A business that grows beyond a handful of phones needs to look into a private branch exchange (PBX). In the old days, it would be just a switching box that connected to the public phone system. Today, a new PBX will almost always be digital, using voice over an IP network (VoIP). It's more economical and offers more features than the old systems.
The PBX can either be a physical, on-premises box or a hosted PBX. “Hosted” means that a service provider takes care of the exchange, and you connect to it through the Internet. Most businesses, especially SMBs, find it simpler and more economical to go hosted. It saves the effort of maintaining the hardware and software. The phones don't all have to be in the same building, and employees can connect from home or in the field.
PBX in the cloud
A hosted PBX can be a box that just happens to be in a data center, but more often it's a cloud service. This gives greater reliability at less cost. It's easy to change the level of service as needed, and the calling rates aren't tied to a local exchange. In fact, your phone number doesn't have to match the exchange at your geographic location. If it's advantageous to make the nearest big city your local calling area, you can do that.
Many features are available on hosted PBX that old-style phone service doesn't offer. These vary from one host to another, but typically include call transfers, voice mail, hold music, conferencing, and auto-attendant.
You need a good local area network for a VoIP PBX to work well. If your facility doesn't already have Ethernet cabling, this may be a good time to invest in it. While the phones can in principle work over Wi-Fi, it's too easy to saturate the bandwidth and degrade the quality of the calls.
If you already have a local area network, make sure you have a router that handles VoIP well. For consistently good calls, it needs to have QoS (quality of service) features, and they have to be enabled for VoIP.
You need phones, of course. You have several options, which you can mix and match:
Hardware SIP phones. These phones vary in style, features, and quality, but they all connect to a VoIP network, in the same way, so you can choose among vendors. They look and feel like real telephones and have buttons for access to features.
VoIP software on desktop computers or mobile devices is economical. The only new hardware needed is, at most, a microphone and headphones. The full range of features will usually be available. VoIP can work smoothly on a smartphone or tablet. Depending on how well the software works with the operating system, answering calls may be difficult. With a laptop or desktop, the computer has to be on all the time, and it doesn't feel as convenient as talking on a phone. Software options are good for employees using their own equipment at home or in the field.
Legacy phones with adapters. An analog telephone adapter (ATA) turns an old-style phone into a SIP phone for a lower price. The disadvantage is that it doesn't have push-button access to the PBX's features. Some or all of the features may be available through touch tones or voice commands. You can save on initial costs by using ATAs at less important locations and upgrading them to SIP phones later.
The 3CX phone system works as either an on-premises or cloud system and provides an easy transition. Talk to us to find out if 3CX is right for you and how we can help you to get started with it.