If you’re looking to invest in a new phone system or upgrade your current one, you might be wondering: where do you start?
How do you know which system to get? What do you need for this system to work? And what happens once it’s installed?
What do you want from your business phone system?
Before reviewing your options, take a moment to consider what it is you want out of your new phone system:
- How much do you see your business growing in the next five years? Do you want a phone system that’s going to scale easily?
- What’s your current call traffic like? What call volume do you anticipate receiving in the future?
- Do you employ remote workers who need phone access? Are you going to hire remote workers?
- Does a receptionist field inbound calls? Would you prefer a virtual receptionist or menu system to greet your callers?
- Would you like a unified phone system that connects your broadband and phone system?
- Do you want to integrate your phone network with other systems (e.g. your CRM solution)?
- Do you want your new phone system to be hosted in-house or off-site?
- What level of call quality do you want?
Typical business phone system solutions
Traditional fixed line
This usually refers to running a PSTN voice or ISDN data connection over the old copper wire network.
In an office, this can also involve setting up a locally hosted Private Branch Exchange (PBX) to route each call through to the appropriate extension. As handsets need to be physically connected to the local network, the potential to extend services to remote workers, other than through call forwarding, is non-existent.
While fixed lines are still available, it is important to note that Openreach is planning to end PSTN and ISDN services in 2025, rendering the technology obsolete.
If you currently have a receptionist to answer and direct callers, then a fixed line solution may work just fine. However, if you want a virtual receptionist (or IVR), you’ll likely have to get a very specific type of handset, as these features won’t be provided as standard. This is also the case with any system integration you may want to do.
In addition to limitations in functionality, there are some other physical disadvantages built into the copper network that are worth considering:
- Call quality and data speeds can suffer due to physical damage incurred to the wires
- It can be costly to expand capacity as a business grows, due to the need for additional lines to be physically installed, or decommissioned when no longer required
However, compared with the other solutions suggested below, it is the only system which does not rely on having a stable and reliable internet connection – making fixed lines the more sensible choice for a businesses based in a remote or rural location, where good fibre broadband may be harder to come by.
As an IP-based solution, SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) offers better scope for adding new numbers, as additional physical infrastructure is not required. Your main concern will be ensuring that you have a robust broadband connection.
One of the advantages of an IP-based phone system is the flexibility allowed with the physical setup of your network. For example, it’s possible to receive a call to a mobile device via a landline number, enabling customers and clients to contact you on a single standard rate number – and allowing true remote working to occur. It’s also relatively easy to add additional numbers to a SIP solution, often by making changes to software, so the cost and time involved compared to a fixed line setup is minimal. Numbers can also be ported beyond the geographical bounds of the local exchange, so you can keep the same number wherever you go – even to another country.
In addition to the easy implementation of IVR, SIP trunking provides the ability to transport multimedia file formats between users, without the aid of a computer or mobile device. This can be a boon to businesses as it opens up possibilities for data sharing that a voice-only IP system, like VoIP, cannot provide. It also removes potential barriers to accessibility – for example, not having equipment of the right spec to successfully render processor-intensive video playback.
Just like SIP trunking, VoIP (Voice-over IP) uses a broadband connection instead of the old PSTN network to make and receive a phone call. Like SIP, voice calls are also of a consistent high quality compared to a fixed line, due to better bandwidth and digital encoding.
VoIP systems share the flexibility inherent in SIP-based systems. Not only can you connect mobile devices to your network, you can also connect a landline handset to any broadband connection and take customer calls.
In terms of call features, VoIP is rich with options: direct dial numbers, voicemail and voicemail-to-email, IVR and call recording are easy to implement. Changing numbers, creating diverts, and changing settings can typically be set via an online dashboard.
VoIP integrates well with business systems including CRMs and even email services. Many providers offer packages bundling broadband data with VoIP services, which greatly simplifies your business communications.
It should be noted that VoIP is intended for voice communication only – as a protocol, it supports the transfer of voice audio, but not multimedia content. If that’s a concern, opt for a SIP package.
Implementing your business phone solution
Once you’ve established what you want from a new phone system, you can then figure out the manner in which it will be adapted to your organisation. Some more questions to consider at this stage:
- What is your budget?
- What broadband speeds do you currently receive?
- Which local networks are currently available to you?
Installing a fixed line phone system
You can certainly get a fixed line solution for an affordable price, so long as you’re not planning on buying a lot of hardware. Starting from scratch can be costly if you have a sizeable business with a lot of employees.
Upfront costs may include the PBX system (potentially multiple systems), the handsets, line rental, operator charges and fees for calls to non-geographic numbers (such as when a call is made to an 08- prefixed number). All these expenses can make getting a fixed-line system a big investment, which isn’t ideal considering the potentially short lifespan.
Setting up SIP trunking
A SIP set up will also require capital upfront, especially if you’re getting an entirely new PBX. But if you already have a PBX, then you can convert it to enable SIP trunking, which is a lot more affordable. You also won’t need to pay for line rental anymore.
If you want a good phone service and intend to use your network for transferring multimedia data, it’s advisable to opt for a robust broadband connection. This does mean you may be restricted by what broadband options are available at your location. Most broadband providers offer SIP trunking, but if you’re based in a particularly remote location, you may have a harder time accessing a decent connection.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that SIP trunking systems often come with a barrier to entry, in terms of the knowledge needed to set up and initialise the system. If your organisation has access to a knowledgeable internal IT support team, you’ll be in a better position than if you have to periodically pay for help to install and maintain your solution, or attempt to do it yourself.
Buying into VoIP for work
While you can opt to purchase your own handsets independently of any contract, If you choose to have your VoIP system hosted by your provider, then you may be able to pay for both the hardware and the service costs on a monthly basis. This would make any upfront costs a lot more affordable. The downside of this approach is that you wouldn’t actually own the hardware being used, and have less control over the system itself.
As with SIP trunking, you won’t have to worry about line rental costs, but the quality of your broadband connection will impact on your service.
What happens after installing a new phone system?
It depends on the provider and the solution you’ve chosen, as well as where it’s located. Some will offer maintenance packages alongside the systems themselves, but others may charge for any maintenance provided.
Should you choose a new phone system that is hosted off-site, or virtually in the cloud, you will be relieving your business of the need to find floorspace for hardware and a dedicated in-house IT team to support and maintain it.
Ultimately, the decision comes down to what works for you and your business. Here at Structured Communications, we’re not just about selling telecommunications hardware and software – we believe a consultative approach helps to ensure our clients choose a new phone system that won’t impact negatively on their business.
It’s important you make the right decision, so we’re ready to listen to you. Feel free to call, or drop us a message today.