Testing the Managed PBX Waters

By David Strom Print this article Print

Hosted IP telephony services let users sample benefits without overhauling existing phone systems.

Corporations that haven’t yet gotten involved with IP telephony have a new method to test-drive this technology without a lot of up-front investment: They can use a hosted PBX managed services provider. While that’s a mouthful, the idea is relatively simple: Take a systems integrator that can provision an Internet connection between its office and yours, buy a couple of IP telephones, and the integrator takes care of the rest.

The PBX—what used to be called a telephone switchboard back in the days when Ernestine, Lily Tomlin’s TV character, operated them—is located at the provider’s premises. You get several advantages from this setup.

First, you don’t have to turn off your existing PBX just yet. You can experiment and outfit an entire branch office, a small department or a couple of brave users with the IP equipment. So the startup cost is minimal, and in some cases, you don’t even have to purchase new Internet connectivity.

Second, your users get to see some of the immediate benefits of having an IP phone. For example, the phone can be located anywhere in the world with an Internet connection, so the phone numbers can remain under the control of the telecom department. Even better, a widely distributed staff can call each other with just a three- or four-digit extension.

You also get other features, such as integration with voice mail and e-mail inboxes, find-me and follow-me services (in which a series of numbers that ring concurrently or in succession can be programmed into your phone). What’s more, all these features are available for almost no additional cost.

Third, if you purchase the right brand of phones, you won’t be locked into a particular IP PBX vendor or service provider, as most phones support international standards and can work with different vendors’ equipment.

“We use Polycom phones, and they work well with a variety of IP PBXs, such as Cisco’s and Mitel’s,” says Paul Emond, president of TechSupport.ca, an Ottawa-based Voice over IP telephony integrator. “You have to be careful when buying your phones to make sure they can work with other vendors’ equipment.”

“We see potential buyers who are interested in having a fancy system that previously only a large Fortune 500 company could afford,” adds Phil Hill, president of Vocalocity, an Atlanta-based IP telephony integrator. “And they are getting these phones and paying $40 a month for service.”

But don’t get too enamored with all the features, cautions Paul Chisholm, CEO of Boston-based Mindshift, another telephony integrator. “Most systems have hundreds of features, and most users know only a few of them,” he says.

A fourth benefit of any IP telephony solution is having a unified telecom service for everyone in your company, regardless of their location. “It puts the whole phone system under one umbrella, with one main number that can be transferred to anyone, no matter where they’re working,” says Vocalocity’s Hill.

Fifth, having a hosted PBX enables you to find out exactly how much money you will save with IP telephony. As the cost for per-minute long-distance calling has dropped, it is harder to see big per-minute savings for IP telephony. But there’s still room to improve the bottom line by saving on interoffice calling, cutting down the number of trunk or dedicated inbound lines and reducing annual maintenance contracts.

Finally, the hosted PBX service can scale upward without running out of lines or disk storage—or some of the other limitations of the older systems. “The concept is very scalable,” says Hill. “We can go from a single line to a thousand, and there aren’t any migration issues or the need for an on-premises PBX.”

For more than 250 lines, it makes sense for larger firms to buy their own IP PBX, and hire a consultant to package a high-speed Internet connection and Internet phones together. These firms also can leverage their initial investment in new phones.

This article was originally published on 2008-06-02
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