Online Phone System Gives Cheap and Free Features

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Your phone system could be costly and dumb. Can you dynamically route calls to different numbers, even ringing them all at the same time? Can you place VoIP calls from a computer, dedicated handset, or even iPhone software? Can people call your home number while you're traveling internationally, costing both of you nothing if answered through VoIP? A nimble, online-based phone system can tackle all of these situations.

Google Voice is a great tool, but it's mostly aimed at individuals. An alternative, Sipgate, provides service for many people at a company, scaling from a few to 100. You'll manage everything from a website, even able to share voice messages and call recordings.

Employees get virtual phone lines, adding incoming numbers and routing those calls to whichever mobile phone or physical lines are nearby. And individuals can control their own settings, too, updating the service to ring a hotel room on the road, or otherwise connect to their physical location.

Costs start at $19.95/month for three people and get cheaper with volume, such as $199.95/month for 100. You'll also pay for incoming calls that you answer on a real phone, with rates about 2 cents/minute on the low end. Outgoing VoIP calls cost the same. Extra incoming numbers cost $2.90/month.

Sipgate accounts also include incoming fax service and other perks, and I especially like the ways to save on international calls when traveling. But one of the biggest cost benefits could just be in its improved features--and your productivity--versus a standard system.

Zack Stern is building a new business from San Francisco, where he frequently contributes to PC World.

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