Compare the Top Rated Phone System Brands - 2021 Best & Most Popular Phone System Dealers
Thanks to rapid advances in technology, today's business phone systems bear little resemblance to the phones of even a decade ago. Not only is there a staggering array of available features, there are even multiple platform options. The traditional landline is now joined by Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), virtual cloud-based systems, and on-premise hosting.
The challenge, of course, is choosing the best system for your organization. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to answering that question. Fortunately, we have the information you need to help you choose the best business phone system for your needs.
What Are Phone System Platforms?
There are four main platform options: landline, VoIP, on-premise hosting, and cloud-hosting.
What Are Landline Phone Systems?
Until the 1990s, landlines were about the only option for business phones. Although they no longer require an operator to physically connect two callers via a switchboard, the basic technology is virtually unchanged. The local telephone company's copper wiring, or more modern fiber optics, connects to the business's private branch exchange, commonly known as a PBX. This serves the same purpose as those old-school operators, "switching" calls from the telecom provider's network to the business's system.
Theoretically, there is nothing wrong with a landline system. The technology is highly reliable and typically offers clear call quality. And, with the PBX, businesses even get modern features, such as voicemail, automated attendants, and conferencing.
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Even so, landline-based systems are increasingly rare. For one thing, they offer little flexibility or scalability. In our rapidly-changing world, that can be fatal to a business. They're also expensive in terms of hardware, particularly the PBX. Another expense is manpower, since these systems must be maintained by on-site personnel.
Landline customers also have the challenge of obsolescence. Not only is it nearly impossible find IT people with the necessary skills to maintain the system, but the phone companies themselves aren't developing new systems or updating existing ones. It's like trying to buy a flip phone in a smartphone world.
What Is VoIP?
Like many technologies, VoIP is a product of government invention, developed by ARPANET in the early '70s. The product was way before its time, though. It wasn't used until the mid 1990s, and didn't see wide use until the early 2000s.
VoIP replaces the copper wiring of traditional landlines with an Internet connection. Instead of installing phone lines throughout your business, you just tap into the same data connection you use to do anything else online.
These systems also use a PBX, but the hardware is both smaller and less expensive. Including more robust features with your business phone system is also less costly, and VoIP systems integrate with employee computers. You can also choose cloud-based VoIP service, which means you don't need any hardware other than the actual phones.
Although early adopters found the call quality lackluster in comparison to landlines, today's users can rarely tell the difference. VoIP allows businesses to choose between self- and cloud-hosting, and is far more scalable than traditional systems.
The only catch with VoIP is that you need a strong, reliable Internet connection. If your business is in an area without that type of access, you likely need to stick with your traditional landline system.
What Is On-Premise Hosting?
When your VoIP system is hosted onsite, everything operates as with a traditional landline system, just using the Internet to connect to callers instead of copper wiring or fiber optic cables. Your own team handles repairs and upgrades, and you need to pay someone to install it.
On-premise hosting gives you total control, including storage and security. If privacy is of tantamount importance, you may prefer self-hosting. You are in charge of configuring your firewall and any other security protocols. The upfront costs of self-hosting are substantial, however, making it more feasible for larger businesses.
What Is Cloud-Based VoIP?
If you have fast, reliable Internet, cloud-based hosting may be the choice for you. It's especially popular with smaller businesses, as well as those with fewer resources to handle the startup costs. When your phone system operates on the cloud, your provider is responsible for upkeep, repairs, and upgrades. All you have to do is buy the phones.
Cloud-based solutions also allow you to plug in and go as soon as the service is activated. They're also highly scalable, making them perfect for businesses that need to add or remove users and features. Finally, they also save money by not requiring your organization to house its own IT staff to maintain the system. If you don't have speedy Internet service, cloud-based may be a no-go. While the provider should have built-in redundancies to handle data outages, they can't guarantee reliable service in an area with spotty online access.
Top Business Phone System Brands
- Avaya is a global leader in communications, offering on-premise, cloud-based, and hybrid phone systems. They offer software designed for any size or type of business to ensure your company never loses contact with its customers.
- Cisco launched in 1984 and quickly grew into a technology and communications powerhouse. The company offers a wide array of products, including VoIP, data storage, wireless communication, and data center solutions.
- ESI specializes in the design and manufacture of budget-friendly phone systems. The company has a reputation for being reliable and innovative while still offering its customers extraordinary value.
- FortiNet designs and manufactures the FortiVoice system, serving everything from home-based businesses with a single user to enterprises with thousands of phones. They offer robust, user-friendly features and products to clients worldwide.
- Mitel offers telecommunication and software systems to industries around the world, including education, hospitality, retail, government, healthcare, and financial companies. Their vendors help create customized solutions to meet individual business needs.
- NEC Unified Solutions strives to serve your business's current needs as well as its future ones. Their goal is helping your business maximize productivity through new technology and ensure you never lose contact with the customer.
- Panasonic provides business phone systems, visual communications, and other communication products. Although a Japanese company, their headquarters are in New Jersey, and they've been based in North America since 1959.
How to Choose the Right Business Phone System
The right phone system is the one that best meets your needs today as well as tomorrow. You need to consider your resources, the infrastructure in your area (i.e. does it support an Internet-based system), the features necessary to maximize efficiency, the importance of scalability, and whether you have the resources to support the upfront costs of self-hosting.
- Internet reliability: If you do not have fast, reliable Internet, you may need to forget VoIP or cloud-based systems. If your Internet service is reliable but not particularly fast, you may want to look at adding a dedicated T-1 line, which would increase speed considerably.
- Features: Today's business phone systems offer features well beyond the standard voicemail and call forwarding options. However, it can be easy to get carried away by all of the possibilities and you pay more for each one you add to your service. Look carefully at the features offered and decide which ones your business really needs.
- Scalability: If your business is growing quickly, or your staff levels go through seasonal changes, you probably want a scalable system that changes along with your business needs. Typically, this is easier to accomplish with a cloud-based service. However, you can often get this type of flexibility with self-hosting as well. If your business's needs fluctuate, make sure the vendor knows and can tailor their quote accordingly.
- Costs: This includes hardware as well as software. You pay a lot more upfront for self-hosting, but you often save money on your monthly bill. Cloud-based systems cost practically nothing to launch, but typically cost more on a monthly basis. Ask vendors about the costs for installation, software, upgrades, repairs, service, the PBX if applicable, and whether your existing hardware integrates with their software or if you'd have to buy all new phones.
When you're comparing quotes, make sure the quotes are truly comparable. Pricing varies according to the number of users, types of features, and much more. Ask providers exactly what's included in the price so you don't face any nasty surprises down the line.
Author: Angela Escobar