The Ultimate Guide to a PBX Phone System for Your Business

What is a PBX Phone System?

PBX stands for Public Branch Exchange. Simply put, it’s a telephone system within any company or organization which allows all users to share a certain amount of external phone lines, while managing calls internally, too. It’s usually both hardware and software, and can often connect to your existing telephone wires, outlets, routers and even phones.

While PBX systems were historically reserved for large corporations and were analogue, the rise of digital and Hosted PBX has made a PBX system solution much more accessible for small and medium sized businesses, too. Most PBX systems nowadays are IP-PBXs, which just means they use VoIP and IP networks to manage and channel your business calls.

VoIP has taken the business world by a storm, as seen by the graph below outlining the growth and projected growth of internet phones over the last decade.

Data of hosted IP phones in North America

PBX leverages this impressive functionality to replace traditional phone lines within your company, giving seamless opportunities for collaboration, cost savings and mobility.

Hosted vs On-Premise PBX phone systems. What Do I Need to Know?

On-Premise means just that. The PBX system is on your own business premises, requiring installation, maintenance and some serious IT know-how. It goes without saying that the costs are higher for set-up, but you will have expert support with you every step of the way to get your PBX up and running. This might include staff training, qualifying the network for you, and getting the programming or features exactly right for your company. This choice is great if your company has specific customization needs, or you want your own SIP Trunking hardware for better scalability and flexibility with your solution.

Hosted PBX is handled off site, by whichever company you choose. This comes with a lower initial cost, but will usually incur a monthly fee which can be more expensive than On-Premise. Remember that any hardware at your offices (telephones etc) are your responsibility. The benefits include all patches and upgrades being handled by your provider, easy (often automatic) upgrades of new features, and simple mobility, as the phones are usually just connected to your broadband.

Hosted PBX and Cloud PBX are very similar, with Cloud PBX referring to where the data is being stored, in the cloud. This offers extra security and speed for your business, so is often the preferred choice. Most Hosted PBX providers offer a cloud based IP PBX solution.

What is a Virtual PBX?

A Virtual PBX is usually a virtual call attendant. This means it can handle incoming calls and redirect them to the right staff members, but does not usually make outgoing calls or have many other features. It is the right choice for a small or up and coming business who want to keep costs to a minimum.

What Features Should a PBX System offer?

The differences between different PBX providers can vary greatly from one to the other, so it’s important to know exactly what you’re looking for when picking your PBX system.

The general benefits expected with a PBX are:

  • Allowing free communication within the organization. (including to multiple offices, locations and cell phones.)

  • Auto attendant features for incoming calls. These could include voice menus, hold features, routing calls by extensions, virtual receptionist…)

  • Splitting phone lines. This is more commonly known as extensions, and saves companies money by enabling them to pay for only one phone line while multiple staff can use it with the help of specific three or four digit numbers.

  • Maintaining all of your incoming and outgoing calls, replacing the traditional telephone network.

  • Providing VoIP for your entire business.

  • Customer support. (Call recording, unified communications, find me follow me…)

Additional PBX System Features to Look Out For

Look out for these PBX features

As well as the basics, there are some great additional features to look out for which can help your business.

Auto attendant features are really common, and can give your company more of a professional first impression. Recorded messages, touch tone choices, and automatic extension rerouting - known as PABX - are just some of the choices. Your business can include hold music, multiple languages, and dial-by-name directories for callers who might not have the correct extension to hand.

Behind the scenes, your company can also set up extension groups so that if the staff member is not available, the right colleague picks up the call. Mode scheduling is another great feature which lets incoming calls be dealt with differently depending on the time of day. This is a professional way to seamlessly handle out of hours communication, or an holiday calls with more than just an ‘out of office’.

Tools to improve and increase mobility are also growing in popularity. Many PBX systems allow your staff to connect from anywhere, not just multiple offices and extensions, but from mobile devices, apps, desktop computers and even through email. Call handling tools include simultaneous ring, call waiting, system speed dials and voicemail to email.

Ask your hosting provider if they have additional features for reporting and analytics. Syncing with call center capabilities, this can help you oversee phone activity, keep track of productivity, and create actionable analytics for success and change.

Getting Started with PBX System Solutions

Getting up and running with any new system can be daunting, especially if your business is used to something different. But Hosted VoIP systems are inherently simple to get started with. There is no PBX or SIP Trunking hardware on site, so nothing physical for the business to manage other than IP phones if your company requires.

Even if your business has a contract with an equipment leasing company, your VoIP provider can often integrate their VoIP services into existing systems. Your provider may also be able to check your Quality of Service (QoS) settings, check network quality and ensure that you have adequate bandwidth allocated. The set-up time for hosted PBX can literally be a few minutes of your time, which explains why many businesses choose hosted PBX over more hardware-reliant solutions like SIP Trunking / On Premise.

The Measurable Benefits of an IP-PBX System

1. Cost

Bottom lines are there for a reason, and anything which can save money is something for a business to consider. Not only are PBX systems a competitive monthly fee compared with the telephone system, but they are also a good long-term investment. Some cost benefits include:

  • Switching to VoIP calls for your whole company

  • Free internal calls, even across global offices or cell phones

  • Unified communication saves on employee time and increases collaboration

  • More options for teleworkers

  • No costs for moving, adding or changing employee phone lines

2. Productivity

  • Keeping a stable connection between all staff members, regardless of location

  • Collaboration and communication help encourage a productive workplace

  • Features such as ‘simultaneous ring’ and ‘find me follow me’ means that employees can be productive wherever they are

  • IP-PBX features are far simpler to use that traditional telephones. While employees might have struggled to complete tasks like establishing a conference call, all features are easy to manage with your PBX control panel.

3. Scalability

  • Increase capacity on demand for your business

  • SIP Trunking allows for you to add only what you need, when you need it

  • Hosted PBX often has IP phone booting, allowing you to scale your system from your internet browser

  • PBX systems have unlimited scope for growth

4. Flexibility

  • Multiple offices or locations? No problem. With a PBX, your internal calls are free and simple, regardless of where they are coming from

  • Mobile apps and integration for teleworkers and flexible working options

5. Call Quality and Reliability

  • SIP trunking options allow for more guaranteed quality and reliability

  • Geographic platform distribution balances your load between data centers

  • Shortest Path call routing for ultimate quality and speed

  • End to end encryption of data promises high grade security

How to Compare Costs When Investing in a PBX System

A PBX is clearly a great investment for your business, but there is still a lot of variation between the prices of the best providers. How can you make the right choice for your company? These are all the important elements to think about before signing on the dotted line.

Compare costs associated with PBX

  • Installation fees and Maintenance. This will probably be more of an issue if your company is going with SIP trunking, an on-premise solution. But there can still be start-up fees, hardware costs for new phones, or call out costs if you do need to get technical support through the door. Make sure to ask these questions at the start.

  • Number of Users and Extensions. Your PBX hosts will tell you the cost of the various plans, which can start from as few as 5 employees, and raise to 500 or more. The cost will change depending on how many users you have, and how many phone lines and extensions you need.

  • Added Features and Functionality. From a simple Virtual PBX which functions like a digital receptionist, to complex call forwarding and unified communication options. PBX means different things to different people. Take some time to write a list of the features you want, and make sure you aren’t paying for more than you need.

  • Monthly Service Fees. Many PBX providers have discounts and special offers, especially for new customers on their first term. Remember, your business is valuable, so make sure to shop around and get a few quotes for this ongoing monthly cost.

  • Variation Between Suppliers. You may notice that some providers have a PBX solution which will cost you hundreds of dollars per month, while others are an almost negligible cost for your business. Reputation, reliability and length of time in the industry can answer some of these discrepancies in pricing. It’s worth checking out customer reviews online, (not just on the host website) and getting some feedback from others who have made the commitment before you take the leap.

What’s the Bottom Line?

By the end of 2017, there are expected to be over one billion VoIP users, while traditional telecoms are losing an average of 700,000 customers every single month. If you’re behind the times when it comes to what VoIP could do for your business, you’re missing out.

A PBX is a fantastic alternative to traditional phone lines. It will help with collaboration and communication between staff and offices, reduce costs on outgoing calls, and raise productivity and reliability in an actionable and measurable way. Full of exciting new features to give a fresh face to your business, and provided by reliable hosts and powerful providers, you could be up and running in a few simple steps.

Check out our feature comparison chart of the best PBX providers, to help choose the right VoIP for Business solution which meets your needs.

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