Cisco vs. Avaya for Small Business

By Ryan Ayers
Updated: August 08, 2015

When choosing a Unified Communications (UC) solution for small and medium sized business, the choice often comes down to a few industry leaders. Cisco and Avaya, both recognized leaders in the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and UC arenas, offer their customers slightly different solutions to the same basic issues. Both of these giants offer complex top-tier communications service and hardware packages, but each has a slightly different focus and comes with their own drawbacks and advantages.

The Players

Cisco – Cisco has been a major player in the UC and networking world for years, and has earned a name as one of the most reliable and technologically advanced providers of hardware and business solutions. Cisco has been aggressive with its ongoing research and development and in its acquisition of companies that increase their reach in regard to communications. Known primarily for the quality of their network hardware, Cisco is a name often repeated when discussing UC solutions for small and large businesses.

Avaya – Avaya is recognized as one of the most used and well known UC and VoIP providers for small businesses. A major player in the early adoption phase of business VoIP systems, Avaya was among the first small business providers to offer reliable and high quality business class VoIP solutions. Avaya is now known for its comprehensive UC solutions that include voice, data, video, and integrated messaging functions encompassed in a relatively easy to use service.

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Strong Suits

Cisco – Cisco is known for its networking expertise, particularly for larger businesses or those with a large or capable IT staff available. Their hardware in particular is regarded as some of the best in the industry, and their UC solutions are comprehensive in nature. Cisco’s UC systems are generally equipped with proprietary software that makes changes and alterations to your system convenient.

  • Virtually unlimited number of extensions
  • High definition video conferencing
  • Top-tier handsets
  • Comprehensive call center management software

Avaya – Avaya’s UC solutions are widely regarded as the easiest plug-and-play small business UC solution available. The systems are designed to allow for rapid changes and alterations, and users may use aftermarket (non Avaya) handsets with their UC solution. Additionally, Avaya solutions are known for needing little supervision or day to day maintenance from an IT staff, making them ideal for small businesses or those without a large network infrastructure. Avaya is also known as one of the most cost effective UC providers on the market.

  • Feature rich service packages
  • Many IP handsets for remote locations
  • Simple conference bridging and other functions
  • Significantly less expensive than competitors


Cisco – While they are noted as being among the most technically advanced UC solutions available, Cisco’s systems are also known to be more labor intensive from an IT perspective. Many smaller businesses who employ a Cisco solution without having adequate IT resources report that they experience more difficulty maintaining their communications network. Cisco’s UC solutions are also significantly more expensive than many other UC solutions available.

  • Technically more complex
  • Potentially need separate components for separate functions
  • Higher TCO

Avaya – Avaya’s UC solutions, while easier in daily use, tend to draw criticism because they are slightly less technically sophisticated than Cisco and some of their competitors. An Avaya UC system does have limits on the number of extensions, the user’s ability to make some system adjustments, and occasionally with call reliability. While the upsides to an Avaya solution are the ease of use and cost effectiveness, the downside comes in the form of slightly lower adaptability.

  • More difficult to adapt systemwide changes
  • Capacity limits
  • Fewer options in networking equipment

Choosing between an Avaya or Cisco UC solution is largely dependent on the needs and capabilities of your small business. Some businesses opt to combine the two and run an Avaya VoIP solution on a Cisco network, allowing for the best of both solutions while eliminating the drawbacks of each. Ultimately, your business will need to decide on the most important factors to consider. Both companies are widely regarded as among the top UC and networking providers available, and with either choice, your business is assured a lasting UC solution.

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