Choosing which type of phone system your small business will use is an often overlooked but significant decision. The decision can be affected by how big your business is, where you are located and how flexible you need the system to be. With so many different systems available to you, and so many acronyms, where do you begin?
Criterion Systems, a company who specialises in providing small to medium-sized businesses with a range of communication and telephone solutions across the UK have written this guide on the main options available to you to help you make the right decision and get the phone system that will meet your business needs.
Traditional On-Site System or Modern Cloud-Based?
The first decision you need to make is what kind of infrastructure you will choose. You two options are either the traditional on-site system or a modern cloud-based system.
These two options have a range of pros and cons that you will have to take into account when you are making your choice. Consider what you will want your phone system to be able to do, what your existing infrastructure is like and how you feel about the cloud.
Reliable On-Site Systems
On-site phone systems are well known and tried and tested. This was the only option for businesses and homes for many years and was known as a PBX system (private branch exchange.) This system makes use of physical copper phone lines. These lines make use of a PTSN or ISDN system to connect all of your different extensions with each other and the phone network.
On-site phone systems have a higher setup cost than their cloud-based equivalents and usually require a single, upfront payment and the installation of all of the required hardware.
Flexible Cloud-Based Systems
A cloud-based phone system, also known as a hosted phone system, connects to the internet through your WIFI connection to connect all of your extensions with the public phone network. This means that there isn’t any necessary hardware, such as phone lines, on-site and makes the system very easy to set up, often coming as a “plug in and go” system.
In addition, this means there aren’t any up-front costs to this style of phone system and all you would have to buy initially would be the handsets themselves. This system instead requires a monthly payment that is based upon the number of users.
There is also a third option that is a hybrid of these two. It is possible to use a VoIP or Voice over IP style phone service alongside existing on-site infrastructure. The main benefit of this hybrid system is that you still benefit from the low-cost internet calls that you gain from having a VoIP phone but you retain the reliability and security of having physical hardware onsite.
This hybrid system is an excellent choice if you have an existing ISDN system but you are looking to upgrade to make use of VoIP without removing all of your existing hardware and infrastructure.
The Different Features of the Two Systems
There are some major differences between these two phone systems that result in a range of pros and cons for both, which is what makes the choice difficult. You will need to decide which features will work with your business.
In terms of flexibility, a cloud-based phone system has a clear advantage. To upgrade or make changes to a traditional on-site system you would need an engineer to visit your business and instal new equipment or extra phone lines. In comparison, cloud-based systems can be easily upgraded remotely and automatically.
A cloud-based system also has a great deal of scalability and new SIP trunks (an online phone line) can easily be added if your business grows or if you experience seasonal trade.
Cost is a big motivator for businesses and can easily make this decision. The costs of the two systems can change based on the usage and your requirements.
On-site systems come with a higher setup cost, due to the upfront payment, and also come with maintenance costs due to the physical hardware on site.
Cloud-based phone systems, on the other hand, have a much smaller startup cost but instead, come with a monthly rental payment which is dependent on the number of extensions. This means if you have a large number of users then it might end up being more expensive in the long term than an on-site system.
When cloud-based phone systems were first being introduced, there were worries over the quality of the calls being made over the internet. In fact, an online phone system provides the same level of quality and clarity that you would have had with a traditional landline.
Additionally, if you are in a location that has a particularly strong internet signal, then you might have access to high definition clarity.
Future-Proofing Your Business
There is one major issue for traditional on-site phone systems such as ISDN. They are considered a legacy technology and are being phased out all across the UK. In fact, BT has announced that it is switching off its ISDN networks in 2025 and will cease taking any more orders for ISDN systems in 2020.
This does, however, still give you 6 years to use your on-site phone system. But if you are looking for a phone system that gives you a certain level of future proofing then you might want to consider a more advanced cloud-based system.
So which Phone System is Best?
As you can see, this still very much depends on what your business needs are and what you would want your phone system to be able to do. By taking into account your expectations, business requirements and the strength of your internet connection you will be able to choose the best system for you.
If you are expecting to see rapid growth, experience seasonal demand or your team is often working on the move then a cloud-based system will offer the flexibility you will need. The ease of setup combined with the ability to increase or decrease the number of SIP trunks at will makes this a perfect system if you are going through a big period of growth or are planning to move offices.
On the other hand, if you prefer the reliability and security that comes with an on-site system, or you are hesitant about using the cloud, then perhaps a physical on-site phone system is your best bet. This is also the best option if your internet connection is unable to make use of a cloud-based system. If you are still unsure or have further questions then contact your provider for a more in-depth talk through your different options to make sure that you are choosing the best phone system for you.