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Hosted PBX

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If you are looking to buy a new phone system or replace your outdated business phone system, don't overlook the potential of hosted PBX services as a reasonable phone system alternative.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 in fact 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 center. 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 runs in the provider's data center 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.

Common Hosted PBX 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 center?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 center 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 e?mail, voice, and fax communications into the same system: voice mail messages and fax can be delivered to users' e?mail inboxes; e?mails 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 center 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 own 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 soft phones.

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 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 analog 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

We aim to serve and please - be sure to check out our VoIP Phone Comparison section by clicking here.

 

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

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 center, 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.

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 centers. Advanced calling features like Automatic Call Distribution and detailed reporting are essential for call center 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 selecting 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 centers 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 legitamite provider is to scan for their ECS/ECNS license number in their obligator disclosure or terms and conditions. If it isnt 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. Top?notch 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 for 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 providers 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 own 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 own 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 trhough too many linnks to reach a terminating provider (serving the called party). Too many hops may detract from 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 didnt 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 dont 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 own 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.
Hosted PBX Planning, How to Connect, and more.

All questions and considerations relating to Hosted PBX implementations is listed in our Hosted PBX FAQ's section which can be accessed by clicking here.