Buying a telephone system can, help you streamline the way you work, improve your internal & external communications as well as offer you enhanced levels of communications. However the purchasing process can be lengthy and extremely confusing. This really need not be the case in today's age of freely available online resources, but this is subject to understanding enough technical jargon so that you can choose the best solution for your business needs.
Many small & medium size businesses find it very hard to source independent impartial advice & end up being drawn down the path that most benefits an installation company sales rep. If you choose to go with one of the bigger providers you will most likely be offered some sort of leasing agreement, that on the face of it sounds great & maybe just what you need.
But you may end up paying more than you had expected, when you consider the total cost of ownership / rental over a 1 - 5 year period. More often than not you will be supplied with equipment that is essentially closed access for administration, moves, adds, changes, modification, updates & advanced integration into your business processes, meaning that pretty much anything you want to add or change will cost extra.
Alternatively you may be advised that a hosted solution will best suit your needs, this is a solution where all main switching & control for your telephone system is located in a data centre or at your suppliers premises. This type of solution is heavily dependent on good quality broadband communication services to your business site, internet protocol based phones will often be supplied. Each phone has a monthly rental which will include a package of features based on the options available from your supplier. This kind of solution has a number of pro's, typically you could find a service for around £7 per handset per month for a medium level feature package plus £35 per month for suitable broadband access. If your on site computer data usage is medium / low you will be able to get away with shearing one broadband access service for voice & general day to day external data communications. In reality this works well for some types of business & provides a lot of flexibility, particularly with respect to mobility both on & off site. However it is worth considering the reoccurring costs & possible annual increases. Consider a business with 8 users and only attributing £10 per month towards the shared use broadband, this would be an annual bill of £792 over 5 years the total spend would be £3960 subject to no annual price increases. Its important not to forget that you will still need to implement a suitable onsite data network for the VOIP phones.
Despite the many advantages of a hosted solution its very clear to see that fixed annual costs can quickly escalate. If you simply need to grow your user numbers or take advantage of emerging technology, an on site business telephone system will best suit your needs. One simple comparison would be an on site solution with 8 users, typically this could be done for £1500 including all required cabling & feature set rich equipment used throughout. In year two you add 3 new users at a cost of £300 for cabling & handsets. Over the next 5 years you make no more changes, your total spend would be £1780 & you own all the equipment.
In the case of the hosted example year one cost £792 year two to five cost £4704 giving a total cost of £5496, typically a modern on site system as indicated in the on site example price point, would easily cater for up to 20 users.
Whilst evaluating how to move forward with your telephone system solution, consideration of the integrated & converged technology that modern equipment can offer may significantly influence the decision making process. However you will need to ensure that your focus on particular features are based on use cases that are highly likely to be implemented rather than just a maybe.
There are lots of business telephone system manufacturers to choose form, some well established manufactures such as Panasonic, NEC, Avaya, LG, BT etc. many of them have offerings in a classification know as hybrid systems. Systems that to combine old and new technology in order to ease the pain & apprehension of change.
However there are a number of other manufactures that have implemented a more uniform standard & approach to the solution. This is where we need to try to understand some new technology & methods of implementing a solution based on the solid foundation of the open source communication tool kit known as Asterisk. Asterisk is complex but versatile and customisable, its hardware comparability list is formidable as such vendor lock in is almost completely eliminated. Some of the main points of interest are that voice communications are in the main part dealt with using Internet Protocol & that the system design has a number of interfacing methods to bridge with standard connections. Currently these standard connections include, but not limited to ordinary telephone lines, ISDN2e, ISDN30, GSM & UMTS mobile technology.
IP based telephone systems, also often referred to as IP-PBX systems, have been around for a number of years, some well established manufactures include Xorcom, Digium, Elastix Sangoma & OpenVox. However in more recent years a number of new manufactures have emerged with a particular focus on reducing price points whilst still maintaining quality & good feature sets. The standards used by IP-PBX manufactures are now so well tried & tested that almost all telephone system manufactures have implemented them in one form or another.