VoIP PBX Trends: What You Need to Know NOW

Updated: November 18, 2009

IP PBX systems have a variety of advantages when compared to legacy systems. For one, the small refrigerator-sized cabinet that took up most of a "telephone closet" has now been replaced by a much smaller-footprint computer in the case of premises based systems or by almost nothing at all if using a hosted service provider. In addition, IP PBX systems are more flexible, able to much more easily expand features, require less specialized expertise on the part of your personnel to manage and can lead to substantially lower telephony costs through the use of SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) trunking as an alternative to traditional telephone company lines.

IP PBX systems are not "one size fits all." Instead, there are "horses for courses." Just as some racehorses do better on certain racecourses, so too are some IP PBX solutions better suited to the specific needs of an organization. And there are a variety of alternatives available to businesses. These include systems that are installed on premises and hosted systems that house the core switching mechanisms off-site with only the physical telephone instruments residing at your location. Among the premises-based systems, there are many choices ranging from those focused on small businesses to those that are designed to serve large multi-location entities with a centralized control element.

Selecting the optimal solution for each organization requires a detailed requirements analysis before getting started. Let's start with the basics: How many separate locations are to be served? Will each location have their own independent system or are these systems to be integrated together in some manner? How many users (seats) are required at each location? What features and functions are important? For example, is Auto Attendant or ACD (Automatic Call Distributor) important?

Once you understand your needs, it is important to identify providers that have solutions for your requirements. For example, if you have a single location with ten people, a system that is designed to serve hundreds or thousands is probably overkill. You do want to consider your potential for expansion and ensure that the system selected can elegantly grow as your needs expand.

Keeping in mind that the premises-based IP PBX is a computer system, it is important to understand how your vendor will manage bug fixes and support services. Is support available 24 X 7? The telephone system is your connection to the outside world and cannot be compromised. What SLA (Service Level Agreements) and/or other guarantees are provided to assure peace of mind that your system will remain viable? Interoperability is a major issue. Make sure that your vendor provides a list of other systems and ITP (Internet Telephony Service Providers) with whom they are certified as interoperable. Are you required to use the telephone instruments the vendor provides or are other instruments that may be less costly (including those already installed) still viable?

Is a premises-based solution the best one for your organization or should a hosted solution be considered? Each has its benefits and disadvantages. A premises-based system is a one-time capital expenditure with ongoing annual maintenance fees. A hosted solution has a perpetual service fee but may reduce the need for a full-time telephone technician. The short answer is that the decision depends on each individual organization. For smaller companies with multiple locations, hosted solutions may be ideal. In all cases, it is best to consider your requirements, consider your options, and select the solution that is both functionally and financially best for you. This includes fully considering the total cost of ownership for each.

Some of the key players in premises-based IP PBX systems include the following. This list is certainly not exhaustive and you should research available alternatives before selecting any one provider.

In addition, some of the key providers of hosted IP PBX solutions include the following.

It is important to remember that hosted providers are using the public Internet to process your telecommunications traffic, so know where their nodes are located and ensure that the latency does not impair call quality. This is especially important for companies that are not located in the same country as the hosted service provider. Current prices for hosted PBX services range from US$30 to US$60 per month per user. Other charges may apply as well.

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