Definitive guide for buying a new telephone system

If you’re looking to buy a new phone system for your office, then you’ll need to know what features you need, and what to compare when researching which telephone system brand to buy.

  • How Many External lines will you need? Are you a high traffic operation, medium or relatively low?
  • Which telephone numbers do you wish to retain? Or will you be ordering new numbers? Will each user have their own direct dial in (DDI) number?
  • How Many Internal Users will you need? Count up how many phones you’ll need. Don’t forget to include meeting rooms and public phones.
  • Scalability – do you need additional capacity to accommodate your company’s growth?
  • Locations – Do you have remote workers or dispersed office locations?
  • How will you deploy the new system? In the vendor’s cloud, your company’s own cloud or on-premise? Read our PBX versus Cloud article for a more in-depth understanding
  • How will you pay for the new system? Read our guide
  • Return on Investment – You can save money by deploying a modern unified communications platform, which in turn can pay for your new system over a period of time, or at least part of it.

Once you have gathered the basics above you'll need to consider which 'system' and 'user' applications you'll require to make the most of your new phone system.

Which Telephone System?

If you're new to the Telecoms world, then you may be wondering what an IP-PBX is? It's not every week a business changes their communications platform, so you’re not on your own if you know little or nothing about IP-PBX systems.

In short an IP-PBX is the modern name for an office telephone system or PBX (private branch exchange). The traditional phone system now offers much more than just voice calls, therefore many IP-PBX products are now classified as 'Unified Communications' products.

So if you’re in search for a new telephone system for your business, then you’re more than likely seeking a new unified communications platform, a system that brings together voice, video, chat, team collaboration, conferencing and voice messages on any operating system (Microsoft Windows, MacOS, iOS or Android platform) and on any device (Smartphone, Tablet, PC, Mac etc).

IP-PBX Products in the Australia

To get you started on your buying journey you'll need to know who the leading IP-PBX and Unified Communications vendors are in the Australia and which telephone systems they sell in the Australia. Click each logo to read our most recent reviews.

Avaya
Avaya uses distributors Scansource Imago, Avnet and Westcon-Comstor in the Australia. The distributors then sell to channel partners (resellers), to sell to end users.
NEC
Having been a traditional PBX vendor for a long time now, the Japanese brand NEC have a solid reputation for proving good quality, feature rich telephone systems. Their latest IP-PBX platform is the UNIVERGE SV9100. NEC in the Australia sells through distribution and therefore accredited channel partners are responsible for the sales and support for end users.

Unify
German based Unify is an Atos SE company and since 2013 is the new name for Siemens phone systems. Siemens have been manufacturing PBXs for decades now and therefore have a significant marketshare worldwide. Unify’s most popular range nowadays is called OpenScape Business and OpenScape Enterprise, each offering a full unified communications suite for all types and sizes of business.
What is a PBX (Private Branch Exchange) ?

Designing the ideal business telephony solution requires an intimate understanding of the technology used in communications. Commonly known as a ‘telephone system’, a PBX, or private branch exchange, is a unique system that allows organizations to manage their outgoing and incoming calls, and permits internal communication within a business. PBX services are made up of hardware and software solutions and come with a tonne of add-ons to help your business performance and service levels.

Some of the latest PBX offerings have had a rich selection of exciting features intended to make communication powerful and easier within organisations. The right PBX can even boost productivity for your company. Though the complexity and size of these systems can vary, most will range from expensive and complex corporate systems to basic plans. You can also use simple PBX systems at home to upgrade your standard phone line.

What can a PBX do?

Depending on the PBX solution that you choose, the system can be either very complex or basic. However, from a simple perspective, when we refer to a PBX we’re talking about a system that can:

  • Use more than one telephone line and manage incoming and outgoing calls for an organisation.
  • Split a single phone line into multiple internal lines identified through extensions.
  • Switch calls to the appropriate internal line to save organisations the cost of paying for several department lines.
  • Allow for free communication within the business.
  • Empower communication solutions with VoIP (Voice over IP services), to promote a host of new features and enhancements in comparison to traditional telephony.
  • Automate response to calling customers using IVR.
  • Ensure a robust interface with customers through features such as voicemail, call recording, and more.

What is IP-PBX?

The function of a PBX system can change dramatically with the use of IP telephony or VoIP services. PBX systems were once analogue-based, working only on telephone line and switches, however today we can access IP-PBX services that use IP networks and VoIP technology to channel calls. The IP-PBX is often preferred due to a host of unique features.

Aside from old PBX solutions that continue to offer reliable services, and cheaper solutions, many PBX systems used today are IP-based.

What is a Hosted PBX?

To make the most of a PBX solution, you may not have to invest in the installation, maintenance, hardware, and software of an in-house PBX service. This is particularly true for those who are running small businesses wherein the cost of ownership might restrict you from benefiting from some of the best features of PBX. There are numerous online customers that offer PBX solutions against a monthly fee without you having to invest in anything more than a router and telephone set. These are known as hosted PBX services.

Hosted PBX services work through the cloud. In other words, you can access a service that is dispensed through the internet. Hosted PBXs are often generic enough to fit a range of needs. However, they are also cheap enough to run from any business, and don’t require extra upfront investment.

Benefits of Unified Communications in business

When it comes to extensive communication solutions, it’s important to remember that voice is only a single piece of the puzzle. After all, while you can make an important deal over the phone, you’d still need to send a quotation over fax or email. Similarly, while voice is enough to close the deal for some companies, others require video conferencing with multiple parties in a business.

Today, we’re not only using communication tools in the office, but at home, during transport, and from various locations around our local community. This is because business is becoming a more mobile and virtual concept for many people across the world. We’re no longer refined to a single physical address or office, but instead capable of moving wherever we need to go.

If all the communications services that you need to provide a great experience aren’t optimised and integrated, then you could be missing out on efficient business practices. Unified Communications, or "UC" is the difference between having all of your voice calling, video conferencing and instant messaging solutions in separate locations, or having them all in the same service.

    Unified Communications is a combination of:
  • Messaging (Chat/ IM)
  • Voice calls
  • Video calls
  • File Sharing
  • Conferencing/virtual meeting rooms for more than 2 people

Unified Communications

    The Unified Communications ecosystem consists of various devices and technologies, here’s what you’ll find as you dig deeper into UC:
  • Voice & Video Calls
  • IP Endpoints & Accessories (VoIP Phones, Softphones, Apps)
  • Instant Messaging (IM)
  • Team Collaboration Software
  • Voice & Video Conferencing & Virtual Meeting Rooms (VMRs)
  • WebRTC Calls
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) including cognitive and contextual communications

Benefits of Unified Communications

    Unified Communications can be useful in a range of different ways. For example:
  • Mobility – People who need mobile communication solutions can stay connected to wireless handsets and softphones even when outside of the office.
  • Enterprises can reduce costs incurred for accommodation for workers by allowing them to operate from home.
  • Video conferencing and web calls can allow for better interactivity between groups, reducing the need for telecoms and travel.
  • Businesses and individuals will have fewer registrations and bills to worry about, as they can access all their services from a single provider, and be accessed through a single number.

Today, we’re already beginning to see the vast scope of Unified Communications in our world. It’s unfolding as a gradual, yet highly popular solution to communication, and more businesses are beginning to consider its value today than ever before.

Cloud phone system vs PBX

From the moment we first began to explore the opportunities afforded by hosted Unified Communications (also known as UCaaS / unified communications-as-a-service), businesses across the globe have been moving away from their on-premise PBX solutions and replacing them with apparently more versatile cloud-based options. While some organisations remain wary when it comes to trusting the cloud completely, others have thrown their investment into cloud-hosted UC with vigour – apparently ready to take on the innovation that lies ahead.

If you’re not sure whether you’re ready for the world of cloud phone systems yourself, it may be a good idea to look at the way On-premise and UCaaS differs to help inform your decision. Some of the areas that we’ll look at today to help you make your choice will include capital expenditure, installation expenses, migration strategies, and more.

CAPEX versus OPEX

Cost will always be an important factor to consider when it comes to implementing a new business strategy.Cloud phone system services are known for offering minimal capital expenditure costs, because you don’t have to pay for any server hardware, power, rack space, or anything else. At the end of the day, all you need to purchase is phones – and this means a huge reduction in initial investment when you compare all the buying you might have to do for an on-premise solution. Indeed, the larger your enterprise is, the greater your capital expenditure costs will be.

Of course, capital expenditures aren’t necessarily the only costs that your business must think about. Installation costs are often a concern too – particularly in on-premise PBX solutions. With on-premise options, the installation costs are high because you need to pay for engineers to install the system. With a cloud solution the installation time is much less or ‘DIY’ therefore the installation costs are virtually eliminated in some cases.

Overall, the UCaaS total cost of ownership savings can be substantial, as many aspects of owning an on-premise solution are far more expensive than working through the cloud.

Migration strategies and licensing

Implementing on-premise PBX can be a challenge if you haven’t got the in-house skills. Your teams need to remove and replace all the existing infrastructure that might be in place, which often leads to significant communication downtime and some problems along the way. For an on-premise UC solution to be implemented across an entire company, the process can take weeks if not months.. On the other hand, IT teams can implement new cloud telephony features along the existing communication systems in place. As you grow and thrive as a business, you can scale your hosted offerings as you see fit, allowing IT to roll out additional features at will.

Additionally, licensing can be very simple on a hosted telephony service and the service is charged for on a per user, per month model.

As your company progresses, software updates on a hosted solution will be maintained by your cloud provider, so you’re constantly up to date, whereas with an on-premise solution you may need to update features several times depending on your architecture. Enhancements can take weeks if not months to fully integrate. What’s more, UCaaS can ensure that you are reliant on your internet hosting service, and most providers offer reliable redundancy, but you will not have immediate access to equipment like you would with an on-premise PBX. However, it can be very expensive to include redundancy with on-premise services, and only larger enterprises can typically afford to invest in disaster recovery solutions.

Hosted vs On-premise unified Communications

When you examine the obvious benefits of switching to UCaaS, it’s clear to see why adaptation has sky-rocketed in recent years. While the decision to move to cloud solutions will always depend on the unique needs of each business, it seems that the cloud has far more to offer in terms of agility and scalability. But it comes at a price.

However, it’s often a case of horses for courses. If you require the security and in-house control of an on-premise solution then deploying unified communications on-site is a very good way of achieving these goals.

Many small business IP-PBX systems like contain a huge amount of features and right now many can offer tighter integration with critical business applications like CRM and ERP.

On a final note, like most things it comes down to price, unified communications as a service (UCaaS) is typically charged out on a price per seat per month model, if you have cash and want to own your solution then you’ll soon discover that deploying a UC on-site can be much lighter on the pocket.

What is SIP Trunking? Benefits and More...

The old-fashioned Public Switched Telephone Network (or PSTN), with ISDN2e and ISDN30e lines will soon be a thing of the past. Today’s telephony is moving away from PSTN, into the world of flexible and modern SIP trunking. Now, the world’s most popular telecom providers are phasing out old functionality solutions, and have begun to make the move towards IP, making SIP trunk an inevitable upgrade solution.

Defining SIP Trunking

For the uninitiated, SIP trunks are telephone line trunks that are delivered over an IP network using the SIP protocol. Using this method, telecom service and VoIP providers can connect multiple channels to a customer PBX. DDIs and phone numbers can be linked to the same SIP trunk and numbers can often be ported into a SIP trunk too!

    SIP trunks offer a range of unique benefits over PSTN based solutions, including:
  • Lower costs for monthly line rental thanks to fewer lines installed at your office.
  • Lower call charges thanks to competition amongst SIP trunk providers. Some SIP trunks even offer unlimited calling.
  • Better customer service offered through more geographical and international numbers. Businesses can easily and efficiently add numbers to their SIP solutions, and terminate them too. Since customers can contact companies with greater ease, this can mean that sales increase too.
  • SIP trunks aren’t bound to a location, which means that you can move offices without having to change your number.
  • You can eliminate VoIP gateways, as all phone calls arrive via IP. This means no extra conversion and can maximise quality too.
  • Modern IP PBX solutions. Modern IP PBX/UC solutions offer customers enhanced productivity, better sales and mobility. Connecting your IP PBX to a SIP trunking solution is far easier than using PSTN.
  • It’s easier to include additional channels on your SIP trunk to handle increased calls. Simple phone calls allow you to add channels almost immediately.
  • With SIP trunks, you can select the perfect number of channels for your unique requirements. On the other hand, with ISDN, you’d have to choose a specific number of lines.

Upgrading your business experience

SIP trunking can give you the power to enhance your business experience. Once you’ve chosen a provider, you can choose a dedicated internet line for your SIP trunk. Since many firewalls can handle several WAN collections, and internet lines are often low-cost, a separate VoIP connection can be a great way to enhance the quality of your VoIP calls.

Some SIP trunk providers even bundle their service options with dedicated internet lines. This process can keep your voice traffic separated from data traffic. However, the outcome of your choices will depend largely on the cost of your upgrades and your network structure.

Remember, you can also upgrade your PBX to an IP PBX. Unlike with PSTN lines which are often connected to hardware-based PBX solutions, an IP PBX can offer you an easy-to-manage and flexible solution. Why not upgrade your services to IP PBX and leverage the benefits of flexibility and modern refinements that only IP telephony can bring?

Phone System Features

Here’s a list of common features, there are many more, this will help you select the types of features you require for your business.

  • Call Manager – If you choose to host your own IP-PBX then which model will you choose? Most vendors have different models for different size businesses. Be sure to select the system that will accommodate your future growth plans. A Call Managers are also named a PBX, Controller, Central Control Unit, Chassis or Server.
  • Management – Do you wish to manage the system yourself in-house? If you do, then try to select the platform which offers a simple to use interface. Ensure the company you select is able to provide system administrator training on how to manage the system day to day. Your IT person is normally best placed to manage your system, alternatively your new provider will normally offer this service as part of an on-going support plan.
  • Voice Messaging
    • Will you need voice mail boxes for users and departments?
    • When voice messages are left do you want them forwarded to email? (commonly called unified messaging or email forwarding)
    • Does your company require an auto attendant when callers ring into your main number(s)? e.g “Press 1 for sales, 2 for accounts”
    • Call Waiting announcements – this is a useful feature but it depends on how long your callers wait to be answered e.g “Please hold your call is important to us”
  • Audio & Web Conferencing – For multi-party call conferences. Commonly known as a dial-in conference bridge. Nowadays many systems also offer video and team collaboration as part of the package.
  • Call Recording – Do you want to record your calls? If so, all calls or just certain users? If you record your calls and take credit card payments over the phone, you’ll need to ensure you meet PCI compliance guidelines.
  • Call Reporting – a call logger will allow you to pull historical reports on your user’s call activity. There’s lots of clear business benefits for call reporting in a business!
  • Contact Centre – You don’t have to be a fully fledge call centre to have a bit of contact centre technology in your business. In fact most organisations use contact centre solutions for customer service teams, help desks, telesales and more. If you require tight control of staff productivity and customer service levels then its worth researching more on contact centre features and benefits
  • Multi Media (Multi-channel) – This is normally an additional layer or option on your contact centre solution. Multi-media contact centre technology allows you to handle not just telephone calls but video, chat SMS, fax, email and social media!
  • WFO – Stands for workforce optimisation and it’s software contact centres use to manage the forecasting, scheduling and real-time tracking of your agents and available resources.
  • Automated Dialling – If you’re looking to supercharge your outbound calling rates then automated dialling solutions will certainly add more horse power to your connected call rates. Various technologies exist nowadays, they commonly fall into the following types; predictive, power and progressive diallers. If you’re simply after ‘click to call’ technology then take a look at ‘UC Desktop Client’  or ‘CRM Integration’ below, it’s typically included in this.
  • API – Many phone systems offer the ability for you to develop your own applications for custom integration. Some software developers kits (SDKs) offer more functionality that others, so choose wisely and involve your software developer in the decision making process!
  • Toll Fraud – Just like the firewall that protects your office, you’ll need to make sure your new phone system is protected. Toll fraud and telephone hacking is on the rise so be sure to cover this off with your new phone system supplier.

User Experience(UX)

A modern phone system can vastly improve staff productivity and efficiency in a business, therefore providing a clear return on investment (ROI) for your company. A modern phone system has many user features, tools and applications that help your business and workforce operate better.

  • Reception Console – Do you have a dedicated receptionist or someone that handles the majority of calls in your business? If so, you may want to invest in an Operators Console / Reception Console. Reception consoles can either be an extension module which contains a quantity of extra back-lit buttons (one for each person in the business), or it can be a software based console which is installed on the Receptionist’s computer.
  • UC Desktop Client – UC stands for Unified Communications and if you’re looking to get more features out of your telephone, then choose a phone system that comes with a PC desktop application. The software resides on your PC (or Mac) and typically offers features like; click to call, call logs, chat, presence, voice mail access and contacts directory. Some more advanced desktop client applications offer a VoIP soft-phone and video calls, which allows you to take your laptop wit you on the move. Perfect for remote working.
  • CRM Integration – If your business runs a CRM (Customer relationship management) software platform like Salesforce.com or Microsoft Dynamics, then you can often integrate your telephones. Features include: click to call, inbound and outbound screen popping, call logging and recording. The benefits of integrating your CRM with your business phone system is productivity, commonly used in contact centres and busy telesales offices.
  • UC Mobile Client – Similar to the above UC desktop client software, a UC mobile client can be installed on your smart-phone devices and tablets. Once installed, users have full mobility whilst staying connected to the office phone system. This application is perfect for remote workers, especially if they travel a lot.
  • Team Collaboration – Team collaboration software is very popular in organisations today. It allows teams to setup virtual meeting rooms for messaging, chat, file sharing, video conferencing, screen sharing and much more. Why spend time travelling to a meeting if you can conduct it just as well from your desk.
  • IP Phones (fully featured) – Fully featured IP phones are proprietary IP telephone sets manufactured specifically by the vendor for greater feature richness. They work in the same way as SIP phones and endpoints, just with more features.
  • SIP Endpoints – SIP phones and endpoints are built on the SIP open standard. SIP phones can typically connect to any SIP compatible phone system. This provides you with greater flexibility and can often drive the cost down, because SIP phones are normally lower cost than fully featured IP Phones.
  • DECT Phones – DECT stands for Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications and its a European standard. Most home cordless phones use DECT technology. In business, DECT technology is used to connect users with cordless telephones to telephone systems. For example; warehouses, schools, manufacturing etc.
  • WiFi Phones – Wi-Fi based phones are similar to DECT phones but they use your office’s Wi-Fi network instead. There are advantages and disadvantages for both technologies. Explore DECT versus Wi-Fi technology.
  • Conference Phones – If you have meeting rooms or large tables where you need to meet for voice conferences, then buying the right conference phone can be much more effective than everyone huddling around a regular desktop telephone!
  • Phones Accessories – You can add all types of accessories to your telephones, here are some examples:
    • Cordless Headset
    • Cordless Handset
    • Programmable Key Module (PKM)
    • Keyboard
    • Bluetooth Dongle
    • Wi-Fi Dongle
  • WebRTC – a new technology which allows users to handle voice and video calls through an internet browser without the need to install any software. Read our Web RTC guide.

When selecting a new phone system, always try to select the one that feels easy to use, this will encourage user adoption of new features and ways of working.

We hope this guide helps you get started with buying a new telephone system for your business!

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