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SafeSoft Cloud Contact Center

Convoso Cloud Contact Center is a cloud-based call center solution with a predictive dialer and inbound call support for small and midsize businesses. As a cloud-based solution, Convoso Cloud Contact Center is accessible over... Read More
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Nextiva Office

Winner of the "Product of the Year" award by Internet Telephony magazine for the last 4 years running, Nextiva's Business VoIP solutions offer small businesses enterprise-level telephony features at an extremely affordable price point.... Read More
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Virtual Office by 8x8

Virtual Office is a collection of comprehensive web-based business VoIP solutions from offered by 8x8. Enterprise grade phone service, virtual meetings, mobile applications, virtual contact centers and more are available to help companies... Read More
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Jive Voice

Jive Communications delivers a cloud-based unified communication solution to organizations of all sizes across the U.S. Jive Voice includes integrated products for business VoIP, video conferencing and contact center which are all... Read More
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RingCentral Office

RingCentral Office is a cloud-based business phone solution that offers business communication tools and helps to optimize communications for voice, fax and text. Core features of the solution include conferencing, auto-recording and... Read More
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ShoreTel Sky

ShoreTel is a cloud-based VoIP phone system that offers collaboration and conferencing tools to enable efficient information flow within the organization. ShoreTel is a managed hosted VoIP solution that configures and manages everything... Read More
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Vonage Business Solutions

Vonage Business Solutions is a cloud-based unified communication solution suitable for small and midsize companies. The solution offers a business phone system that enables businesses to connect their VoIP phone system to any internet... Read More
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FluentStream VoIP

FluentStream is a business phone solution designed for companies of all sizes. It offers call monitoring, telemarketing, IVR and reporting features within an integrated suite. The solution is available both in cloud-based and on-premise... Read More
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ReadyTalk Hosted Voice

ReadyTalk is a cloud-based communication service provider and offers hosted voice, video and web conferencing and streaming webinars. ReadyTalk’s hosted voice solution, powered by Evolve IP, delivers cloud-based business phone services... Read More
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ContactWorld by NewVoiceMedia

ContactWorld, created by NewVoiceMedia, is a unified communication platform for any size corporation. It offers standalone call center functionality, including automatic call distribution, predictive dialer, call recording, auto attendant,... Read More
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Five9 Cloud Contact Center

Five9 Call Center software enables agents to manage inbound, outbound, blended or multi-channel contact centers.  The smart dialer features help agents handle their live prospects. An intelligent routing tool routes calls to agents... Read More
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NICE inContact Hosted Call Center

NICE inContact is a SaaS-based call center software that helps businesses to maximizes the quality of leads and minimizes the cost of client interaction. The solution comprises of many features required to process inbound support requests... Read More
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Business Voice

Business Voice is a cloud-based VoiP solution created by PanTerra, which allows users to take or make calls from their office phone number, communicate with their team, and have file access, all from any device with an internet connection,... Read More
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MegaPath

MegaPath is Business Voip software that works with medium to large-size businesses in any industry. The system offers companies Internet connectivity, unified communications, security services, managed networking services, and more. With... Read More
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Solgari Cloud PBX

Solgari Cloud PBX is an all-in-one, fully integrated PBX solution that can be customized to meet the needs of businesses of various sizes. Features and functionality as well as users and locations can be added or removed on an as-needed... Read More
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Fonality

Built on the idea that big company phone features should also be available to small- and medium- sized businesses, Fonality offers robust functionality that fits the the SMB budget. Their suite of applications is both flexible and... Read More
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Answer360

Answer360 is a powerful business VoIP phone system ideal for small and mid-sized businesses. Features include call transferring, call forwarding, auto attendants, and message delivery via email.
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AVOXI Core Cloud PBX

Since 2001, AVOXI has been developing call center and VoIP systems that serve the needs of businesses around the globe. With customers in 50 countries, AVOXI combines a telecom service with PBX and call center software in a hosted... Read More
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Slingshot

Slingshot is a robust VoIP solution that offers numerous advanced features. Far more than a straightforward hosted PBX, it offers a predictive dialer and allows you to bring your own device instead of using specialized equipment.
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Cisco Unified Communications Manager

Cisco Unified Communications Manager is an advanced platform for integrating business communication technologies such as telephony, video conferencing, presence information, call recording, Web conferencing and messaging. It enables... Read More
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UNIVERGE 3C

UNIVERGE 3C, NEC’s software-based IP-PBX, is a sophisticated platform for unified communications and collaboration. Its comprehensive functionality helped it earn the 2014 Internet Telephony Product of the Year award from technology... Read More
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Avaya IP Office

Avaya IP Office is a comprehensive communications and collaboration solution designed for small to midsize businesses. It’s capable of scaling up to support 2,000 users, so your phone system can easily expand as your business grows.  Moreover,... Read More
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OmniPCX Office RCE

OmniPCX Office Rich Communication Edition (RCE) is the cornerstone of Alcatel-Lucent’s OpenTouch Suite. It's suited for small to midsize businesses with up to 200 employees. An all-in-one networking solution, OmniPCX Office RCE... Read More
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SendHub

SendHub is a comprehensive Business VoIP solution. The mobile capabilities and messaging system are two features we really like, and it's suitable for companies of almost any size. The system deploys on premise or web-based.
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Huawei eSpace

Huawei eSpace is a unified communications solution designed for enterprises. Some models of the hardware IP PBXs at the core of the Huawei system can support up to 10,000 users per unit. Huawei Integrated Access Devices (IADs) enable... Read More
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Ooma Office

Ooma Office is a VoIP solution designed and priced for organizations with one to 10 employees. While Ooma Office offers many of the same capabilities as more traditional IP PBXs, it also has  features that are specifically tailored... Read More
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Intermedia Hosted PBX

Intermedia Hosted PBX is a cloud-based phone system designed to meet the needs of small to mid-sized enterprises with up to 1,000 employees. Users of Intermedia Hosted PBX get a range of features, such as hunt groups to make sure... Read More
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XO Hosted PBX

XO Communications is a provider of network services that offers a cloud-based phone system, XO Hosted PBX, designed for businesses with 50 to 1,000 employees. In addition to hosting VoIP applications, XO also offers SIP trunking services... Read More
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Voice Complete

Level 3 offers both SIP trunking and Integrated Services for Digital Network (ISDN) services in a package known as Voice Complete. Businesses can use Level 3 SIP trunking to connect calls between VoIP systems and the traditional phone... Read More
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NetVanta 7100

ADTRAN’s NetVanta 7100 is an IP data networking and telephony solution integrated into one single platform. Designed mainly for small to midsize businesses, NetVanta 7100 is suitable for businesses up to 100 workstations. The solution... Read More
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OBiPLUS

Obihai’s OBiPLUS is an on-premise IP telephony solution designed for very small businesses (i.e., those with 12 or fewer employees). Users can buy either a basic license, which supports up to four extensions, or a premium license,... Read More
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MiVoice Business

Mitel MiVoice offers a range of unified communications (UC) platforms designed for businesses with varying needs. Some MiVoice platforms are designed for small businesses with fewer than 250 employees, while others can scale up to... Read More
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XMission Hosted PBX

XMission is an Internet service provider (ISP) that offers a cloud-based business phone system known as XMission Hosted PBX. Additionally, XMission offers SIP trunking services for businesses that want a single-vendor VoIP system.... Read More
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Broadview OfficeSuite

Broadview Networks’ OfficeSuite is a cloud-based phone system that offers a number of unified communications features. This solution is scalable, and can meet the needs of very small businesses (three or fewer employees) as well... Read More
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3CX

3CX is a software-based PBX that works with SIP standard-based IP Phones, SIP trunks and VoIP Gateways. Pricing for 3CX is based on the number of simultaneous calls that the system supports. Solutions are tailored to different business... Read More
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IBM Sametime

IBM Sametime is a leading unified communications suite that offers enterprise-grade communication and collaboration applications. Users of IBM Sametime can integrate multiple channels of communication into an effortless and seamless... Read More
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ShoreTel

In addition to providing a hosted PBX service (an offering that can be found here), ShoreTel also provides an on-premise solution that offers the conferencing, collaboration, presence and mobility applications and features collectively... Read More
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Phone.com

Phone.com is a hosted PBX solution designed for businesses with fewer than 50 employees. It offers SIP trunking service together with PBX service for a single-provider VoIP solution. Along with basic PBX functions like extensions,... Read More
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TelePacific Hosted PBX

TelePacific Communications is a provider of voice and data services that offers a cloud-based phone system known as TelePacific Hosted PBX. TelePacific also offers SIP trunking, PRI/CAS and analog services for businesses with on-premise... Read More
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PBXact

Schmooze Com, Inc. is the developer and corporate sponsor of FreePBX, which is a distribution of the open-source Asterisk telephony platform. True to its name, FreePBX is indeed free for businesses possessing the IT experience to deploy... Read More
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Digium Switchvox

Digium, the developer of Asterisk (a widely used open-source telephony platform), offers a phone system known as Switchvox, which is available both as a Web-based and on-premise solution. Businesses with multiple locations can also... Read More
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Windstream Virtual PBX VoIP

Windstream is a provider of network services for business communications, including a suite of cloud-based applications for voice communications known as Windstream Virtual PBX VoIP. Windstream offers SIP trunking for businesses that... Read More
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BroadVoice Cloud PBX

Broadvoice Cloud PBX is a fully scalable, hosted phone system that can meet the needs of businesses ranging in size from one to over 10,000 employees. Services are priced per extension per month. Broadvoice offers U.S.-based support... Read More
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Evolved Office IP Phone System

Evolve IP offers a cloud-based phone system known as The Evolved Office Hosted PBX, which is suitable for businesses with over 50 employees. Businesses can bundle Evolve IP SIP trunking with Evolved Office for a single-vendor solution. Moreover,... Read More
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OnSIP Hosted VoIP

OnSIP Hosted PBX by Junction Networks is a cloud-based phone system that includes standard PBX features, such as auto attendants and voicemail-to-email. Unified communications (UC) applications are also available, such as a browser-based... Read More
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AirePBX

AireSpring AirePBX is a Web-based phone system for businesses with up to 1,000 employees. In addition to hosted PBX service, AireSpring offers SIP trunking for a single-provider VoIP solution. In addition to managed routers, AireSpring... Read More
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VirtualPBX

VirtualPBX is a scalable, hosted PBX suitable for small to midsize businesses with up to 100 employees. Instead of outsourcing support to overseas call centers, VirtualPBX offers free, U.S.-based support. Installation includes pre-configured... Read More
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FortiVoice

Fortinet offers a line of on-premise VoIP systems known as FortiVoice that scale from small businesses up to enterprises with 2,000 employees. In addition to IP connectivity, FortiVoice also supports connections to the public switched... Read More
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ThinkingPhones

ThinkingPhones is a cloud-based phone system developed by Thinking Phone Networks suited for organizations with over 5,000 employees. This solution also offers SIP trunking for businesses that need a single-vendor VoIP solution.  ThinkingPhones... Read More
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VoiceMaxx CE

West IP Communications is a provider of cloud-based unified communications services. VoiceMaxx CE (Cisco Edition), West IP Communications’ hosted PBX offering, is based on the Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution platform. While... Read More
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Buyer's Guide

The complexity of the business telephony market is nothing short of staggering. With hundreds of differences—some minor, some major—in technology, features and usability, buying a new VoIP phone system can get very confusing very quickly.

We’ve written this buyer’s guide to make business telephony a little easier to understand, and to make the buying process a little more palatable. Here’s what we’ll cover: 

Reviewers' Choice
Traditional Business Phone Systems
VoIP Phone Systems
Software Applications
Pricing Considerations
Recent Events You Should Know About

Reviewers' Choice

voip reviewers choice

 

Reviewers' Choice Products

Jive Voice Panterra Streams
RingCentral Skype
Vonage Business Solutions Evolve Office IP Phone Systems

Our Reviewers’ Choice list shows the five highest user-rated software solutions for VoIP when adjusted for total number of reviews and recency of reviews.

If a software solution has more reviews, and more recent reviews, we value those ratings more highly than a product with fewer, older reviews. This is because is it much harder to get 100 five-star reviews than it is to get 10.

We also know that software vendors continually tweak and update their product, so we believe that more recent reviews tend to be more accurate.

To determine which products made the final cut, we looked at how users rated each solution's:

  • Overall performance,
  • Ease of use, and
  • Customer support

A solution can make the Reviewers' Choice top five in all three categories, or just one or two. All software solutions in the Reviewers' Choice have at least 10 reviews from real software users. The final products are listed in alphabetical order from left to right.

For more details on how we selected our Reviewers' Choice, read the full methodology.

Traditional Business Phone Systems

Traditional business phone systems use the traditional landline telephone system, often called the Plain Old Telephone Service or POTS. VoIP phone systems, discussed below, use the Internet instead of the POTS. Overall, the technology is in a state of transition from traditional to VoIP, and many businesses have phone systems using elements of both.

Private Branch Exchanges (PBX)
In a PBX system, every office phone is connected to a single, centralized router within the office, which then assigns a unique line (called a trunk) to the public telephone network. A PBX allows internal calls to be routed without connecting to the public phone network at all—translating to significant cost savings, particularly in large offices.

The term "PBX" originates from the days when a live operator manually connected lines (exchanging branches) at a company’s internal switchboard. Though today’s technology is wildly different (there aren’t always branches, nothing’s being exchanged and the business phone system is often managed remotely, which means it’s not even private anymore), the term is so widespread in the industry that it is still used to describe any in-house office phone system. Related acronyms you might hear include:

  • IP PBX: Internet Protocol Private Branch Exchange
  • PABX: Private Automatic Branch Exchange
  • EPABX: Electronic Private Automatic Branch Exchange

Key Systems
In a key system, the user selects the line manually, with lights indicating which lines are in use. Though this is a useful feature for small office systems, it quickly becomes impractical as the number of users grows. (Imagine a key system with 50 lines.)

As technology has improved, a hybrid model has emerged that routes keyed phones through an electronic system, similar to a PBX. This has allowed for the rapid merging of keyed and PBX features, plus the development of new features such as:

  • Monitoring the system from a remote location
  • Caller ID
  • Voicemail
  • User- or office-specific limitations (e.g., no international calls)

Though this description drastically oversimplifies all that goes into the technology, what’s important to note is that most keyed systems today operate through some form of hybrid model.

Choosing Between a PBX and a Hybrid Key System
Though these technologies have converged over time, their usability and features make them very different at the user level. Since a modern PBX control unit is essentially a specialized computer, it provides automated call distribution and many more features associated with computer telephony integration (CTI, described in more detail below). The behavior of a hybrid key system, however, may be far more preferable (and more cost-effective) for smaller businesses that don’t need those features or more than a dozen or so lines.

BehaviorKey/Hybrid SystemPBX
Line selection User selects the line, or the system defaults to the first available line. User dials an “escape number” (usually 9, in the U.S.) to access an outside line. (Note that modern systems can often bypass this step through software that recognizes how calls should be routed based on the first number or numbers.)
Inbound calls Can be answered by multiple people. Often, the phone will ring simultaneously at multiple endpoints, and whomever answers first gets it. Calls are routed to a specific user, often automatically to the first available user of a specified type.
Ideal for >50 employees and/or call centers

VoIP Phone Systems

Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, sends communication data through the Internet rather than through a traditional phone line. The biggest benefit of VoIP telephone systems for businesses is that they provide more features and usability at a fraction of the cost: Rates on long distance and international calls, in particular, are much lower. They're also more expandable than traditional phone lines, since they're limited by digital bandwidth rather than by the number of physical lines.

VoIP has further blurred the distinction between key systems and PBXs, since there are now business telephone systems that can perform the functions of both. Here we’ll look at three examples of business VoIP phone systems, starting simple and moving to the more advanced.

A Simple Business VoIP System
The most basic business VoIP system is telephone software run on an office computer. This phone software, also known as a softphone, can receive and make phone calls to any phone number over the Internet. Remember, VoIP calls can be placed to any type of phone; they aren’t restricted to calling other VoIP phones. (If you’re new to VoIP, check out our beginner’s guide.)

The business using the system pays its VoIP provider for a single telephone number. Any calls made to that number will be received by that softphone. Calls made from that account’s softphones will display the company’s own Caller ID information. Customers won’t know if they’re called from a softphone at the office, or a softphone running on a laptop on the road, as long as both are on the same account, a benefit to some.

Many VoIP providers offer softphones and come bundled with basic features like customizable voicemail.

A Typical Business VoIP System
An example of a more typical VoIP system would be found in a small business of 10 employees, each with their own VoIP desk phone. Called “hardphones,” these look like traditional office handsets but connect directly to the office’s computer network. VoIP hardphones can be purchased separately or included as part of a service provider’s plan.

Since the office has multiple phones, calls need to be directed and managed between them. This is the job of a central switchboard or Private Branch Exchange (PBX). While there are many feature-rich hardware PBXs available, there are also free software PBXs that run on small computers. A third, and increasingly popular, option is to have a cloud-based PBX. This is a service offered by many VoIP providers and requires no on-site hardware.

Most PBXs also provide the company’s Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, the automated voice directory that greets and directs outside calls.

An Advanced Business VoIP System
An advanced business VoIP system would be one for a business with hundreds of employees and several remote offices. Here, all employees have hardphones, which connect to the company’s on-premise or cloud-based PBX using their local office’s computer network. Through the PBX, any employee in any office can connect directly to, or transfer calls to, any other employee.

These employees may also have softphones on their cell phones and laptops, which they use while on the road. The softphones also connect to the company’s cloud-based PBX, but connect via whichever data service is available (e.g., 3G/4G or WiFi). These softphones function exactly like the hardphones in the offices.

Most large corporations with multiple offices maintain PBXs in each office which act as one system by coordinating over the Internet, often via SIP trunks and/or using mobile SIP clients.

Benefits of VoIP
A business VoIP system can replace a traditional analog phone system, reducing costs and adding communication functions that help the business operate more efficiently.

Sophisticated functionality. A business VoIP system improves internal and external communications with a variety of real-time tools, such as text messaging, video conferencing and remote collaboration.

Increased efficiency. Apart from adding functions that make communications run more smoothly, a VoIP system brings other efficiencies such as the ability to expand and upgrade a system with relative ease.

Easier redundancy. Digital systems are much easier to back up than analog systems. There’s no easy way to have a backup of the telephone lines outside your office, but you can have your Internet service delivered by several independent means. 

Cost reduction. The flat-rate and tiered plans offered by VoIP providers are generally more competitive than the service plans offered by traditional phone providers. You can also save money on hardware by using cloud-based switchboards and inexpensively adding phone extensions.

Software Applications for Business Telephony

Many of the more basic features below (e.g., call recording or Internet faxes) are common to almost all office phone systems. More advanced functionality like CTI, ACD and auto-dialers will usually be add-ons as part of a more advanced PBX system.

Computer telephony integration (CTI) CTI primarily describes the integration between telephone functions and a user’s desktop computer (including with your CRM or ERP software, if applicable). Common functions of a CTI include the ability to use a computer for phone control (placing, answering, terminating or transferring calls); to show call information (from caller ID, data entered during the routing process and tracked information like call time); to control your active state (ready, busy, away etc.) and, at the server level, to route calls appropriately.
Softphone Rather than having a dedicated phone line, a headset is plugged into the user’s computer, which is then used as the phone source.
Mobility One main advantage of modern phone systems for businesses is the ability to connect any user into the system, even if they’re not physically in the same building. This allows companies to incorporate mobile devices, home offices and multiple locations.
Auto dialer/predictive dialer The system places an outbound call automatically; when someone answers, he is connected to an internal user.
Automatic call distribution (ACD) ACD queues distribute inbound calls according to the desired routing selections. ACD might include: routing calls to the appropriate person; ranking callers so they can be answered in a certain order; or automatic ring-back (giving callers an option to receive a call back rather than wait on hold).
Interactive voice response (IVR) The ability to use vocal or keypad inputs to interact with the phone system. Allows the company to set up how calls are routed, what buttons can be pressed at what time and where calls go.
Call recording Record phone calls and upload the recordings to a secure server and/or deliver them through email. Note that CTI allows for enhanced data to be included as part of call recordings—e.g., a report of caller information, customer complaint, how the call was routed or how long the caller was on hold.
Conference calling The ability to link multiple phone lines together on a single call.
Video conferencing Audio and video conference technology can usually be incorporated directly into all users' workstations, allowing them to lead or join conferences from their own desks.
Internet fax Faxes can be sent and delivered electronically through email or through the company’s document control system. Note that when you’re buying a system, it’s helpful to your provider if you let them know how you use faxes, since there are many different ways to perform this function.

Pricing Considerations

Pricing for a business telephony system will be based on a number of factors.

First will be the size of your company: typical measures include number of locations, number of phones and number of outbound phone lines. One of the tricks of implementation is balancing cost against coverage; each additional phone line costs more money, and you want to get all the phone lines you’ll need at your highest traffic times—but no more. (If you’re not sure what you’ll need, any company you contact will be able to make a recommendation based on how your phones are used.) Multiple locations adds an extra layer of complexity, since it’s obviously much more complicated to connect two offices (or 10, or a 100) and mobile devices into a system than it is to operate one office independently.

The second factor affecting commercial phone systems' price will be the features, functionality and usage. A system with extensive CTI capabilities or ACD queues or with functionality for large-scale conference calls will cost more than one without. Large numbers of long distance or international calls, 800 numbers, call recording and other features will impact pricing, too. Companies with a large number of mobile devices may need to separately purchase software to manage them.

Finally, your industry and the operational and legal requirements it is bound by will have an impact on the system you buy and the functionality you need. For example, hotels have their own set of safety and privacy requirements; healthcare has HIPAA concerns that limit the type of deployments they can use; businesses in the financial services and government sectors have major security needs; and any company that takes credit cards over the phone will need to take into PCI compliance into account, which requires an encrypted line and halting any call recording that might be taking place during the credit card transaction. (Companies may also wish to invest in a robust, dedicated IT security platform.)

Note that many companies that deal in the business telephony market do it as part of a larger package—for example, you might hire the same company to be your broadband Internet provider, your network administrator and your business phone service provider all in one. Obviously, this will further impact pricing.

Key Considerations

Internet telephony. As Internet technology continues to grow and expand, Voice over IP is becoming an increasingly popular business phone solution. Business VoIP adoption reached 15 percent in 2013 (as reported by the FCC in 2014), with businesses of all sizes jumping on board. As this is clearly the direction the business telephony market is headed, VoIP is an option you should seriously consider.

Outsourcing IT. In the 1990s, a business trend of focusing on core competencies started to take root. Under this principle, even large businesses realized they could produce better results by allowing specialists to come in and manage all the processes that weren’t part of their specific area of expertise. IT and business telephony have both been a major part of that trend. So rather than investing in your own business telephone infrastructure and hardware, you may want to consider letting your service provider bring all that in for you.

Hosted cloud systems. As broadband Internet connections continue to get faster, cheaper and more reliable, cloud-based PBX phone systems continue to grow in popularity. These provide all the functionality of a full PBX or key phone system but are hosted on the service provider's servers. Simpler management and lower upfront cost are two selling points for hosted cloud systems.

Industry-specific systems. There are some industry-specific legal considerations that apply to business phones and business VoIP systems. A clear understanding of how phones are used within the specific industry will also help answer some of the following considerations.

VoIP phones. Business VoIP systems can use hardphones, which look and function just like traditional office telephone handsets. They can also use software phones, or softphones, where a headset is attached to a computer and calls are placed and received via the VoIP provider’s software interface.

Bandwidth. The Internet connection from the Internet Service Provider (ISP) must have sufficient bandwidth. Quality of Service (QoS) measures need to be in place to prioritize bandwidth usage so that voice calls get preference over non-real-time network uses.

Backup. When a company relies on an Internet connection for all communications, as can be the case with VoIP systems, it’s important to have a backup plan for when that connection has problems.

Recent Events You Should Know About

Microsoft expands Skype for Business services. In April 2016, Microsoft released the Cloud Connector Edition of the Skype for Business Server in 17 additional countries. This edition of the Skype for Business phone system enables businesses to connect an on-premises PBX or gateway to Microsoft’s cloud phone system in order to use their existing telecommunications providers instead of Microsoft’s SIP trunking services for connections to the traditional phone network.

Google launches Duo video-calling app to compete with consumer offerings. Google has launched a consumer video calling app called Duo in a bid to better compete with Skype and FaceTime in the massive consumer video calling market. Duo focuses on simplicity and only offers person-to-person calling. The lack of support for conference calling, text messaging, and desktops/laptops means that Duo is not useful for business communications when compared to similar offerings, including those from Google. Google’s communications client for businesses is Hangouts, not Duo.

8x8 unveils next-generation capabilities for global contact centers to optimize customer and agent experiences. Enterprise Communications as a Service (ECaaS) provider 8x8, Inc. launched next-generation capabilities for its Virtual Contact Center (VCC) solution. These new capabilities include native quality management capabilities and customer journey analytics, which serve to give contact center managers full visibility into the customer life cycle for an interaction.