Types of Business PBX Systems
One of the most unique (and beneficial) features of signing up for a VoIP business phone plan is the PBX system. A PBX (Private Branch Exchange) connects internal calls to one another in addition to connecting external calls to internal lines, and vice versa. You will save money by using a PBX system because the system allows you to share a certain number of lines, instead of having to pay for each line per user.
There are three types of business VoIP PBX solutions to consider:
- On-premise PBX
- Hosted PBX
- SIP Trunk
On-Premise IP PBX
On-premise IP PBX systems are installed in the office and maintained by the owner. There may be a large upfront investment for the hardware of a PBX, so large enterprises and corporations with their own IT staff are more likely to use an on-premise PBX than small businesses.
Hosted PBX systems are located off-site and managed by the service provider. Small and large businesses can benefit from using a hosted PBX because they are budget friendly and are much less hassle. A hosted PBX costs anywhere between $19.99 and $39.99/month per extension.
If you already have a full phone system and PBX configured in your office, you can still convert to VoIP by implementing a Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunk. A SIP trunk connects the office's in-house PBX to translate all incoming and outgoing calls into cheap Internet calls.
Business VoIP phones are called IP phones and connect directly to the Internet. You can also use traditional phones as business VoIP phones by fitting them with an analog telephone adapter (ATA). ATAs connect the analog phone to the Internet and convert the analog voice signals of traditional phones to the digital Internet signals.
Call Features for Business VoIP Phone Systems
Business VoIP providers offer many features that can make managing calls more efficient. The call features can:
- Transfer incoming calls between employees
- Place incoming calls on hold and in a queue for the next available service representative
- Record greeting messages and set according to time of day with an auto attendant, and save on the cost of a receptionist
- Receive and view faxes and voicemails as text in the web portal
- Mobile VoIP app can be downloaded to smartphones, laptops, and tablets for remote workers
Business VoIP makes it easy for businesses to save money and grow their profits at the same time. Business VoIP plans are highly customizable for businesses of all types and sizes. All providers offer cheap prices and plentiful business-ready features, but some providers might be more in tune with your company's needs.
Popular Business VoIP Providers
Here is a quick rundown of some of the most popular providers in the VoIP industry.
Vonage's overarching goal is to help customers connect for less.
The way Vonage works is very simple: purchase a Vonage Box, connect it to your router, plug your home phone into the Vonage Box, and then listen for a dial tone. Vonage uses your existing high-speed internet connection to place calls, and even gives you the Vonage advantage of taking your phone plan to your mobile device. By downloading their Vonage Extensions app, you can even make and receive home phone calls on up to two smartphones. And in most instances, you'll also be able to keep your current phone number: simply check their Port Number tool to see if your number can be transferred.
For businesses, Vonage offers a Build Your Own plan, allowing businesses to add features and phone lines on top of unlimited calling and no long distance charges. This flexible plan allows any business, big or small, to take advantage of Vonage's quality and calling features.
This telecommunications leader offers both business and residential solutions that are feature-rich and affordable. Broadvoice offers its services to both residences as well as businesses, with phone plans to match any and all needs. Plus, they offer no hidden fees or extra charges, and they guarantee their broadband services for up to thirty days. Broadvoice also delivers mobile apps so that you can take your VoIP service on the go. Their plans also include 60 free international minutes, and low international rates thereafter.
Broadvoice's plans are simple to use and easy to set-up, which helps to ensure that your switch to VoIP is a seamless experience. After signing up for Broadvoice service, you'll be sent a Broadvoice Adapter. This hardware is free to lease, compact in size, easy to hook up, and connects easily to your broadband router. This adapter gets plugged into your router, and your phones are plugged therein. Then you're ready to start experiencing the crystal-clear quality of Broadvoice service. Broadvoice also offers the option to BYOD (check their list of compatible phones to see if yours applies).
On the business side of VoIP, Broadvoice offers cloud PBX, SIP trunking, along with other services that will enhance and enrich your business. Take advantage of Broadvoice's world-class features and easy to maintain phone service to start saving today.
Jive delivers an innovative phone system with quality phone service, ensuring that businesses are getting the most out of their phone solutions. Jive caters to businesses in any industry: from business to hospitality to government solutions, Jive has you covered.
One of the more popular VoIP solutions is Jive's Enterprise Plan. The Enterprise plan offers a flexible platform for an all-inclusive price, and is perfect for any business. Features of Jive's Enterprise plan include a cloud-voice solution for overall efficiency, no setup fees, collaboration tools like time-based routing and video conferencing, powerful analytics tools for helpful business insight, and 24/7 customer support. Plus Jive keeps up with you on the go by offering remote and virtual tools to keep you connected.
Jive also offers multiple tiers for small businesses looking to connect with VoIP. These solutions are easy to set up, packed with features, and available at a very competitive price.
OnSIP makes setting up and administering a business phone system both easy and efficient. Their feature-rich, flexible plans let you use any standard SIP phone for service. Plus, their phone solutions can easily grow with you.
With OnSIP, customers have the option to choose from three different business-focused plans: pay as you go, metered, and unlimited. Your choice will depend on your business' needs as well as your calling habits. Their plans come with a host of business-focused features (like voicemail, auto attendant, ring groups, dial by name directory, and more) as well as free on-network calling. If you opt for their Pay As You Go or Metered plan options, you will be charged low per-minute rates for standard inbound and outbound calls.
OnSIP's plans also allow for third party integration (with programs like Zendesk, Highrise, and Salesforce) for a more complete and more effective phone solution.
RingCentral has been rethinking and remolding communications and on-premise hardware since 2003, working to deliver cloud solutions to businesses large and small.
Their cloud phone system is a reliable, comprehensive solution that is both easy to manage and easy to set up. It is adaptable, allowing users across all locations to work on one system. It is also BYOD ready with the help of the RingCentral Mobile App, even allowing users to manage their account and system from anywhere. With RingCentral, consumers also receive an allotted number of toll-free minutes as well as HD video conferencing and online meetings across mobile and desktop.
By switching your business phone system over to one of RingCentral's business plans, you can save up to 60% on your monthly phone expenses.
8x8 makes using a cloud-based phone option easy by including a complete suite of communications that are reliable and flexible.
Through 8x8, business customers have two options: Virtual Office or Virtual Office Pro. Both come with US-based support and unlimited calling, as well as a number of other perks and tools for your business. However, the Pro version comes with web conferencing with video, internet faxing, and call recording. Additionally, customers can choose from three different extension types: metered, unlimited, and global. Your choice will depend upon the calling habits of your business.
Their hosted VoIP business phone service can be utilized by businesses both big and small, helping them achieve success through reliable communication. In fact, 8x8 touts that their service has helped customers to achieve more cost savings, improved customer service, and more room for IT resources.
Small Business VoIP Setup Tips
Switching a small business phone system to a VoIP phone system can be made more effective with careful planning. Learn how to optimize your transition to VoIP phone service with these simple tips.
Choosing to embrace the future — and a smaller phone bill — with a small business VoIP solution definitely highlights your business acumen. VoIP for business is growing at a phenomenal rate — research company In-Stat projects that by 2013, 79% of US businesses will be using VoIP. (That's an increase of 37% over the number of businesses using VoIP phone service in 2009).
A small business VoIP PBX can significantly reduce your company's phone bill and offer more features than a traditional phone system — including the flexibility of making calls from your laptop or cell phone. Still, there are many decisions to be made such as whether to use a premises-based IP PBX (which supports converged data, further reducing operating costs) or a hosted small business VoIP PBX.
Before you make any big decisions (or sign any contracts), here's a brief checklist of things to evaluate when choosing a small business VoIP solution.
1. Optimize Your Network Load Capacity
Voice traffic is vulnerable. It's also greedy — it takes up a significant amount of bandwidth. When using small business VoIP solutions to manage and distribute your business telephony traffic, you should understand that your phone calls are digitized and turned into data packets — and those packets are highly susceptible to network interference or (more likely) overload. Packet loss in VoIP phone calls results in choppy conversations and dropped calls — neither of which is good for business.
Before setting up a small business VoIP PBX — on premises or hosted — be sure to analyze your voice traffic patterns and evaluate your network's ability to handle (and prioritize) VoIP phone calls. For one thing, you'll want to determine the baseline for your bandwidth upload speed.
You might consider reading a book like this to understand more about the fundamentals of a properly designed network for successful VoIP phone service (or give it to your IT Director). If you're leaning toward a fully converged voice and data network with an IP PBX, you may also consider investing in VoIP testing and monitoring software (see our software directory for more information).
Hiring a consultant who can do this for you — as well as evaluate your choices for a small business VoIP PBX; negotiate contracts; procure hardware; coordinate the transition with your ISP, phone company and IT department; and install, configure, monitor, and maintain the system — is another option you may wish to consider. Many VoIP consultants specialize in small business solutions, and can be very helpful even if you choose a cloud-based small business VoIP solution. VoIPSupply.com can recommend certified network experts who can conduct a needs assessment, system design, configuration and/or install for your small business VoIP PBX, or you can find a VoIP consultant who is local to your area. Check our city-specific lists of VoIP providers and consultants at VoIPReview.org for a VoIP expert near you.
2. Evaluate the Pros and Cons of an IP PBX vs. a Hosted VoIP PBX
A cloud-based PBX can take a lot of the work out of the transition from the public switched telephone network to a small business VoIP PBX. The question of maintenance — of hardware, as well as patching and upgrading software — is taken entirely out of your hands, for one thing, and that can certainly be a relief. Additionally, you will free up space on site and let your IT department get back to the networking tasks they'd probably prefer to do.
On the other hand, an IP PBX offers a lot of advantages — such as eliminating a twisted pair network altogether. An IP PBX can make adds, moves, and changes of extensions easy and inexpensive (whereas cross-wiring a PSTN based extension can cost $100 or more per incident). An IP PBX using IP phones or softphones also offers a single, converged network and hot desking capabilities. However, an IP PBX needs to be managed — either by your IT department, or an outside vendor.
Of course, one of the most basic criteria for a decision like this is how big your company is. If your business has fewer than 15 employees, a hosted VoIP PBX may be the smartest option. An IP PBX is a more costly choice with significant hardware expenditures upfront, although cost-savings will be larger over the long term.
3. Make Sure Your Network Is Secure
Using a VoIP PBX for your small business offers a lot of advantages — especially in cost savings — but it also introduces greater security risks. Because it uses the Internet and transmits your phone calls as data, your VoIP phone calls are subject to all the traditional threats to your data network — worms, viruses, Trojans, and phishing.
If your business is in the finance or health industry, your VoIP network's security may even be mandated by various federal regulations. Make sure you take the steps to lock it down. This may once again be a good reason for hiring a VoIP expert to help design a system with both performance QoS and rock solid integrity.
4. Have a Backup Plan
Whether it's call forwarding, an emergency generator, or a cloud-based VoIP PBX service with redundancies, contingency plans, and a disaster recovery strategy, you need to prepare for the worst. It's advisable to have at least one PSTN connection to ensure that the outside world can be reached if the power goes out. Again, a VoIP consultant can help to ensure that, even in dire circumstances, any losses can be mitigated and business continuity maintained.
5. What Kinds of Calls Do You Make?
Do you make a lot of long distance calls? How about international calls? Perhaps your business doesn't make many outbound calls at all, but does receive a lot of incoming calls (or vice versa).
If you are using a hosted PBX service, these are factors that will influence your decision about the calling plans they offer. For instance, will you need unlimited calling or a plan that only allows 500 long distance minutes, with a low per-minute charge once you've exceeded the allotment? There are also many business VoIP plans that offer free international long distance calls to specific countries (be sure to check whether that applies to landlines only).
Similarly, you may need to make decisions about various extensions — whether some will only be able to dial internal extensions (such as in a break room). You may also wish to block some or all extensions from making international long distance calls (some VoIP service providers offer international call blocking as a feature).
6. What Kinds of Calling Features Do You Need?
Call waiting, caller ID, 3-way calling and many other features that your traditional telco charges extra for are generally included as standard features with a hosted small business VoIP solution.
However, there are many additional features offered by VoIP service providers that you may also be interested in that are sometimes available as add-ons, such as:
- A conference bridge
- Toll free numbers
- Ring groups
- Call recording or other call center functions
Small business VoIP providers also offer direct inward dialing (DID) provisioning, which means that you can get 'virtual numbers' in other locations — even international ones — that will allow your clients to call a local number to reach you.
Another VoIP feature is the ability to add remote extensions to your system, whether you've got another branch location or employees who work at home. Additionally, many small business VoIP service providers offer mobile VoIP services or softphones that will help your business integrate telecommuters as well as extended functions such as inventory and order tracking, customer service records, and other enterprise resource planning (ERP) modules. Small business VoIP providers such as M5 specialize in providing an all-in-one turnkey solution with ERP support.
Before deciding on a small business VoIP solution, you'll need to identify the calling features that are critical to your business.
7. VoIP Hardware
Depending on the VoIP PBX system you choose — a hosted PBX or an on-site IP PBX — there will be various hardware components you'll need to get the most out of your small business VoIP solution.
With a hosted PBX, even though it's in the cloud, you'll probably need a VoIP gateway that will convert the signal to digital and packetize the data. You may also choose to invest in IP phones (which may also mean you'll need a Power over Ethernet device, or PoE).
Choosing an IP PBX system will require a significant investment in hardware — for the system server (and perhaps the individual components, such as the PCI cards), gateway, switch, router, IP phones, and possibly a PoE device. There are many well-known brands to choose from for each of these major components, from entry level Grandstream phones to Sangoma cards to Cisco systems. When buying a communications system or a preloaded appliance, you will also need to know how many FXO, FXS, and T1 ports you need (or might need in the future), as well as how many expansion slots.
You will also need to make decisions about the type of PBX system — proprietary (such as a Bicom Systems solution) or open source (such as Asterisk) — that you will want to use on your small business VoIP PBX.
In both cases — but especially when considering an IP PBX — hiring a VoIP expert may prove to be a wise decision. A VoIP professional can help perform a needs assessment, analyze and optimize your network, recommend and install the hardware, and manage the entire transition for you.
8. What's Your Budget?
We've put this last, but obviously it's a very important consideration when making a decision about your small business VoIP PBX. Aside from figuring out how much you can afford for your small business VoIP solution, you will need to consider payment terms and service contracts.
Are you comfortable with a 2-year contract that some providers such as Phone Power require? Or would you prefer a month-to-month plan like what RingCentral offers? Some VoIP providers such as Vonage offer monthly plans, but offer a significant discount if you pay for a year in advance.
Because an IP PBX requires a larger initial expenditure, companies that will help with your small business VoIP IP PBX solution often have a number of financing options. For example, VoIP Supply offers everything you need to build your own IP PBX, and a variety of payment plans. Bicom Systems also has multiple payment options for its complete, turnkey IP PBX systems.
Whether you're looking for hosted PBX or IP PBX solutions for your transition to a small business VoIP PBX, check our VoIP provider directory or try our comparison table.