ALL ABOUT HOSTED PBX


The growing popularity of Hosted PBX offers small businesses and mobile professionals a powerful communications and collaboration solution.

Sophisticated telecommunications systems aren’t just for the Top 350 Corporate companies anymore. If you have a broadband connection, you too can take advantage of Hosted VoIP and get enterprise phone system capabilities bundled with affordable VoIP calling plans, and save compared to traditional on-premise solutions.

If you are looking to buy a new phone system or replace your outdated business phone system, don’t overlook the potential of hosted PBX services as a reasonable phone system alternative. For small, fast-growing, and/or highly distributed businesses, hosted PBX services can be the most cost-effective way to get a full suite of modern phone system features.

With a hosted PBX service, there is no need for the typical customer premise equipment (CPE) – dedicated telephone hardware that sits in your office – needed with traditional PBX systems. Instead, your incoming calls are routed to telephone hardware at the provider’s data centre. When the system determines where to transfer the call, it swiftly forwards the call to the appropriate extension at your office.

Hosted PBX services can go by many names, often categorised by ‘a Service’. A few examples could be PBX as a Service (PaaS), Communications as a Service (CaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions, while others use the term Virtual PBX. The main idea is the same: the software and hardware run in the provider’s data centre and deliver their functionality through the internet.

Companies can finally replace their old phone systems and get a far more flexible phone solution for a fraction of the cost. But it’s not just replacing one phone system for another. With Hosted VoIP, you get the benefits of outsourcing the management of your phone system, which means you’ll need fewer resident experts to handle things. What’s more, Hosted VoIP expands communications and productivity by providing a range of advanced features and functionality. And it does so without straining your budget.

No wonder more and more companies are adopting this powerful, yet affordable solution. In fact, according to industry research, VoIP is one of the fastest-growing technologies, dramatically changing the way companies do business. Even though companies both large and small heap praise upon this solution, many business people are still unaware of the difference Hosted VoIP can make to their business.

We hope to provide some answers and useful insights on how Hosted VoIP can impact business communications immediately – and for years to come – by providing more features and more flexibility, all for significantly lower costs than you might expect. Also, here are a few ways in which we can help you on your VoIP journey:


COMMON FEATURES


Typical business phone features are standard with any Hosted PBX. You can expect all of these features and more:

FEATURES

  • Call Waiting
  • Call Forwarding
  • Call Transfer
  • Caller ID
  • Redial
  • User Directory
  • Activity Reporting
  • Three-way calling
  • Hunt groups
  • Voicemail
  • Extension Dialing
  • Call accept/reject
  • Follow-me ringing
  • Music/Messaging on Hold

Beyond these standards, there are many other features commonly included in hosted PBX services. Some providers include them in a standard package, while others may charge additional monthly fees:

  • Auto Attendants that greet incoming calls and help route callers to their destination
  • Simultaneous ringing, sometimes called “call blast,” is a popular feature that rings multiple phones at the same time: an employee’s desk and cell phone, for example. This contrasts with follow-me ringing, which retries several numbers one after another
  • Real-time reporting is typically a call centre style feature that lets managers check on call queues and activity as it happens. Not all hosted PBX providers offer this feature– you may have to turn to call centre solution providers instead
  • Outlook integration allows users to dial directly from their address books or change basic phones without logging in to the control panel
  • Unified messaging brings email, voice, and fax communications into the same system: voice mail messages and fax can be delivered to users’ email inboxes; emails can be sent to cell phones
  • Conference calling features are often included but may be limited to small groups unless you pay an additional fee
  • Automatic call distribution (ACD) is another call centre feature. Where hunt groups simply go through a static list of extensions to find one that’s not busy, ACD factors in the volume of calls your agents have handled and how long they’ve been off the phone to more evenly distribute the workload
  • Browser-based administration lets users change their availability and number preferences, as well as simplifying MACs, hunt groups, or ACD management, and other administration work

If support for mobile users is important to you, make sure to ask about features like transferring calls from cell phones back to other extensions, including cell phones in hunt groups and call queues, and using laptops as softphones.


TELEPHONES

If you need to buy new phones, make sure you get a demo so you can compare the layout and interface on each set. For many employees who do little more than check their voicemail and occasionally forward a call, complicated phones can be overkill. Instead, keep an eye on a few key phone features when choosing a hosted IP PBX service:

  • LCD screens allow you to better take advantage of features like caller ID and can make setup and operation easier
  • Check basic features like a speakerphone, mute button, and speed dials. Make sure to test each feature with callers on the other end for 2-way features, to make sure the design works for you
  • You may not have to buy new phones at all: depending on the provider you choose, you may have the option to buy adapters that allow you to continue to use existing analogue phones
  • If buying VoIP phones, make sure they have a pair of Ethernet outlets, instead of just one. That lets you daisy-chain the Internet connection from the network to the phone to the computer, eliminating the need for two network connections in each office
  • For the most flexibility, choose a provider that uses the industry-standard SIP protocol for their phones. This open standard lets you continue to use your phones even if you switch providers, where proprietary protocols lock you into a single vendor until you replace all your phones

Remember, you can compare VoIP phones here!


BENEFITS OF HOSTED PBX


Lower Total Cost of Ownership

Business is more unpredictable than ever – growth one year, contraction the next year. Ideally, you’d be able to secure the most advanced technologies without having to spend significant money upfront on hardware. Hosted VoIP makes this possible.

With a Hosted VoIP solution, you save from day one on your monthly communications service fees. All you need are VoIP-ready handsets. That’s right, no expensive boxes or systems required. You save money every month as well because you no longer need to manage both phone and data lines. Traditional phone lines and the high price associated with them are now a thing of the very expensive past.

Minimal IT Support Required

Unlike the complex traditional phone systems that sit in a closet, Hosted VoIP requires very little IT support or training to administer. You can quickly add users, delete users and enable additional features – all without additional support or staff. The reason? A simple web interface.

A Hosted VoIP solution is so simple and intuitive, users can manage their features right from their computers. It’s one management issue that can be taken off the shoulders of IT. Who knows, maybe they’ll even thank you for a change.

Operating Expense vs. Capital Expense

The last thing you want to do in this economy, or any economic climate for that matter, is spending tens of thousands of rands on a phone system. With Hosted VoIP, there are no large servers or systems to purchase. Other than phones, there are no capital expenditures to depreciate over time.

Which means it comes off of your books. All you have is an affordable monthly service fee that connects your business and employees to a host of capabilities that dramatically improve productivity.

Let’s imagine you were a business that needed to incorporate messaging functionality. You received a quote for a traditional telephony system. It’s possible it could cost you an excess of R 30,000. By Contrast, a messaging solution based on a Hosted VoIP system may be as low as R 25 per month! Imagine the impact that would have on your finances.

Business Continuity

Let’s assume some worst-case scenarios: Your building is flooded. Or an earthquake wreaks havoc. Or a fire knocks out power for miles around. Now, let’s assume you have Hosted VoIP. Want to know how things would be?

The business would go on – uninterrupted. Since no physical box resides on your premises – it resides in redundant and secure data centres – customers can still connect with your business because employees can work from anywhere. The reason? A web-based portal that allows you to quickly forward calls to cell phones or other phones in unaffected locations.

It’s an incredibly fast and easy way to take control of a disastrous situation and ensure that anything major becomes just a minor incident.

Scale Up/Scale Down

Five-year projections? Ten-year projections? Frankly, for most businesses, it has become nearly impossible to make accurate predictions. It’s why you need a highly-flexible technology like Hosted VoIP.

Hosted VoIP is a sure way to give you the peace of mind that comes from not being constrained by a phone system that only supports a fixed number of employees and can be costly and complicated to expand.

If resources become squeezed, you can quickly scale back. On the other hand, if you open a new branch office, or need to provide remote communications, or just need to prepare for a spike in demand around the holidays, it’s quick and easy to scale up without any disruption to your business.

Total flexibility. Easy to manage. Quick to deploy. Hosted VoIP is a decision with the only upside.

More Functionality

Even if you’re jaded about technology, once you see all of the advanced features and functionality that are available from a Hosted VoIP system, you’ll be seriously impressed by the impact it can have on your business. And the best part is you can activate only those features that you need to make your company more productive.

It starts with HD voice, the clearest a business call can get. That’s just scratching the surface. Through Hosted VoIP, you can have voicemails automatically forwarded to your email account, you can make a call from a cell phone or remote office and have it appear as a call from the main office. You also can integrate with Outlook or your Customer Relationship Management system. There isn’t much you can’t do with Hosted VoIP.

Automatic Upgrades

With Hosted VoIP, there’s no box on your premises, so there’s no hardware to upgrade to take advantage of new features and technologies. Because your service is outsourced, upgrades are provided through software changes that happen automatically in the background. Of course, you’ll be made aware of any new capabilities as they come online. That way, you can quickly utilize them to support your employees and better service customers.

So stay focused on your business and leave the upgrades to your Hosted VoIP service provider.

Productivity Anywhere

It’s hard to advance your business if it’s tethered to a convention. And there’s no ball and chain quite like a desk phone. Hosted VoIP is the ideal solution for existing and emerging workforces who demand constant connectivity and productivity from anywhere – and at any time. Whether attacking issues from a desk, a conference room, or powering through meetings on the road, Hosted VoIP gives companies the powerful communications features they need to keep things moving forward no matter where or when business is done.

Focus On What Matters

One of the best ways to stay competitive is to focus on your core business. With a Hosted VoIP solution, the management of increasingly complex business communications is done for you off-site. It all happens in the background while your employees utilize advanced features and productivity tools like voice, video, and wireless to take up new goals and take down obstacles that stand in their way.


DRAWBACKS OF HOSTED PBX


Whilst the benefits of hosted PBX systems are substantial, they have some drawbacks, as well. Here are some considerations you should look into before deciding if hosted phone systems are right for you.

Internet connection

The one potentially significant problem with hosted phone systems is that they are completely dependent on your data connection. If your Internet service goes down for any reason, you’ll also lose your ability to make phone calls. That’s true for all types of VoIP service.

However, unlike with site-based VoIP PBX, a Hosted PBX service will still be able to answer your calls, even if your connection is down. Because the initial greeting, menus, and voicemail are all run at the provider’s data centre, they’ll all continue to function normally, even if your office is offline.

A Hosted phone system also lets you react quickly when problems do occur. If your connection is going to be down for a significant length of time, you can reconfigure the system to send calls to other locations that are still online, such as cell phones, home offices, or satellite offices.

Remember, you can compare Fibre or Wireless providers as well as find a local supplier in your area!

Bandwidth

Just being online isn’t enough to guarantee good results from Hosted phone systems: the quality and speed of your Internet service is another important factor. Most providers will require a Diginet or Managed MPLS connection to work properly.

Robust Call Center features

Most hosted PBX services are not appropriate for large call centres. Advanced calling features like Automatic Call Distribution and detailed reporting are essential for call centre applications and commonly available from Hosted PBX services. However, they generally aren’t as robust as they would be in a dedicated Call Center Solution: while adequate for 5 to 10 agents, they may not have the capacity to handle larger Call Centers.

Larger Call Centers deserve a telephony platform designed specifically for their needs. In addition to better call distribution and management tools, they offer the most thorough integration with customer databases and other applications. And they are available both as Hosted and Locally run systems.


FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A HOSTED PBX PROVIDER


While it’s important to choose a service that offers all the features you want, it’s more critical to choose one that will perform to your expectations. All the features in the world are no good if the provider doesn’t keep them up and running and make sure your employees can access them. Here are some aspects to consider when comparing one hosted PBX provider to another.

Experience and Legitimacy

Hosted PBX services have been rapidly growing in popularity recently and, as a result, some new providers are jumping into the market. Some players have done an excellent job providing either dial tone service or data networks, often for years. However, their experience in managing telephony and data centres doesn’t necessarily translate to operating a hosted PBX service. Look for providers who have proven they can provide voice services to end-users, either in traditional PBX or hosted systems, for at least a few years. Customer references are always helpful, too.

Look for a company that has other customers of your size. Many hosted PBX providers target companies from 10 to 50 employees; others may target 40 to 100 or larger. Choose a vendor that can handle your current size and any expected growth.

Another good way to ensure that you are dealing with a legitimate provider is to scan for their ECS/ECNS license number in their obligatory disclosure or terms and conditions. If it isn’t there – ask for it.

Customer service and training

Try to get a good sense of the customer support each potential provider offers: you’ll likely be working with them for years to come. Topnotch customer support is essential for resolving problems and getting the most out of your system. Ask how you can get support, and if it’s round?the?clock or only during set hours. Also, find out who you’ll be contacting: some companies provide dedicated account managers who will become familiar with your account.

Some companies charge per incident rates for customer support, while others include it in their monthly fees. Make sure you know the pricing structure for each company you’re evaluating.

Also, ask about user training. Find out what kind of education they offer, both for end-users and administrators and if there’s an additional cost.

Dependability and SLA’s

As mentioned earlier, business?class hosted PBX services provide outstanding reliability. Ask to see both scheduled and unscheduled downtime reports for recent months as part of your comparison. You may also want to ask about SLA’s – service level agreements that specify exactly how much downtime is tolerated and describe how the provider will make up any overages. It would also be beneficial to understand the provider’s continuity strategy and if they have a plan for you if your internet link should be interrupted.

However, not all providers offer SLA’s, since the service is completely dependent on your Internet connection. If you don’t get your connection from the same provider as your hosted PBX service, you’re unlikely to get an SLA. Also, some companies only offer SLA’s on Diginet lines or faster connections, not DSL.

For the best peace of mind, do ask about SLA’s or performance guarantees – but understand that providers aren’t able to put guarantees on services outside their control.

It would also be beneficial to understand whether the SLA includes break-fixes on hardware supplied by your provider.

Level of Network Provider

Find out who owns the technology. Providers with their technology have the advantage of being able to make gradual improvements and react quickly to changes, without having to rely on their technology supplier. If they license the software from a third party, ask about their relationship with the original developer and how often they upgrade their platform.

Tier 1 providers have their IP networks as well as direct “interconnect” agreements with the fixed and mobile telco networks, as well as other VoIP networks, providing the cheapest and most direct route to the termination point of calls and quality assurance. Tier 2 providers connect to the internet and other providers via a Tier 1 provider.

Both of these instances are acceptable levels of connectivity, but anything lower and your provider will go through too many links to reach a terminating provider (serving the called party). Too many hops may detract from the quality and bulk up cost.


Additional Hosted PBX provider considerations


Make sure that your provider has the necessary security mechanisms and pro-active monitoring tools to avoid hacking in your infrastructure; which could result in you being responsible for thousands of rands of calls which you didn’t make.

Ensure that you own all your phone numbers. If you ever need to change service providers, you’ll want to make sure you can keep your numbers. Porting your Telkom number to a Hosted PBX provider can be ported back to Telkom or another Hosted PBX provider should you need to get this done.

Whilst we don’t advocate basing decisions on call rates, it is important to ensure transparency with your provider and that you continue to benefit from competitive call charges. You also need to understand how they bill each call – whether on a per-second or per-minute basis, and whether there are any call connection fees.

Finally, when you speak with providers, ask if they’re using their service, and take note of how they sound. More than just showing confidence in their product, this will let you evaluate the quality of the call from your end.