IP telephony systems for SMBs (small to medium-size businesses) must deliver high value in small, inexpensive packages. Fortunately, many good SMB IP telephony packages are available. Unfortunately, that means a lot of specs to compare, demos to sit through and hard choices to make. But take heart: The sifting, sorting and head-scratching have been done for you!
More than 100 vendors submitted IP telephony products for evaluation and recognition at the 2009 Internet Telephony Conference and Expo East. A panel of expert judges selected "best of show" award winners based upon "innovative technology and forward-looking feature sets." Multiple winners emerged among several categories important to SMBs.
Allworx unveiled its new Allworx System 7.0 software designed for the company's telephone systems, including the Allworx 9224 Phone. Allworx System 7.0 is scheduled for production release in Q2 2009. It adds several enhancements to the Allworx family of products: Class of Service enables creation of user groups with predefined dialing privileges, handset preferences and user templates; Programmable Dial Plan matches existing extensions to DID (Direct Inward Dialing) numbers, reassigns features and more; Call Intrusion lets call center supervisors silently monitor or barge in on agent phones; Allworx Phone Security protects systems against unauthorized access; and User and Handset Import/Export lets users quickly save and load configuration settings. The Allworx 9224 Phone integrates leading-edge IP telephony features. It supports up to 96 programmable function keys with the optional Tx 92/24 Expander unit. It also provides a wide range of call appearances, line appearances, speed dials, busy lamp fields and other functions.
Interactive Intelligence was honored for its EIC (Enterprise Interaction Center) IP PBX application suite aimed at 100 to 1,500 users. With complete phone system capability, Microsoft application integrations, messaging, remote and mobile access, and informal contact center features, the EIC IP PBX delivers what most SMBs really need. For specialized contact center businesses there's the CIC (Customer Interaction Center) IP platform for 1,500 to 15,000 business users, which includes advanced features including IVR (Interactive Voice Response), screen recording, workforce management, multi-site routing and more.
ITS Telecom stands out from the crowd with the Connecto appliance for 3G/3.5G/4G wireless communication. Connecto blends an embedded IP PBX, Data Router, and FMC (Fixed-Mobile-Convergence) gateway with wifi access points to deliver enhanced business productivity and reduced costs. A single unified IP environment provides seamless handover of voice and data between VoIP, PSTN, wifi, and cellular networks.
Syspine caters to small businesses or branch offices with as many as 50 IP telephony users. The vendor's DOS A50 base server provides a complete telephony solution of IP 310 endpoints and supports as many as eight PSTN lines for backup or to connect existing legacy endpoints. Based upon Microsoft Response System, the DOS A50 features unified messaging, SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) Trunking support, voice mail, IVR, auto attendant, speech recognition and text-to-speech conversion, Outlook integration, and more. Through March 2009, any buyer of a DOS A50 gets two free IP phones.
Despite the sagging economy, VoIP service provider 8x8 Inc. has tripled its customer base in just months to more than 15,000 satisfied SMBs. The company's Packet8 Virtual Office hosted IP PBX offers IP-based communications with enterprise-class PBX features and calling charges significantly lower than traditional PSTN services. Getting back to the basics of small-business buyers, 8x8 offers the compelling benefit of costs lower than on-premises IP PBX equipment or legacy key and PBX systems. 8x8 Chairman and CEO Bryan Martin related the company's marketing message: "Let us show you how we can save you money."
Digium Inc. took the "best of show" award with the latest release of its Asterisk-based IP PBX, the Switchvox SMB 4.0. New features include faxing; instant messaging via a private server using the open XMPP protocol; the ability to see user presence and call status details across multiple peered Switchvox IP PBXes; Web-aware IVR development tools; and video calling using video phones based upon the industry standard protocols H.263 and H.264.
SIP Print is not an all-around IP PBX solution but an ingenious SIP-based call recording system for SMBs. Nonetheless, it snagged Internet Telephony magazine's prestigious "Product of the Year" award for 2008. Operating at the communications system-level enables SIP Print to record advanced functions such as voicemail or "follow-me" calls forwarded to mobile phones or off-premises phone numbers. It's the industry's first call-recording system designed from the ground up for VoIP, and costs one-third less than more cumbersome legacy recording products.
Soundwin Network Inc. is a four-year-old Taiwan-based developer of access devices, gateways, IP phones, wifi routers, embedded IP-PBXes and hundreds more products. The company's focus is on high-quality VoIP at prices lower than established players, and interoperability with other products. Customized orders are the company's specialty; you can get exactly what you want at a very affordable price.
The Bottom Line
IP telephony solutions for SMBs abound, but these winners offer a clear, short path to money-saving and revenue-enhancing benefits.
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