PBX systems that cost into the tens of thousands of dollars – ones developed by companies like Avaya, Cisco and Shoretel to name a few – may be great for many large businesses or the medium to small business with an IT staff. For the medium to small business that does not want to take on another IT project and that has a staff that is mobile or works from remote locations, hosted PBX systems are the only way to go.
For those of you that don’t know what PBX stands for it means Phone Branch Extension. If that doesn’t clear it up then PBX stands for the traditional phone system that you put in your office. You know, the one that comes with all the equipment and wires, a certified programmer and installer, days of setup and customization, wires, phones and a good old maintenance contract to sign when it’s all done. All that just to answer the phone!
For many businesses, the old brick-and-mortar approach to the phone system may still be the way to go as they offer the ultimate in flexibility – you can customize just about anything on them – plus it is in line with the old starched-shirt capital expenditure (CapX) model of buying equipment once and then amortizing the cost over five years or more. Now, granted, once these things get installed they tend to run for years without breaking. But they also become the troll in the closet – they get so old that nobody wants to touch it for fear it will break or start causing problems. And by the time they do break, they cost lots of more money for parts that are now hard to find.
Most manufactures now offer IPPBX products today, meaning that they create digital voice calls using your Local Area computer Network instead of Analog calls on the seperate phone lines you may have run throughout your office. The IPPBX sends those digital calls outside the office not on the old PSTN telephone network but over the carrier’s Data network or your Wide Area Network, if you have one, to other locations. Many telecom service providers such as AT&T, PAETEC, TWTelecom, XO and others offer digital phone services that work directly with the IPPBX and take advantage of many new features such as Virtual Phone Numbers, prioritized call routing for higher quality of service and on-net calling to eliminated many of charges you incur for Long Distance.
PBX equipment is just flat-out expensive though and too complex for most medium to small businesses. When you figure in the cost of all the equipment, installation, customization, configuration, testing, support, upgrades and maintenance over a five year period, the PBX is a leach on precious financial resources. And what if you are small business with just a few people and no IT staff? There are small PBXs in the thousand dollar or less range that support a small number of phones but this becomes yet another project requiring your attention, time and nurturing to make work.
Take into account the way many businesses work today and PBX equipment becomes obsolete. Most businesses have many workers that are on the go. They work from home. They work from remote offices. They move from office to office. They work from computers and laptops. They work in other countries. The old phone sitting on the desk is useless. The cell phone has become the device of choice for these companies and employees but these devices operate outside the PBX. Most incoming calls won’t transfer to cell phones and have to go to voice mail. Calls made on cell phones won’t transfer to corporate extensions. Cells phones are also a pain to use from home on a regular basis if you have to make or take a lot of calls. And now you have two numbers to give a client – the office and the cell number.
If you are a business in this situation don’t spend another dime on your PBX! Get a hosted PBX solution – also known as PBX as a service, Cloud VoIP, Unified Communications and other names. With this type of PBX you pay monthly for the PBX rather than making a one-time expense. The monthly service fee can be as low as no cost form some vendors, start at $50 per month with others. Check out solutions from companies like 8×8, Broadview, Broadvox, Fonality, MegaPath, Reallinx, SimpleSignal and many others to get a feel for the wide range of solutions that fit most any need and budget. Their solutions include the Hosted PBX and new IP phones plus the phone lines you need – now called call paths – so you can make calls. The solutions also include Long Distance plans and they vary from a large bucket of minutes to Unlimited usage.
I was recently at the ITEXPO convention in Austin, TX and had the pleasure of meeting with many of these companies and reviewing their solutions. One that I would like to key in on is 8×8. I was blown away by the functionality they have for the small business owner. They have been providing services for many years and their product shows a level of refinement and simplicity not found in many of the other solutions. At a high level, you get a fully featured PBX including call attendant, voice mail, extensions, inbound call routing and all the basic other features you would expect. You also get a lot of new features you may not have today such as: find-me/follow-me – a feature that will ring a series of phones until you pick up such as your desk phone, then your cell phone, then your home phone; soft phone – a PC based phone for making calls from your computer, tablet or laptop; an application for your cell phone that allows you to receive and make calls from the company PBX. Plus, you can take your IP desk phone home and use it to make calls over your DSL or Cable service. These features are a boon for the mobile or remote worker.
As good as it sounds though there is one hitch. You may have to make some upgrades to your Internet access service and your local area network to make sure that you get the same high quality calls that you are used to with your old PBX. If you don’t have enough bandwidth or if your network is too slow your calls may ping, pop, scratch and drop altogether. If you are willing to make the investment in your data network then you can reap the reward of a much more functional PBX that is easier to use and requires no maintenance.