Note: Our best phone service for business article has been fully updated. This feature was first published in October 2012.
In a world dominated by smartphones and tablets, businesses often forget to pay close attention to the phone systems they choose, thinking their mobiles will be able to cope. The reality is that just as you spend time carefully considering other key services for your business, choosing the right phones should also be an issue you explore thoroughly.
The number of phone systems that your business could use are manifold. In essence you have a range of choices including:
- Self-hosted VoIP
- Cloud-based VoIP
- Virtual Phone Service
Each one of these options has its strengths and weaknesses. To help you choose the right phone system for your business, ask yourself these questions:
- What is your current call volume and how is this likely to change?
- Do you have a fast and reliable connection to the internet to allow VoIP systems to operate efficiently?
- Does your new telecoms hardware and software have to function with existing equipment?
- What new features are you looking to add to your telecoms systems?
- Does your business work in more than one office?
- Will you spend significant quantities of time working remotely?
- Does your business already have an installed PBX system?
How much time you and your employees spend away from the office and its landline will often be the deciding factor when choosing a phone system. Landlines do offer high reliability and call quality, but they lack the flexibility that modern businesses demand.
Switching to IP telephony that uses the internet and an organisation's LAN with a virtual PBX (Private Branch Exchange) instead of a landline to send and receive calls can be a more flexible option.
However, your business needs to carefully consider whether just using IP-based phone services will deliver the quality and reliability that is needed. Often, businesses will opt to build a hybrid system that uses their existing Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) that connects to the business' PBX system.
The ease with which virtual PBX systems can be upgraded and managed makes them a popular choice amongst businesses that expect to grow rapidly. Just answering voice calls may be the primary need for your phone system, but this is just one point of contact with customers. Businesses need to integrate call recording, videoconferencing, customer services and of course mobile workers who all need a reliable phone system.
Using the cloud has transformed many aspects of your business – hosted phone systems can also have a major impact. Sometimes known as hosted VoIP these systems deliver what is called Unified Communications, which Gartner defines as products (equipment, software and services) that "facilitate the interactive use of multiple enterprise communications methods."
This brings together all of the communications technologies your business needs into an integrated system. A good example is SIP Trunking, which uses IP VPN (Virtual Private Network) to connect to your business' IP PBX.
Many small and micro-businesses are also using virtual phone services, which offer UK landline numbers that can be diverted to your smartphone. Calls can be answered professionally if needed with London-based numbers available. These virtual receptionist services could be all your new business needs to stay connected to customers and colleagues.
VoIP or landline?
For small businesses VoIP looks like a godsend, as it can offer free calls, but there are a number of considerations your business should look at very closely before using VoIP.
Few businesses rely on VoIP for all of their calls, instead using this platform for long distance and international calls only. The pros and cons of using VoIP are outlined below:
Pros of VoIP
- Calls can be free when routed over the internet, once your broadband and mobile data plans are paid for
- If your business has remote workers, calls can be made to them over VoIP directly to their notebook PCs and increasingly tablet computers as well
- International calls are an area where VOIP offers real bonuses.
- VOIP can also be used for conference calls and increasingly for teleconferencing
- There is now a range of equipment including hybrid phones that can be used as a standard landline phone and as a VoIP handset
Cons of VoIP
- As you are routing your calls over the internet, the quality may well differ from day-to-day
- If you use VoIP and your internet connection goes down, so does your business' telecoms systems
- Initial setup and training for VoIP can be expensive for very small companies
- Using VoIP could open every system it is used on to attack from computer viruses that could affect other systems in your business
- Calls are only free if everyone else you are calling is also using the same VoIP service provider
Thanks to the success of Skype, VoIP has become incredibly popular as a technology able to potentially slash call costs. Whether you use a hosted system or your own on-site VoIP installation, assess your requirements and the robustness of the VoIP platform you're using to ensure it meets your precise needs.
Phone for business
Once your phone network is installed or expanded, you can now think about the handsets and other devices you can connect. Traditional desk phones are of course still available and can be connected to your physical PBX or the virtual network you have installed.
However, there are some phones that can offer more integrated features that can deliver cost savings and increase efficiency. Converging a number of phone technologies into one device has been an ongoing process for some years. One of the latest incarnations is the Gigaset Maxwell 10 that consists of a high end DECT phone with built in VoIP capability. The device offers apps, HD quality audio and video.
Many small businesses need their communications literally in the palm of their hands. Fortunately, the smartphone is now capable of becoming a powerful business machine. Devices such as the Voice Bridge make your smartphone your new fixed phone line.
The Audioffice iPhone companion is a dock with a built-in speaker and handset. You can also connect the dock to your Mac to use the enhanced speaker and microphone for VoIP calls – plus Android support is coming soon. And the NVX 220 offers SIP users the ability to merge landline and mobile calls into one unit.
A phone for your business now means understanding what your business needs from its telephony and matching your current needs to the available systems. Traditional landlines still have their place, as does a fast broadband connection.
However, virtual telephony and the advantages that SIP Trunking can offer make these technologies ideal for businesses – especially small and micro-businesses that don't want to make large investments in IT infrastructure.
Take your time to assess your needs, which will give you a list of features for vendors to match. It's likely that your business will need a mixture of telephony services. The trend is for more virtual phone services, but for now a hybrid approach will give your business the best phone system.