The biggest breakthrough in business phone systems of recent years was Voice over Internet Protocol VoIP, which suddenly unshackled companies from the static structures of the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). However, for small to medium enterprises and startups, the true Eureka! moment was the advent of cloud communications and the cloud based phone system.
If you need to update your phone system, it’s best not to get too bogged down in terminologies such as ‘cloud-based’ and ‘VoIP’. Simply, VoIP means Voice over Internet Protocol—a telephony system that runs via software on an Internet server, to which VoIP phone are connected using the IP network.
Where the cloud-based business phone system differs from VoIP is in the lower cost factor. If you’re managing your own in-house VoIP system, it requires investment in a server to connect your phones with the PSTN, and additional investment for security, configuration, and maintenance.
The cloud based business phone system in simple terms is hosted VoIP, or a hosted business phone system. Substitute the word ‘Cloud’ with ‘Internet’ and you get closer to it. The host, or phone service provider, hosts the software for your phone system on the Internet (in the ‘Cloud’) and as a subscriber, you pay a monthly fee for connection to this internet-based communications system.
With a hosted business phone system, you don’t have to invest in IT and in-house personnel or contracts for monitoring and maintenance. Cloud communications means that simply need an internet connection and handsets.
There are numerous benefits for a cloud based hosted business phone system and VoIP over the traditional PSTN model, from cost-savings to flexibility.
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Five Main Points to consider about a Cloud Based Phone System for Business
Here are five of the main points to consider and questions to ask when choosing a Cloud Based Business Phone System.
1. What is the nature of your business phone communications?
Do you really need a phone system that includes traditional physical office telephones, or could you use more flexibility with a virtual cloud communications phone system that uses mobile devices instead of these traditional office handsets?
Landlines, of course, are reliable and time-tested. However, many phone providers are moving away from them, making them trickier and more expensive to purchase, and also to repair if something breaks. Increasingly, the traditional landline system works best for large corporations with budgets that can provide for in-house monitoring and maintenance. They are also necessary if you are in an area without high-speed internet access.
A VoIP or virtual service uses the same internet connection that you are already using for your online work, and also provides you with features, including automated attendants, call queueing, video and other IT integration that would have been unimaginable in the SME sector until recently. They also give remote workers access to the business’s comms system from their mobile devices.
2. Do you need or want your phone system to be in-house, or do you want it to be hosted by a provider, and based in the Cloud?
The greatest benefit for an in-house phone system is the degree of control you have over your service. But this is a double-edged sword. Not only is it more expensive, in terms of the initial outlay, but you also need to have someone within your business who can service and maintain it.
For smaller businesses, the hosted Cloud based phone system is ideal, because there is no maintenance or hardware to worry about, apart from the IP phone handsets. The service provider will also maintain and upgrade the system for you on an ongoing basis, and adding or taking away lines is a simple matter of contacting your provider.
For some businesses, however, the Cloud based solution will not work, such as those entities that have regulatory or compliance requirements that may be difficult to meet if the phone system is hosted on the Internet.
3. Do I even need a system? Can’t my employees simply use their own mobiles?
The short answer is, yes, you do. No business that wants to present themselves as professional across the board can afford to be without a phone system to connect their employees internally and with their customers externally.
The answer to the question of employees using their own mobiles is, yes… but be cautious. It definitely does not work as well as having a virtually-hosted or in-house VoIP service, with their features geared towards quick and efficient processing of calls.
4. The traditional phone system is tried and tested. Do I really need to change it?
From the point of view of functionality, absolutely not. However, there has been an industry-wide move away from research and development into the technology that’s used in traditional landline systems. There are no new developments coming down the line for traditional landline systems. Industry-wide, the R&D trend is towards VoIP, unified communications and Cloud architecture.
Traditional parts will become more difficult to obtain, and more costly, while technical expertise is already dwindling and will eventually disappear.
5. How reliable is the connection on a Cloud based phone system, versus traditional landline?
At this point, it is almost impossible to discern any difference between calls on a landline and those on the Internet. However, you must ensure that you have sufficient bandwidth to guarantee a priority bottom-line standard for quality of voice call. As said earlier, if your business is based in an area without high-speed broadband access, the Cloud based phone system may not be for you, until such time as the access issue is improved.