I'm looking into phone options for Idealware's own use, and in the process really clarified my own understanding of how this whole thing works. There's two major components: phone service, and PBX services, and once you start to thing about things beyond traditional hardware options, they're quite separate.
So there's a couple options for phone lines
- to get your staff members the ability to call in and out:
- POTS, which sounds all technical, until you realize that it's an acronym for Plain Old Telephone Service. It's just like it sounds - you call up your local telephone service provider and get your service connected.
- You can also use VOIP services - Voice Over IP, through someone like Vonage (Vonage primarily serves residential customers- I assume there's business focused ones too? Anyone know the main players?). VOIP lines function like regular phones (and in fact, you just use a regular physical phone), but they rely on your internet connection to make and receive calls. This can have important ramifications for the reliability of your phone service, as Ron Zucker's written about here before.
- Or you could use cell phones, if you wanted. Obviously, that's likely to be a better option for folks who work in more than one location.
With the phone service, your staff has phone numbers, and the ability to get and receive calls. But you may or may not have niceties like voicemail, and you're unlikely to have anything that really feels like an business phone infrastucture. So for instance, you won't be able to let people hear a greeting and choose an extension, or let your staff transfer from one extension to another. That's where a PBX
comes in. PBX stands for Private Branch Exchange, but no one calls it that (in fact, I only know it because I just looked it up). It's the hardware or service that links all your phone lines together. You could use a traditional PBX, or a hosted one.
- A traditional PBX is a piece of hardware, installed locally with the phones physically wired to it. This will work for POTS or VOIP phones, but it won't help with cell phones. As a piece of hardware, you typically pay up front - like $5000 for a used one - and then have no more fees.
- There's also Hosted PBXs like "Virtual PBX" or "OneBox". These are online services that help you stitch together your existing phones with things like a call-in menu and the ability to it to then ring multiple phone to find you. It doesn't care what type of phone line you're using - so for instance, someone's extension could always ring their cell phone. For this type of service, you typically pay a monthly fee (starting at about a $50/month level). But that doesn't include the actual phone lines - you'll need both actual phones and phone service for all your staff to use it. Many of these service have a cap on the number of minutes of incoming calls and if you exceed it, you could need to pay more.
At least, I think I've got that all down! Did I get anything wrong?