Is a Cloud-based Phone System Right for Your Business?

The following was published in yesterday's editions of Foster's and Seacoast Sunday.

Every business needs a phone system. Historically, this meant purchasing an on-premise PBX, which stands for Private Branch Exchange, an old term from the earliest days of telephone systems. Essentially, a PBX simply means a telephone network that is within the company that then connects to the PSTN, which stands for Public Switched Telephone Network.

In today’s world, Cloud-based phone systems are becoming the standard. These are systems, as the name suggests, that are based in the Cloud. You may have heard of companies like Intermedia, Ring Central, Vonage or 8x8, all organizations that have phone services that are born in the Cloud. So what exactly does it mean to have a Cloud-based phone system?

Simply put, when you put your phone system in the Cloud, you don’t have traditional PBX hardware installed at your offices. The phones plug in to the same data network your computers do and you actually send and receive your phone call across the internet, connecting in to the traditional PSTN telephone network at a data center where your phone system provider connects to it.

This often equates to lower costs as most Cloud-based phone system providers do not charge by the minute for local and long-distance calls, like most traditional phone providers do. Flat fee is the name of the game when it comes to Cloud-based phone systems. Rates from $10 to $30 per month are most common for unlimited local and long-distance phone services. These prices are per person, so it’s very easy to analyze and budget your phone expense.

Some people are concerned about reliability and voice quality when moving to an internet-based telephone service. These are mostly concerns of the past. Internet services are highly reliable, especially business-class services. That said, it is prudent to consider a backup internet service, especially if you are using the internet for both data and telephone services. Even 4G wireless services make reasonable backups for your primary connection. With the advent of 5G, I expect backup internet connections to become far more common.

In terms of call quality, internet-based phone systems offer excellent call quality. Most of the providers will test your network, before selling you a service, to ensure it is capable of handling your call volume. These tests will identify any issues on your network, so you can address them before switching over. Often time, simple Quality of Service (QoS) rules need to be put in place, that prioritize voice traffic to ensure calls are clear and consistent. These days, internet-based calling is hardly different than traditional hard-wired phones in terms of quality.

You may actually already have a Cloud-based phone system and not even realize it. If you are an Office 365 subscriber, you have access to Microsoft Teams. Microsoft Teams has replaced Skype for Business as an online chat tool. However, Microsoft Teams is so much more than just chat. I have written about Teams and its collaboration features in the past. As it relates to Cloud-based phone systems, Teams is a fully functional Cloud-based phone system for business. All you need is to add on the phone system licensing and for as little as $20.50 per user, per month, you can have a complete Cloud based phone system.

If you haven’t explored Cloud-based phone systems for your business, you’ve never had as many good options as you do today. Check them out and make an informed decision the next time you need to upgrade your phone system.