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How to choose the right business phone system

Despite the prolific impact email, mobile phones and tablets have had on businesses, the traditional desk phone remains its most important communication tool.

The ‘landline’ confers legitimacy to your business and provides a virtual shop front for organisations, no matter what their core business may be.

With the increased popularity of hot-desking, flexible working hours and remote working, the challenge for the industry has been to allow businesses to take their calls wherever, whenever.

Enter VoIP. The humble desk phone is no longer only capable of taking and transferring calls, and retrieving voicemail. With VoIP, an entire array of time and cost-saving features, from voicemail to email and click-to-dial, have become suddenly available to businesses of all sizes. With hosted VoIP, businesses deploy a system that doesn’t just reduce call costs, but improves broader processes and communication within your business.

So which is the best phone system for your business? Here are the options:

Fixed line analogue

Fixed line analogue systems are the traditional system that are in operation in most businesses today. This system is rapidly decreasing in popularity as most businesses now recognise that VoIP provides cheaper call rates. This system is internally managed and stable, and does not require much maintenance. However, it is feature-poor, and can get very expensive.

Perfect for: Single operators, home offices, or businesses where internet connections are not capable of handling VoIP.

Fixed line analogue/VoIP hybrid solution

This solution involves an ISDN service for inbound calls and VoIP for outbound calls. A hybrid solution is usually bought around the promise of cheaper calls and a consequent reduction in phone bills. The solution is internally managed. The technology can be quite confusing for someone who is not a specialist in VoIP, making the entire environment difficult to manage. This system does have an increased feature set, but often has poor quality outbound calls. The system also needs to be refreshed and upgraded every five to seven years.

Perfect for: Companies that have the internal resources and capability to manage their own, in-house, VoIP platform.

IPBX – Premise-based

This solution is an internally managed and maintained VoIP phone system. It is very feature-rich and provides functionality that fixed line analogue systems cannot. Some of these features may include hunt groups (ringing several phones at a time, for example, for a sales group), voicemail to email (for access anywhere), and cheaper calls. An IPBX is a complex piece of equipment and requires constant monitoring and maintenance by a VoIP specialist. It is also difficult to physically move, which you’ll need to consider if you anticipate moving offices. The full capability of the product is often not utilised as well, due to insufficient knowledge about the system within the organisation, or poor training of staff. This system will also need to be refreshed and upgraded every five to seven years.

Perfect for: Single sited small businesses that have internal VoIP experts.

Hosted VoIP

This system provides all the benefits mentioned above of an IP PBX, without the hassle. The system is externally managed by VoIP specialists, which means that internal IT managers will not need the skills or the time required to maintain it. Most hosted VoIP providers also offer in-built redundancy capabilities. A hosted VoIP system’s full feature set is more likely to be accessed and utilised, as often account managers are able to run the company through each feature and enable or disable them easily. These features should provide broader business efficiencies, not just reduce call costs. For example, you should be able to monitor incoming calls to your sales team to determine when the most calls come in, so that you can staff accordingly.

Geography is also no longer an issue with a hosted system as all offices and remote locations can be connected via the same phone network. This means that calls can be transferred between offices, and the organisation receives just one phone bill for the entire company’s phone usage. With most hosted VoIP providers as well, constant upgrades are delivered throughout the contract.

Perfect for: Multiple-sited business with over 20 people, where the phone is an essential communication tool, with no in-house VoIP experts.


When you think about which system is right for your organisation, consider these factors:

  1. What sort of feature set do you want, and how available do you want these to be? Some telecommunications providers have ‘plans’ that limit the number of features that are available to you. Consider how much it will cost for you to upgrade plans in the future, if it would be possible to have the more feature-rich plans for just some staff, and if there are any extra charges you will face by using selected features.
  2. 2. Future growth: If you anticipate growing very quickly, moving offices, or opening new offices, you may want to consider the scalability of each system. Some hosted VoIP providers, for example, offer unlimited scalability. You could sign up with 20 staff, but ramp up to 40 staff and two additional sites in as little as two months, without much hassle. This means that you only pay for what you are using at any one point in time.
  3. Beware buzzwords: Some providers bandy about buzzwords like ‘unified communications’ and ‘presence’ that sound impressive, but are worth scrutinising. ‘Presence’ for example, is a feature that companies think they need without having really considered what the technology is and how it will affect their business. Presence is about being contacted only when you’re available and usually involves integration with calendars. However, meetings rarely just happen within the allotted times, and often get cancelled or happen at the last minute, without updates to calendar programs. The result is that you may be ‘away’ when you’re really at your desk or vice-versa.
  4. Consider the provider’s pedigree in this technology: You’ll want to go with a provider who has proven experience in the technology you choose. Particularly with more complex technology like hosted VoIP, make sure you speak to references, and ensure that the provider will indeed help you take full advantage of the phone system by understanding your specific business processes.
  5. Support: Consider the level of support you will receive. Will you have to pay for each support call? Are they available during the hours you require? Will it cost more if they come to your office? Is there a separate charge for support each month, even if you don’t use it? Will there be training for users?

The important thing to remember is that your phone system is your most important communication tool, so don’t cut corners just to save a few hundred dollars a month. The system you go for will largely depend on your size and your requirements, and also remember that if you decide to implement VoIP for your business, it is more often about the broader business benefits it will deliver to your business rather than saving money on some phone calls. Being able to redeploy two people in the organisation to different tasks translates to a far healthier bottom line than simply saving 10 percent of your phone bill each month.

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Richard Ruth

Richard Ruth

Richard Ruth is managing director, M5 Networks Australia.

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