manager of the office was complaining about their high phone bills every mont which got me thinking about possibly implementing some kind of voIP solution for them.
But there are still some aspects of it I am trying to get sorted out. Currently they have a Bellsouth PSTN system. Also they have DSL for their broadband connection, it's about 1 down and about 270 up.

Do they need bandwith better than DSL to have constant high quality voice conversations?
Would they still need their Bellsouth PSTN system in order to call other PSTN customers, or could they do away with Bellsouth alltogether(save for the one line the DSL is on)  and go with some voIP service company  and still be able to make voice calls to PSTN users?
If they were to  go with a voIP service, I take it they would have to get new phone numbers?
And as far as phone numbers, do they have to pay for each phone number that they have if they used a voIP service company? Would they need multi line IP phones to utilize having several phone numbers with their voIP?
Generally, how does a voIP service company assign a telephone number to the customer utilizing the service. If a PSTN user wants to call the user using the voIP service, do they just pick up their PSTN phone and dial the number of the voIP user?
Is voIP really practical for an office such as this one?  Thanks.

los123Asked:
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Hi los123,
> Do they need bandwith better than DSL to have constant high quality
> voice conversations?
Yes.  Vonage - which I've used - needs 90Kbits for best quality.  So 6x90kb = 540kbits up would be best, minimum.  Probably a system with 768 would work well.

> Would they still need their Bellsouth PSTN system in order to call
> other PSTN customers, or could they do away with Bellsouth alltogether(save
> for the one line the DSL is on)  and go with some voIP service company  
> and still be able to make voice calls to PSTN users?

That's the idea with VoIP - Vonage, Packet8, and others use PURELY internet connections to handle telephone calls - you still make and receive calls as if you were on a PSTN line.  Customers most likely would never know you were on a VoIP system.

> If they were to  go with a voIP service, I take it they would have to
> get new phone numbers?

Depends on your VoIP provider.  MOST VoIP providers can transfer numbers (the same way you can with cell phones).  BUT, there is a CHANCE they wouldn't be able to.  I'd contact the VoIP provider.

> And as far as phone numbers, do they have to pay for each phone number
> that they have if they used a voIP service company? Would they need
> multi line IP phones to utilize having several phone numbers with their voIP?

In theory, there are several ways to do this.  I checked into the Business VoIP service of Speakeasy.net.  They charge you, I think, $60/month/phone number. Everyone has to have their own number.  They effectively host a PBX system for you.  Another option is, if you're savvy enough or good enough to learn or know someone who knows it well, you could implement an Asterisk system - this is a VoIP PBX run on Linux, and it's free.  Then you could setup a VoIP LAN for internal calls, and get a limited number of VoIP lines for external calls and the Asterisk PBX would handle which lines calls go out and come in.  Sorry, I can't give more info on Asterisk as I've never used it myself - I have heard a presentation on it once though.  Check out
http://www.asterisk.org/  (Presumably, using Asterisk, you could get by on say, 3 lines and 6 phones).  Also, depending on the solution you use, you might be able to use STANDARD phones, or you might have to buy special VoIP phones (I think they are ~$100 - maybe $200 each).  You can also use softphones that would install on the computer and you just need a handset - the computer becomes the phone.

> Generally, how does a voIP service company assign a telephone number
> to the customer utilizing the service. If a PSTN user wants to call
> the user using the voIP service, do they just pick up their PSTN phone
> and dial the number of the voIP user?

Yep.  The VoIP provider OR your Asterisk box would handle the translation from internet to phone number and vice versa.

> Is voIP really practical for an office such as this one?  Thanks.
I looked into it for a 12 extension, 6 line office I'm working with.  It wasn't terribly cheap - $12000 annually.  But that was with Speakeasy.  Other providers might charge less.  And if you can implement Asterisk, it could be MUCH less.  Most VoIP providers DO NOT charge long distance fees for calls made in the USA to the USA and often Canada.  There are then long distance charges if you call overseas, but they tend to be good rates.  I think it depends on the calling paterns and how much time you have to research VoIP providers.


Cheers!

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paddyhaigCommented:
asterisk@home is the way to go. It's easy to setup for people not overly familiar with Linux and it's free.
You just download the ISO and burn it onto a CD, pop it into a spare PC.
This PC's harddrive will be wiped and the OS will be replaced by CentOS Linux and the Asterisk PBX software.
The is some pretty good documentation on the asterisk@home website on how to set it up.
You would then need a a termination provider, I use JunctionNetworks. Very cheap and they work well.
You would probably also need three Digium TDM40B PCI cards. Call up Digium and ask them, they will explain
how they work. (FXS ports). A little research and away you go.
los123Author Commented:
 Is it not possible for a company to buy all the equipment themselves so as not to pay any company any monthy fee for use of their VoIP network. In other words, couldn't I just purchase the gateways and servers and just use my T1 or T3 and not have to pay any company a monthly fee?
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Who's going to give you the phone numbers that work from any standard POTS line as well as VoIP?  You have to get that from a company.
paddyhaigCommented:
Yes it is possible to an extent, A fairly decent server is needed. The more powerful the better. A digium Card or Cards.
A T1 or DS3 delivering PRI channels and data. You would also need to lease some did's (Phone number's) from your provider.
You would need to work out a long distance calling arraingement with your T1/DS3 provider.
It's probably cheaper, using a Cable connection or data T1 and a third party termination provider like JunctionNetworks.
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