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Business Phone Systems: How to Get Started

Looking for help with business phone systems? You’ve landed in the right place.

 

At Teltek, we’ve been helping businesses with their phones for more than 20 years. We offer services and products like:

 

 

If you’re looking for help, get in touch with us today. We strive to make phone systems easier for our clients.

 

That’s why we’ve created this guide. Thinking through phone systems can be intimidating, especially if you’re not immersed in the world of telecom already. This page will give you a baseline of knowledge to make better decisions.

 

We’ll cover questions like:

 

  1. What are business phone systems?
  2. What do phone acronyms mean?
  3. What are the types of business phone systems?
  4. How much do business phone systems cost?
  5. What are the best brands of business phone systems?
  6. What’s the best phone system for an office?
  7. What’s the best phone system for healthcare?
  8. What’s the best phone system for a school or educational organization?
  9. What should I look for in a phone system provider?
  10. How can I get started with a business phone system?

 

By the end, our hope is that you have a better understanding of business phone systems – and a better path toward an ideal solution for your business.

 

Ready? Let’s dive in.

What are business phone systems?

The answer to this question might seem fairly straightforward, but it’s helpful to define our terms as we get started.

 

So, what is a business phone system?

 

Here’s how Webopedia defines it: A business phone system is a “system where multiple telephones are used by businesses in an interconnected fashion that allows for features like call handling and transferring, conference calling, call metering and accounting, private and shared voice message boxes, etc.”

 

Frontier puts it this way: “A business phone system is an advanced calling network designed to improve communications for small and large organizations—and everything in between.”

 

What makes this question interesting is that its answer has broadened significantly over the past decade. Phone systems today are blending into unified communication platforms incorporating video, chat, digital whiteboard presentations, and more. Even the word “phone,” which used to most commonly describe a landline receiver, now most commonly describes a pocket-sized supercomputer.

 

The telecom times are changing.

 

At their core, though, business phone systems still help business to make voice calls internally and externally, even if today’s systems are capable of doing much more, too.

What do phone acronyms mean?

Acronyms are notoriously confusing, which is probably a large part of the reason that the telecom industry is notoriously obscure: we use a ton of them.

 

Let’s bring some clarity. Here are 10 of the most common phone system acronyms, along with their meanings.

 

1. KSU – Key System Unit

That’s right – KSU isn’t just the other public university in Kansas. It’s also the common control unit of a key telephone system (which, of course, can be abbreviated to KTS). Newer technologies are increasingly replacing KSUs, but traditionally they were used to direct incoming calls to certain individuals.

 

2. LAN – Local Area Network

A local area network is a computer network that spans a relatively small geographic area – one room, or one building, or, at most, a group of buildings. LANs can also be connected to the broader internet. For phone systems, LANs most often come into play as a means of connecting VoIP-enabled devices (although VoIP solutions also enable remote functionality).

 

3.  PBX – Private Branch Exchange

This is one of the most common phone system acronyms. It refers to a private telephone network that’s used within an organization to enable internal and external communication.

 

4. POTS – Plain Old Telephone Service

This acronym is an all-time classic. Plain old telephone service refers to an analog voice transmission phone system delivered over copper twisted pair wires – the same kind you’ll often still see stretched between telephone poles.

 

5. PSTN – Public Switched Telephone Network

This acronym also refers to classic phone lines, but it’s specifically referencing the network they comprise (which, as an aside, has been in general use since the late 1800s). You may see crossover between the usages of PSTN and POTS.

 

6. QOS – Quality of Service

At a base level, this is pretty straightforward; it refers to the degree of accuracy with which information is passed on the network and translates to things like voice quality and consistency in calls.

 

7. SIP – Session Initiation Protocol

This refers to a TCP / IP-based network protocol that’s used to establish connections for several subscribers. In a VoIP context, SIP is the protocol that’s used to establish connection for calls. You’ll also run across the term SIP trunks – these are, more or less, groups of SIP-enabled phone lines.

 

8. TCAP – Transaction Capabilities Application Part

This is only here for fun. It’s the protocol used in an SS7 network for sending database queries to a service control point. If you’re nodding your head in understanding at that, you probably don’t need to be reading this. If you’re still confused, move on. There are other acronyms to worry about.

 

9. UC or UCaaS – Unified Communications or Unified Communications as a Service

Both of these acronyms reference the same thing; although UC is a product, it’s nearly always delivered as a subscription service. Unified communications are the many components that are now often included in these systems – video, messaging, and other functionalities, plus the capacities to track and manage communication data within a unified platform.

 

10. VoIP – Voice over Internet Protocol

VoIP is today’s phone buzzword for good reason. It means that calls are passed over internet protocol as opposed to being passed over traditional phone lines (you know, like POTS or PSTN). This is transforming the industry because it allows for the same functionality with more flexibility at lower costs.

 

This is only a selection of acronyms, but it’s a good place to start.

What are the types of business phone systems?

Today, there are three main types of business phone systems:

 

1. Traditional Premise PBX

PBX stands for “private branch exchange.” PBX is a more traditional corporate phone system. It includes a PBX server (or control unit) onsite at the business and functions through traditional phone lines both into and through your building.

The benefits:

  • This has been around forever and is proven to work.
  • Doesn’t require internet; if you don’t have high speeds, no worries.
  • Higher capital investment but in some cases have a lower operating cost.
  • Can often support digital phones enabling older cabling infrastructures that cannot support IP phones to be leveraged.

 

The drawbacks:

  • Higher cost. There’s more hardware to setup and more to maintain, and manufacturers can force you into costly upgrades.
  • In the wake of massive industry shifts, many traditional PBX manufacturers have closed their doors or decided to get out of the telecom business altogether.
  • It’s not easily scalable. Adding and removing lines, features, or phones is difficult.
  • It’s not easily mobile. Traditional PBX systems work well at the office, but including remote sites and users is costly and difficult.
  • It requires the customer to maintain a relationship with a phone system provider (like Comcast or Verizon) in addition to a local service company for programming and maintenance.

 

2. Hybrid Premise PBX

These PBX systems blend parts of internet phone systems and traditional analog systems. They still require you to purchase an IP PBX server, but often include SIP phones and a VoIP gateway so that calls can be made over the internet. The server can be hosted onsite or accessed remotely through a service provider (unlike a traditional PBX server, which has to be onsite).

 

The benefits:

  • It’s potentially lower cost. There isn’t as much hardware that’s required (especially if you choose not to have the server onsite).
  • Many of these systems give you the option to make business calls from your personal smartphone.
  • It enables the use of SIP phone service, which can be more flexible and cost-effective.

 

The drawbacks:

  • It’s not quite as flexible as standalone virtual VoIP. There are still hardware and licensing considerations.
  • They tend to have limited phone and feature selection.

 

3. Virtual Cloud PBX (VoIP)

VoIP stands for “voice over Internet Protocol.” Basically, this is subscribing to a phone system as a service, as opposed to purchasing and maintaining phone system hardware.

 

The Virtual PBX is located in the cloud (secure data centers) and your office(s) or remote workers are connected to it via the internet. The Cloud PBX service provider is responsible for supplying local and long-distance phone service, maintenance, programming, updates, and more, minimizing the need for end users to deal with providers.

 

Unlike traditional phone service delivered on copper lines, all calls are provided entirely over the internet. Most Cloud PBX service providers are hardware agnostic, so end-users can choose the device they use as their “phone.” This can be nearly any SIP-based desk phone, smart phone, tablet, or even a USB headset connected to a computer.

 

The benefits:

  • Low cost. There can be little-to-no hardware to setup and maintain.
  • It’s really easy to add and remove lines, features, and phones.
  • VoIP calls can be made anywhere there’s an internet connection (including on cell phone data).
  • All service, programming, and support can be handled remotely.
  • Unified communications. You can integrate voice, fax, SMS (text messaging), video, chat, webinars, etc. into one platform.
  • A couple of smartphones with 4G/5G internet can function as a fully capable back up should your office lose power or internet (or in instances where your staff cannot get to the office.)
  • It’s super easy to use, maintain, move, modify, grow, shrink, and more.

 

The drawbacks:

  • You need stable internet. If you don’t, calls will lag or be in poor quality.
  • You need CAT-e (Ethernet) cabling or a solid Wi-Fi network; VoIP cannot run on legacy CAT-3 analog cabling.
  • You need a business-grade firewall and a reliable company to manage it for you to promote good call quality and a secure voice network.

What are the best brands of business phone systems?

There are plenty of phone brands, which can add a bit of complexity when you’re trying to pick the right solution for your business. Some of these brands have a singular focus – for instance, Grasshopper is simply software – while some provide solutions for more phone needs (for instance, Avaya offers software tools, physical phones, and more.)

 

Let’s take a look at a few of the major players in the space.

 

Avaya

Avaya offers a wide breadth of phone solutions, including cloud services, unified communication platforms, and hardware (phones and more). They’re one of the giants in the phone industry, serving the majority of Fortune 500 firms, but they also have a comprehensive selection of great offerings for smaller businesses.

 

Cisco Meraki

Phones are only one part of what Cisco offers; the company is huge, with products and services across industries and technologies. In the phone space, though, they offer Cisco Meraki products. This line has a reputation for quality and ranges from WAN network hardware to physical desk phones.

 

Genesys

Genesys is more focused on calling software than on physical solutions. The company is known for a leading call center software offering, and its cloud products are trusted by major companies like PayPal and G2. They also offer a unified communications platform. In general, though, this is more of an enterprise option than a great mid-sized business bet.

 

Grasshopper

Grasshopper is positioned on the other side of the business-size-spectrum: this option is aimed at very small businesses. It’s a virtual VoIP software that, essentially, lets its users separate business calls and personal calls on their personal devices. It’s meant for entrepreneurs that want to get started with a very simple phone system – and for that, it’s a very simple and effective solution.

 

Mitel

Like Avaya, Mitel offers a variety of phone system solutions, including cloud-based and onsite software systems and phone hardware. They’re used by big organizations – like Major League Baseball and Make-A-Wish America – and by smaller businesses, and they have a 45-year reputation for quality.

 

NEC

Speaking of long-standing reputations – NEC has been around for over 120 years. Founded in 1899 in Tokyo, Japan, the company offers a wide variety of IT products. In the phone world, they’re probably best known for their classic desktop phone lines, including analog, IP, and SIP phones.

 

Ooma

Ooma’s a newer company. Founded in 2004 in Palo Alto, California, they offer both home phone and business phone solutions. On the small business side, they trumpet their VoIP phone service, which includes a virtual receptionist, a mobile app, and even call recording options. They also offer a highly rated line of IP phones.

 

RingCentral

RingCentral is “an easy, affordable, all-in-one phone system.” Like Grasshopper, it’s built to make using personal phones workable in business contexts, turning employee phones into business numbers. Unlike Grasshopper, RingCentral is focused on larger businesses, too, offering more robust plans. They’ve even partnered with Avaya to provide integrated solutions.

 

Polycom

Polycom is a top-tier product maker. From desktop phones to video conferencing tech to Wi-Fi adapters and wireless mics, they offer a full suite of physical phone solutions that are fit for a variety of business environments.

 

3CX

This company is an international VoIP software provider. For most of the past decade, their open-standard solutions were only functional on Windows, but in 2015 they became available on Linux and cloud platforms as well. They produce physical phones with their software solutions, too.

How much do business phone systems cost?

This is, understandably, a common question. Obviously, there are a wide range of business phone system costs. The total tally will vary greatly depending on factors like:

 

  • The number of users
  • The number of sites / locations
  • The type of system (traditional PBX, hybrid, VoIP)
  • The features required (video conferencing, chat, SMS, call recording, ring group functionality, virtual receptionist capability, etc.)
  • The existing solution (current cabling, internet service, etc.)

 

All of that said, here are some general baselines that can give you very broad estimates as to what you’ll be looking at.

 

  • Traditional PBX: $500 - $1000 per user
  • Hosted IP PBX: $15 - $400 per user
  • VoIP: $15 - $200 per user

 

Again, this is a wide range. If you’d like to get closer to what a business phone system will cost for your business, it’s best to consult with a professional. Give us a call if you’d like to get more detailed.

What’s the best phone system for an office?

Like the discussion around cost, the discussion around the “best” solution for your business will necessarily include consideration of a wide range of factors. That said, we’ll paint the picture in broad strokes once again.

 

The best phone system for an office: Nebulosity Voice Cloud PBX

 

This is a great option for small businesses, especially those with more remote workers.  It’s a low-cost option that gives access to big-business features and would allow you to portray a professional image to your customers. Your employees could be connected in the office or while on the road via their smart phones.

What’s the best phone system for healthcare?

If you’re in healthcare, you’ll want to choose a trusted solution that can ensure HIPAA and Kari’s Law compliance.

 

The best phone system solution for healthcare: Avaya IP Office

 

Avaya’s IP PBX system could be a great fit because it’s modular, flexible, and reliable, which means that it’s easy to select the features that are needed facilitate communication across multiple locations. And Avaya is trusted by 90% of Fortune 500 companies (and especially preferred by those with call centers), so it’s a proven option.

What’s the best phone system for a school or educational organization?

Finally, educational organizations face unique communication challenges, too – but we recommend going with the same trusted option, tailored to the space.

 

The best phone system solution for educational organizations: Avaya IP Office

 

Again, the modular design of the system makes fitting it to your organization’s needs easy. And Avaya has a ton of proven success in the educational space. In fact, eight out of the top ten colleges in the United States rely on Avaya, and 4,800 educational organizations worldwide do, too.

What should I look for in a phone system provider?

All right - if you’ve read this far, you’re probably fairly committed to finding your next business phone system, and it’s likely that your thought process is starting to shift from the “what” to the “how”.

 

The first step in implementing a phone system is to identify the right provider to work with. But how should you choose the right provider to make your system successful?

 

We recommend searching for options with these traits:

 

The provider is local.

Yes, we’re a little biased, but we’ve worked with a lot of clients who’ve been hamstrung by poor service and setups from “big” national providers. For small-to-mid-sized businesses, especially, local telecom tech providers tend to be a better choice. They’re far more likely to prioritize your business’s needs, and they’ll be more available to come onsite to ensure your setup goes well.

 

At Teltek, for example, we come onsite to perform an assessment before you’re a client. We don’t sell solutions before we know the context we’re dealing with. Many non-local options do.

 

The provider has a reputation of excellence in your space.

This is especially true if you’re in a specialized industry with unique needs or compliance considerations. For instance, if you’re a medical facility, you’ll do best to work with a provider who understands what’s needed to make phone systems HIPAA-compliant.

 

The provider ensures seamless switches.

Too many business phone system installation projects end up causing unnecessary frustrations when systems get switched without being well-tested. Make sure the provider you work with will ensure your solution is working before it’s implemented.

 

The provider works with a wide selection of solutions.

Some providers only focus on selling specific brands – which means that, when you ask them for a solution, they’ll push you toward what they sell instead of what’s best for you. It’s best to work with options that have wide expertise so that you get a good fit.

How can I get started with a business phone system?

At Teltek, we’re a Maryland-based business serving healthcare, education, manufacturing, office buildings, senior housing & long-term care facilities, and nonprofits by providing better phone services. If you’re in one of those industries in the Maryland area and you’re ready to get a phone system you can trust – let’s talk.

 

Here’s how we’ll get started:

 

  1. You schedule a call where we talk through your business’s phone system needs.
  2. We’ll perform a free onsite assessment – before you pay for anything. This will help us identify the best solution for you and build it on a solid foundation.
  3. We’ll work to build a solution that best fits your business.
  4. We’ll make a seamless switch – only after thoroughly testing everything to make sure it’ll work.

 

Give us a call to take the first step today.