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It’s 3.45am on the second day of your business trip to the other side of the world. For the first time, you’ve managed to get to sleep. Your mobile phone rings.

It could be a family emergency or just a colleague unaware they’re waking you – but you have to answer. What would you give at that moment for a voice-over internet service that lets you choose who can call you out of hours?

VoIP’s most obvious advantage over traditional telecoms is cost. Smart companies have been switching to cheaper internet PABX phone systems or subscription VoIP services. They offer small businesses enterprise-level features such as call waiting, three-way conferencing, and answering services at low cost.

But thinking of VoIP as just a cheaper phone line misses the opportunities for wider savings and better services. When you travel, points out Mike Wagner of Linksys, “your phone follows you everywhere”.

Users can take a VoIP handset (or an account with a VoIP software service) anywhere – so long as they can connect to the internet – and make calls for the same price as they would back at base.

And they can choose what country and area code their VoIP line uses when people phone them – so if colleagues, customers or family are calling over a standard network, an area code can be selected that gives them a cheaper call.

Many services offer multiple virtual numbers, so even a small business can look as if it has offices in London, Paris and New York.

Enterprises should be benefiting from the productivity improvements such services offer, says Stuart Ebden from Fujitsu Services. A communication could begin with a voice call and add extra information, or conversely, begin with e-mail or instant messaging and move on to a voice conversation.

A Microsoft system allows users to integrate information from their calendar and address book so only their boss and spouse can interrupt their most important meetings while other callers go straight to voicemail.

Colleagues can see before they try to phone or forward a call if a user is busy or on holiday. Calls to an office line can be automatically redirected to a mobile. Microsoft has been using such systems internally for years.

Another benefit is that employees can have a caller’s details appearing on their screen, along with a map of where they are calling from.

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