Astoundant Blog

Different Types of Phone Systems for Businesses

Different Types of Phone Systems for Businesses

When it comes to figuring out the different types of phone systems for businesses, many choices exist. It’s no secret that we advocate a VoIP solution. Whether a business chooses hosted VoIP PBX or an on-premise VoIP PBX server, Astoundant Communications feels that VoIP offers the best combination of reliability, features, and cost savings.

We will talk about the different types of phone systems for businesses. We’ll talk about their features and their basic technical specifications. Remember, all phone systems provide the same functionality at the end of the day. It most often comes down to features and cost, which ultimately determines a business’ long-term return on investment (ROI).

Analog Service

For businesses that need a phone number and dial tone, an analog phone line will meet this need. The phone company, for an extra monthly fee, can add on services like call waiting, caller ID, voicemail, and three-way calling. The business just needs to plug in any analog phone.

If a business needs more than one phone, analog phone lines will quickly limit them. They can either get a cordless satellite system, or purchase an additional analog phone line for each additional phone. Each additional analog phone line, however, will have a separate phone number. Any incoming calls to the main business number will not ring the other analog phone lines. Also, a business has no way to put callers on hold. Using the mute button is the best way to accomplish this, assuming the phone has that functionality. Even if they mute the call to simulate call holding, they can’t transfer the call to another phone.

For a business that needs a single analog line, this setup will meet most of their needs. Most small businesses use a mobile phone anyway, so a single analog business line is rare nowadays.

Centrex

Short for central exchange, centrex systems run on basic analog phone lines. The local telephone company most often provides this service. It consists of the main equipment housed at the phone company’s operations facility, with the phones plugged in at the business. Centrex provides basic additional features to dial tone service (ring multiple phones, three-way calling, hold, call transfer, caller ID, voicemail).

A business would still pay for multiple phone lines, typically one line per phone. Each phone would have a separate phone number; however, the phone company can program the centrex system to provide the business with the additional features. For example, multiple phones can ring for an incoming call on the main line. Employees can put callers on hold and transfer the call to another phone.

Phone companies typically tack on a surcharge per phone line for the centrex features. Businesses also need more expensive analog multi-line phones. This combination makes a centrex system one of the most expensive options among the different types of phone systems for businesses. Also, while centrex systems offer more features, businesses have few, if any, options to add on additional features. Most centrex phone systems limit the number of phones that a business can use.

PBX

Short for private branch exchange, a PBX provides businesses with more features in addition to the centrex-provided features. A typical PBX provides about a dozen or so features like music on hold. Businesses only need one phone number, and the phones connect to the on premise PBX with private extension numbers. Users transfer calls simply by dialing the private extension number, or pressing a button on a multi-line phone. Extensions can also be assigned to ring groups so only extensions ring on incoming calls. Some PBX systems also have automated call distribution (ACD) and call queues to provide call center abilities for a small group of phones.

A PBX system typically requires an IT support or private telecom company to install and manage it. With an analog PBX, a business would still have to lease multiple lines from the phone company. Combined with the need for multi-line phones and extra features, this makes the PBX the most expensive option Also, a power outage may temporarily disable some features or incoming and outgoing calls entirely. If a business needs to add additional phones, they may need to upgrade their PBX equipment.

VoIP

Short for voice over IP, VoIP uses Internet bandwidth. As a software-based option, VoIP provides more than three dozen features that include all the PBX features. Businesses can use several different options for calls: Internet phones, analog phones connected to an analog telephone adapter (ATA), or a softphone (software installed on a computer, tablet, or smartphone). VoIP provides the greatest flexibility among the different types of phone systems for businesses. For example, businesses can install an on-premise VoIP PBX system (similar to a traditional PBX) or connected to a VoIP system hosted offsite (similar to centrex). Also, businesses can deploy conference calls for more than three users. a hosted PBX system has the distinct advantage of offsite service: if the business encounters an Internet or power outage, incoming callers will still hear a greeting and be able to leave a voicemail message.

VoIP services typically cost significantly less than other types of phone systems for businesses. Astoundant Communications saves businesses on average 50% compared to single analog lines, centrex, and PBX. High speed Internet, monthly VoIP service, and a business’ choice of endpoint devices (Internet phones, analog phones with ATAs, softphones, or a combination) represent the only expenses. Most VoIP providers don’t charge for initial setup, so depending on the tech-savviness of a business, they may or may not have to hire someone to configure endpoints. Adding additional phones is usually as easy as contacing the service provider and adding the device. VoIP can even handle those occasional faxes.

Internet reliability and power outages have — and always will — be the Achilles heel of VoIP. Poor bandwidth leads to poor call quality: static or crackling during calls, sound intermittently cutting out, or calls dropping. Internet outages prevent any incoming or outgoing calls. Since most businesses use the Internet to communicate with the outside world, an outage could totally disable business.

Conclusion

A business with access to highly reliable, high speed Internet shoud strongly consider VoIP. For the rest, the other types of phone systems for businesses should be considered. Since power outages typically don’t affect analog phone lines, analog phone systems do have that advantage. However, a battery backup system solves this problem.

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5 VoIP Features that Justify a DIY Phone System

5 VoIP Features That Justify a DIY Phone System

VoIP Features are still missing from providers offerings despite the fact that business phone service costs are decreasing. We at Astoundant offer 40 standard features with our business phone service, tops in the industry. However, a DIY phone system ensures that you’ll get all the features you need to effectively run your business. Five VoIP features alone justify building a DIY phone system of your own.

We’ll go over each feature and give example of how they can help. Then we’ll go over the overall benefits that make a DIY phone system worth it.

Custom Call Routing

Most of you probably know that you can forward incoming phone calls to different numbers. With custom call routing, you can do so much more. You can forward calls by time of day (like to call time conditions). For example, one of our clients needs high availability of live voices answering the phones, so they stagger staff lunch breaks. When one group of employees take their lunch, incoming calls only ring at the other group of employees’ extensions. When the other group takes their lunch, phones ring at the first group.

Astoundant VoIP Features that Justify a DIY System

Companies can also use custom call routing in other ways. For inside sales reps who have assigned territories, a DIY phone system can route calls properly to each sales rep based on area code. Also, custom call routing can screen calls: calls from private or block numbers usually indicate telemarketers, so custom call routing can send those straight to a voicemail box.

Music on Hold

Many companies can make do with a standard choice of hold music. However, some companies want or need to stand out. A DIY phone system allows contol over the hold music. If you’re a head shop, for example, a choice between classical, jazz, or contemporary pop probably won’t cut it. Upload Reggae or Ska. Create your own promotional recorded advertising instead of music. Whatever you choose, be sure to follow the appropriate copyright laws. Upload as much or as little hold music as you’d like, and set it to shuffle. Since a DIY phone system takes MP3’s, you can upload as many files as you like and let the system shuffle for as long as you like. No two callers would potentially never hear the same hold music.

Digital Receptionist

For those who prefer not to have a live voice answer calls, a DIY phone system has the Digital Receptionist (AKA IVR) feature available. Record a custom greeting and create your own call transfer choices. The Digital Receptionist feature has so much flexibility that each call can be transferred to the same extension. Additionally, combine it with custom call routing for even more options. For example, if callers can press 3 for support, calls during business hours can route to daytime staff. Instead of having an oncall shift and paying overtime, customers can press 3 and automatically route to an offshore call center.

Conference Calls

Ditch the conference call service and bring it in house on the DIY phone system. Although companies like FreeConference.com provide high quality service, a DIY phone system has one distinct advantage: no 3rd party advertising during calls. In fact, companies have the ability to inject their own advertising for incoming callers. Combine this with custom hold music, and you can turn that DIY phone system into a professional, name brand conference calling instance for clients. Free conference calling service also use toll numbers. Combine a DIY conference calling system with your own toll free number to add a jolt of professionalism.

Appointment Reminders

Probably the most under-utilized of all the VoIP features, appointment reminders adds professionalism and increases kept appointments. Using either voice calls or text messages, DIY phone systems have the capability to reach a list of customers automatically. While 3rd party providers offer this service, a DIY phone system can handle this task much more economically — up to 80% less. A little more expertise is required to setup and configure appointment reminders, but the applications are endless. Tweak the system a little to send text messages to customers. As with all automated calling and texting systems, be sure to follow state and federal spam laws.

Benefits of these VoIP Features

These five VoIP features with respect to DIY phone systems have their benefits. First and foremost, a DIY system saves money. One way is with the ability to shop around for the best per minute call rates. Although we offer unlimited calling for as low as $14.99 per month, competitive per minute rates exist. Additionally, a DIY phone system enables the builder to deploy least cost routing. LCR uses multiple carriers. A little configuration on the DIY system ensures that calls use the least expensive routes. For example, if carrier A has better rates for calls to Florida, but carrier B has better rates for calls to Kansas, a DIY system can be configured to ensure calls to Florida and Kansas route to the best carriers. Finally, these VoIP features give the customer complete control. A new feature can be reconfigured or added immediately without any out of pocket expenses.

Conclusion

With business phone services becoming more competitive, DIY systems still provide major benefits. These benefits make the effort and time to learn about, setup, and configure a system worth spending. These five VoIP features help a business service its customers better and add professionalism at a very low cost.

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Cloud based phone system pros and cons

The cloud based phone system: pros and cons

The cloud based phone system: pros and cons

What are the cloud based phone system pros and cons?

Clients have asked us that question a lot since we started in 2010. We have encountered numerous kinds of phone systems and setups, which makes this job fun. Aside from manufacturers and models, customers have two choices when it comes to VoIP: a cloud based or on premise phone system.

When we say on premise, we refer to the PBX server, not the desk phones, softphones, or mobile phones people can use to make and answer calls. The PBX server usually does most of the heavily lifting. It provides the business with all the extra bells and whistles on top of dial tone and inbound/outbound calling.

Before getting into the cloud based phone system pros and cons, we’ll start with defining a cloud based system. To help businesses out there with their research and buying decisions, we’ll discuss the plusses, then talk about the negatives. Then we’ll give our recommendation.

Spoiler alert: we recommend a cloud based phone system, and here’s why.

What is a cloud based phone system?

A cloud based phone system, also known as a hosted phone system or hosted PBX, sits in a remote location. The system typically resides in a colocation facility or datacenter. The majority of the time, businesses connect to cloud based phone systems through the Internet. For a more expensive option, they can connect with a direct point to point connection.

cloud based phone system pros and cons: a cloud based system resides on the Internet rather on premises.

Since the host sits remotely, the business doesn’t need an on premise server (AKA on premise PBX), just endpoints. The VoIP provider manages the system so all the customer needs to do is connect endpoints to theh system.

Cloud based phone systems can also come in at least a couple of different flavors. We offer multi-tenant cloud based phone systems for small office home office (SOHO) businesses. Multiple SOHOs share one cloud based instance, and we segment so they don’t interfere with each others’ services. For a little extra, medium and enterprise clients get their own cloud instance to ensure they get all the computing power and bandwidth they need.

Customer requirements

The customer needs a high speed Internet connection (if they don’t have the option of a point to point connection through the provider) and endpoints to connect to the cloud based phone system.

Cloud based phone system pros

Having done this for 8 years, we started with installing on premise PBX servers along with desk phones and configuring endpoints. One of our first customers experienced a power outage that outlasted the battery backup. Things were great for them for about 30 minutes until the phones went out. Customers couldn’t reach them, and we all know what that means in business…

Unfortunately, the customer was ready to dump us, until we threw the idea of a cloud based PBX to them like a Hail Mary. We asked them to give us another 2 weeks, and if the PBX setup didn’t work, we would refund 100% of their money. In 2018, they’re still our customer, and we recently upgraded their cloud based PBX to a newer software version.

We learned a big lesson: power and internet outages are on premise PBX’s kryptonite. Interestingly enough, this same customer experienced a major Internet outage in their area, and service was degraded for several hours. Apparently, a car accident severed a fiber optic line.

Redundancy

With our cloud based phone system, customers could at least hear a greeting and leave a message. The customer remotely connected to the system with a mobile phone and changed the message to let their customers know what was going on. We have redundancy built in to cover hardware, Internet, and power failures. We use various hot swappable and auto failover technologies, so we guarantee 100% uptime of our cloud based phone system.

Less expensive

Our clients only buy endpoints and pay for a technician to install and configure the endpoints, which takes about 15-30 minutes. At worst, they may have to run cabling or setup WiFi in the building to make sure all endpoints can connect to the cloud.

With on premise equipment, clients have to find room for the PBX. It works much better in a reasonably private and well-ventilated area, not under the CEO’s desk or next to a mop bucket in the closet. Depending on the size of the PBX server, they may have to rack mount it. Endpoint devices would definitely need a cable or WiFi connection to the on premise PBX. Then there’s the maintenance costs on the equipment to cover things such as replacement parts.

Initial costs for on premise systems can run $1000-$5000 per endpoint connection, and $300-$500 per month in total monthly costs per device. Comparatively speaking, initial costs for cloud based phone systems costs zero to a few hundred dollars per endpoint connection, and $15-$100 per month in ongoing costs per device. This all depends, though, on the provider and business requirements.

Less employee overhead

Then we have labor. The client pays labor to install and configure the on premise PBX. For subsequent configuration changes (e.g., an employee quits, adding extensions, etc.) or upgrades, the client will need an employee on site or an on call technician.

Flexibility

As this OnSIP article attests, with a cloud based phone system, the location of the physical business nor its employees doesn’t matter. As long as the endpoints have an Internet connection, the business has live phones. We have one client based in the US who had an employee setup a virtual office in the UK for a period of time to handle their European clients. The system routed calls to the UK office based on caller ID and time of day. US based calls routed stateside.

If a client relies on an on call technician to handle on premise equipment, they may have to wait longer for any changes. With cloud based phone systems, the VoIP provider either handles configuration changes with a simple request, or they provide an online portal for businesses to make simple changes themselves. Their equipment sits in a data center offsite, so the provider handles maintenance.

Cloud based phone system cons

A cloud based phone system does have its drawbacks. Most notably, sensitive information can potentially sit out on the cloud in the VoIP provider’s hands. The provider has the responsibility, though, to secure the cloud.

Second, a cloud based phone system relies more on the Internet. A solid and wide bandwidth connection must exist between the endpoints and the cloud. We encountered this problem more frequently in 2010 with potential clients who had T1, T3 satellite, and DSL lines.

Recommendation

We only focus on cloud based phone systems because the pros far outweight the cons. Also, we’ve taken significant steps to minimize or eliminate the cons. For one, we use the “bundle of sticks” approach to security. With multiple layers of security on our cloud, our bundle of sticks has more strength than one or two sticks alone. However, businesses must take potential security threats seriously.

Second, with increased bandwidth speeds and the emergence of gigabit Internet, we rarely encounter customers who can’t get high speedn Internet. Slow Internet only remains an issue in outlying areas, but even those areas are catching up. With the significant monthly cost difference between on premise PBX and cloud based phone systems, some of our customers install redundant Internet lines with automatic failover, and longer life battery backups. If the power and/or Internet fails, the automatic failover occurs without a single dropped call.

We hope our explanation of cloud based phone system pros and cons helps businesses make a solid buying decision. Any reputable cloud based phone system provider will use multiple layers of security similar to our bundle of sticks approach, and multiple layers of failover. These mechanisms in place should put any concerns to rest about cloud based phone systems.

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Used phone systems: getting the best bang for your buck

Used phone systems: getting the best bang for your buck

Used phones systems: getting the best bang for your buck

Used phone systems hold a ton of value for many businesses. For startups or the budget-conscious, it’s a great alternative, with many advantages. However, used phone systems have their disadvantages. Businesses also have to decide on going with a POTS phone system or VoIP. We’re going to talk about the difference between a POTS phone system and VoIP system. We’re also going to talk about what to look for and what to be aware of when looking for used phone systems.

When considering used phone systems, we recommend a VoIP-based system. Find out why below.

POTS Phone Systems

First, let’s talk about the different types of used phone systems. They come either compatible with POTS (plain old telephone service) lines or compatible with VoIP. POTS phone systems come in two flavors, analog or digital. With either, you’ll need to have enough POTS lines installed to handle your business’ call volume. For example, if you need to have enough lines to handle up to 4 simultaneous calls, you’ll need at least 4 POTS lines running to your business.

Analog POTS systems have limited features. For many, you get call transfer, hold, and that’s it. The phones will have multiple buttons to answer calls, put them on hold, and transfer to other extensions.

Digital POTS systems will have more features available. For example, you can add music on hold for callers to listen to. A digital POTS system will usually be more expensive to purchase than an analog system.

Used phone systems using POTS lines will typically be more expensive to configure and maintain. In addition to the number of POTS lines you’ll need to handle call volume, you’ll have to have those lines terminated and run to each extension, which will require having a phone line installer visit. Each time you need to add or reconfigure POTS lines, the phone line technician will need to come back and re-terminate. Typically the technician will charge for each visit.

POTS lines for used phone systems may have a lower initial cost, but are more expensive to configure and maintain.

VoIP Phone Systems

Used phone systems that use VoIP technology have much more features. Calls can be transferred to an outside phone number, not just between internal extensions. Businesses can block calls from annoying telemarketers. Businesses can log capture calls and use them for marketing purposes. VoIP phone systems have the capability of dozens of features, and the ability to add on more features.

Although VoIP systems are more expensive to purchase, they are cheaper to maintain and configure. VoIP phone systems require digital IP phones, which can cost more than POTS line phones. However, these IP phones are much more flexible and come with more features. VoIP systems need high speed Internet, and enough bandwidth to handle call traffic. A VoIP technician can help determine how much bandwidth you need. If you feel comfortable enough to figure out your bandwidth requirements yourself, you can visit one of many Internet speed test sites.

Google “free voip bandwidth test” and you’ll get a search result like this. Visit different sites to get at least 3 different test results. Over the long haul, adding more Internet bandwidth is as simple as calling your Internet provider and paying the extra monthly charge. If a technician needs to visit to increase bandwidth, the Internet provider doesn’t typically charge you.

VoIP systems also can grow with the business. By adding additional bandwidth and additional features, you’ll never outgrow your system.

Used Phone Systems: Advantages & Disadvantages

Overall, used phone systems have their advantages. They have a lower cost point of entry than new phone systems. They are relatively modern, meaning you’ll get decent features that will serve your business well. You’ll also give your business a professional appearance with features like transferring calls and hold music.

Used phone systems also have their disadvantages. Many phone systems come from failed businesses, or businesses who have upgraded their phone systems. Most of them will be sold as-is with no guarantee that they will work properly. You could spend weeks or months trying to get a used system to work, only to find out it’s not possible.

Many or all of the used phone systems’ components may be out of support. Since they are end of life, manufacturers want customers to purchase the latest technology. They will stop supporting legacy phone systems.

Depending on the age of the phone system, there may be little or no documentation. The company may be out of business, or the system is at its end of life, so companies may pull documentation. also, the documentation may be incomplete.

Recommendation

The get the best bang for your buck on a used phone system, use a VoIP-based system. Overall, you’ll get the best balance of features, compatibility, and lower long-term maintenance costs. Although getting into a VoIP system is higher initially, it will pay for itself in the long run.

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The Benefits of VoIP for Business

4 Key Benefits of VoIP for Business

Today, we’re going to look at the 4 major benefits of VoIP for business.

VoIP has been around since the inception of the Internet. However, it didn’t become an option for wide-scale use until the cost of broadband Internet decreased. While the market has experience about 20% growth for the last several years, myths about reduced call quality and myths about lower reliability versus landline service concern people.

Much of the call quality and reliability issues had to do more with bandwidth than the technology itself. We once had an office manager for a potential client say that she would not consider VoIP because they’d be dead in the water if their Internet went down. “How many times per year does your Internet go down?” we asked. She stated the last time it went down was 10 years ago!

“How about your power? How often does that go out?” we asked. She said she wasn’t worried about that because of their battery backup system, but the Internet going out concerned her. We get it; the business didn’t have a backup for an Internet outage.

It’s too bad because VoIP offers businesses supreme flexibility, cost savings, and more features than landlines. We’re going to show you how and why. By the end of this article, you’ll see why VoIP is the way to go.

But First: A Few Facts About VoIP and Internet Traffic

We understand the concerns, but technology has changed so much. For those who understand how broadband Internet works, feel free to skip this section.

Compare Internet bandwidth to lanes on a highway. Dial up was like a dirt road. ISDN, DSL and T1 lines were like small two lane highways. We currently have high speed broadband in many areas that’s like a freeway with several lanes for each direction.

Gigabit Internet is just now rolling out which adds lanes to each freeway direction. Soon, we’ll have stupid-fast Internet which will feel like having a lane all to yourself. The more Internet bandwidth, the better VoIP works.

benefits of VoIP for business: high speed internet is like a freeway

For the previously mentioned office manager, we recommended a 4G LTE Internet auto-failover solution. It senses when the main Internet goes out, and automatically activates. Most Internet users would at worst experience a short delay, even on VoIP calls.

Still, she wasn’t convinced, even when we offered a free trial. Sometimes, people fear what they don’t understand.

Fun fact: all calls — landline calls, VoIP calls, smartphone calls — all travel through the same cables with other Internet traffic at some point. The final connecting run may be a cell phone tower, a fiber optic run, or down a little wire strung up on a telephone pole.

Benefits of VoIP for Business: 1. Cost Savings

The perception that less expensive means crappy still affects VoIP’s reputation. The opposite is actually true. Spending more on VoIP itself won’t increase its quality. However, spending more in these areas help: bandwidth, hardware, and technicians to support it.

Landlines still need all that physical infrastructure built in the mid-20th century spread out everywhere. Maintaining that infrastructure requires manpower, which increases overhead. Since VoIP is software-based, it requires pennies on the dollar to maintain versus landlines.

2. Flexibility & Features

Also, physical hardware means landlines can’t be reprogrammed with new features without adding more hardware — super expensive. With software-based VoIP, adding features means simply writing more code.

This makes VoIP highly customizable, and it can be easily integrated with other software. For example, many companies pull call data into their CRM. They can track numbers, length of employee conversations, etc. This additional data helps them serve their customers better.

Companies can also avoid bundles that Internet providers put together, along with long term contracts.

3. High Reliability

Looking back at the office manager who shot us down, we may not have done a good enough job on showing the benefits of VoIP. One thing we can address now is VoIP’s reliability.

It is dependent on the reliability of the resident Internet connection. Again, spending extra money on a solid Internet connection will not only help VoIP’s reliability, but will help the business as a whole. Investing in redundant Internet connections would also go a long way towards solving this problem.

Having a 4G LTE Internet failover solution also helps. This would increase Internet uptime. Over time, Internet failover pays for itself by decreasing the amount of hours of employee downtime.

4. Increases the bottom line

The first three benefits create a cumulative effect on cost savings. The abundance of features means that landline phone companies can no longer nickel and dime businesses to add extra features. High reliability also saves costs by keeping employees productive.

The flexibility of VoIP means businesses can acquire more metrics on their customers. More metrics means better ways to get and keep customers, which increases revenue.

Recap

This is why every Fortune 500 company uses VoIP: high reliability, abundance of features, cost savings, and flexibility. VoIP is a technology that every business can and should benefit from.

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