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Upgrading Phone Lines to Digital? Read This First!

Before you upgrade your business phone lines to digital or high-speed, it is critical to contact your merchant service provider first, or you could wind up losing the ability to accept credit cards.

As a business grows, and as technology develops, many business owners will choose to upgrade to a multi-line digital phone system, or, to the increasingly popular Voice-Over-IP-bundle, which combines telephone and internet on a single high-speed line (examples include Optimum Online, Verizon FIOS, Vonage, Comcast, etc.).

These types of data and communication upgrades can do a great deal to enhance business productivity, but if you take the plunge without first considering your Point of Sale device and its capabilities, the effect could be catastrophic.

How can upgrading my business phones or internet service disrupt my credit card processing?

Most of the countertop POS terminals (POS = credit card processing machines) being used at small businesses operate on a conventional analog phone line. These POS terminals often use a dial-up modem, very similar to the ones used in fax machines. If the analog, ‘dial-up’ phone line is eliminated, your POS terminal loses its ability to connect to your merchant service network. If the terminal cannot connect, sales cannot be approved by the cardholder’s bank. The ability to process credit cards would be lost.

What should I do if I accept credit cards, and I need to upgrade my business phone lines?

First, take down the make and model of your current POS terminal. Then call your merchant service provider. The best thing to do is speak to a knowledgeable support representative, and let him or her know what you are considering doing with your phone/internet system. The support rep will help you find the right type of credit card processing device to match your planned system upgrade.

What are my options?

VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) allows for a number of credit card processing options. First, you can upgrade your POS terminal to an IP (high-speed) capable model, so that the terminal uses an internet cable instead of a phone wire. Transaction processing times will drop dramatically.

Another option is a virtual terminal. Virtual terminals are either web or PC based programs that allow your computer to become the POS terminal (i.e. National Debit Card Networks’ SafePay). Credit card information can be manually keyed in, submitted via shopping cart, or, if you do face-to-face business, a card reader can be connected to the computer via USB cable for swipe capability.

DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) allows you the same options as above, however, a merchant can also add a DSL filter (available for less than $20) and the analog POS terminal will still function. No new equipment necessary. DSL is often a slower internet connection than VOIP, so it has become a less popular option, but it does allow a business to continue using dial-up technology as needed (like the older and more basic credit card terminals).

Digital phone lines (for voice only – no internet) present a particular challenge where credit card processing is concerned. The number of POS terminal designs that can operate on these phone systems is few or none. In some cases, the POS terminal may function sporadically, working fine one day and not at all the next. If your business requires a digital phone system (commonly used for multi-line rollover systems), it is highly recommended that you leave a separate analog line in place for the POS terminal, or, that you install a high-speed internet connection for an IP terminal or a virtual terminal.

Summing up…

Unfortunately, when the telecom companies are pitching and installing these phone and internet systems at businesses, the issue of POS terminal compatibility is rarely mentioned. Hopefully, the information provided in this article will help you to make an informed decision about how and when to upgrade, so that your ability to accept payments from customers is not disrupted.