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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today, there are three main types of business phone systems:
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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’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 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 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.
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.
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:
All of that said, here are some general baselines that can give you very broad estimates as to what you’ll be looking at.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: