buyer's guide to phone systems

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Buyer’s Guide to Phone Systems

A phone system is one of the most important and necessary purchases of your business. The right phone system can increase employee productivity and enhance the perception of your business for your customers, clients and stakeholders.

Phone System Terminology

  • Ports are the number of connections that can be handled by your phone system and include both incoming lines and extensions.
  • Trunks or Lines are the number of outside telephone lines used by you.
  • Cabinet, also known as central office (CO), key system unit (KSU), central unit or base, is the main box used for holding the phone system.
  • Extensions are used for both internal and external communication. They refer to the unique numbers used for identifying phones, modems and fax machines. Extensions are internal to the business and connect to the outside world via the cabinet.
  • Computer telephony integration (CTI) consists of a set of applications that enable integration of your phone system with a computer. CTI provides features like incoming call routing, one click dialing, video conferencing, telephone directory and caller identification in addition to allowing the computer to receive voice, data and fax calls.

Buying Considerations:

Firstly, assess your current and future business needs to estimate the including the required phone system size, scope for expansion in two-three years, available budget, and the required phone features and accessories like voice mail, caller id, one-touch dial, forwarding and conferencing. Lines and extensions are the key factors that determine the system size you need. After you have clearly identified your needs find a phone system that meets all your requirements.

Types of Phone systems

KSU-less systems are cheapest phone systems and offer limited features. They are usually suitable for small businesses with less than ten employees. KSU-less system does not need a cabinet as the telephones themselves have all the needed routing software installed in them. A KSU-system has certain limitations. These systems are not compatible with Key and PBX systems and offer little utility when your business expands. Additionally, these systems are not supported by vendors and you will have to take care of their servicing and installation yourself.

Key Systems or Key Telephone Systems are suitable for medium-scale businesses with less than forty employees.A set of buttons corresponding to the number of phone lines available is provided with each phone. These phone systems can be easily upgraded but they offer little customization abilities in comparison to other systems.

Private Branch Exchange (PBX) phone systems offer a wide range of features, and can be easily upgraded and customized. Though most expensive, they enable cost reduction as you scale, making them most suitable for large businesses with over 100 employees.

Hybrid systems – These systems combine the cost-effectiveness of key systems with the range of features of PBX systems.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a phone system that uses the internet for call routing and forwarding.It provides a cost-effective and portable substitute for KS and KSU-less systems. The router can be taken from place to place and plugged into any internet connection. However, each time the geographic location of the router is changed, you must inform your VoIP service provider, so that emergency calls can be routed to the nearest call centre.The biggest disadvantage of VoIP systems is their complete dependence on the internet connection. A poor connection deteriorates call quality, whereas connection loss can cause the system to fail altogether. Remember to discuss security and encryption issues with your provider before purchasing a VoIP phone system.

Price Considerations:

Prices of key and hybrid systems usually range from $350-$1000 per user, that of PBX systems from $800-$1000 per user and KSU less systems from $130-$225 per phone. Phone system prices depend on various factors like telephone cabinet, the actual phones, add-ons, training, service, programming, and future modifications.

Before purchasing a phone system, take into consideration the total cost of ownership (TOC). Customizable, expandable, reliable, and upgradable phone systems have a higher initial cost per user but prove economical in the long run.

Phone System Vendors

Your telephone vendor usually takes care of supply, installation and programming of phone systems. Select a vendor who has completed a number of installations of your chosen system in the past. Such a dealer will be more familiar with the problems that can occur and their solutions. Seek demonstrations of different phone systems to determine the best one for your business. Most dealers will agree to train your employees in the use of the phone system.

Vendors also provide a combination of warranties with your phone system. A service level agreement determines the vendor’s response time to a phone system problem. Additionally, the vendor must be committed to the system and should provide you with regular hardware and software updates. Inquiring about the vendor’s service and experience is always advisable.