You’re probably not old enough to remember the times when a business phone system was in the hands of a switchboard operator who manually connected all incoming calls by plugging each one into the proper receptacle on a board. These were the early versions of Private Branch Exchange (PBX) systems, which brought the entire phone system in-house, allowing multiple phones to connect to a single system.
PBX is still around in a more modern form. It continues to require in-house installation, but Cloud-based Virtual PBX systems offer more flexibility than the early ones. The big question is whether your business will operate better using one of these systems versus going with full VoIP. In many ways, it all boils down to simplicity and control.
To a Notable Degree, Nearly Everything is Now Digital
In a non-technical nutshell, the main difference between how Virtual PBX and VoIP operate involves how calls travel into, out of, and around your facility. While a PBX typically (not always) sends calls in analog form to an outside junction box, like your old home phone did, VoIP calls completely travel digitally over the internet, no junction box required. All of this said, however, PBX might do a better job routing calls between phones in your office.
Still, even PBX calls get converted to digital format early in their travels. What does this mean to your business? Let’s look at some of the differences between both types of phone systems to identify which one might be a better choice for your company.
Virtual PBX systems have significant equipment requirements. You pay for the equipment, any retrofitting costs to ensure a reliable power supply, and the costs associated with paying for a potentially-complex physical installation. According to one assessment, the initial costs can mount into thousands of dollars.
With VoIP systems, there are still specific equipment requirements, such as special phones and adapters and setup (which you can generally do yourself), but these expenses are negligible, compared with those of virtual PBX.
Day-to-day operations costs can vary, too. Where you may just pay a per-user cost for a VoIP system, PBX costs (sometimes referred to as a “business landline”) can include anything from your phone bill to a range of fees. One estimate puts PBX running costs at up to 60 percent higher than those for VoIP.
Still, every situation is different, and many would argue that you get what you pay for. You need to do some serious research to weigh features with the costs. VoIP might be the right choice for very small businesses, but larger companies may place greater value on certain features. You need to weigh everything to make an informed buying decision.
Of course, it’s virtually impossible to hack a standard PBX system, which keeps all communication largely under the control of equipment within the building. However, while bringing a VoIP or virtual PBX system into the Cloud can increase security concerns, reputable providers have high-tech protections that help guard customers from cyber-attacks.
When shopping for a system, you need to ask lots of questions about each provider’s security protections. Their expressions of pride in the safety of their systems are a good first-step. But, be prepared to ask pointed questions to determine what they do to protect you. Be sure to ask if their systems have ever been hacked. If so, what were the effects on customers, how did they eliminate the risk, and how long did it all take?
Don’t forget to do some independent research. If a provider has ever experienced a cyber-attack, an Internet search will often reveal news stories that tell you more.
So, the bottom line is that, since both virtual PBX and VoIP require the Internet to run your system, security concerns are similar. Do your homework to find a security-conscious carrier, and this will probably not be a major issue
Virtual PBX offers many features that you’ve seen for years in office phone systems, including the ability to transfer calls within the workplace, automatically transferring calls to extensions when the first phone does not answer, auto-attendant that helps callers properly route their calls, and on-hold music, to mention a few.
VoIP systems have some similarities and some differences. One potential advantage of VoIP is its ability to more easily route calls to your business to people working from home or traveling on company business.
In either case, the providers’ websites will list all available features and their costs. You may initially identify the features that you want, but keep your mind open. You may be surprised by how many features might provide benefits to your business, even if you never knew that they existed before now.
So, what happens when things go amiss? Hopefully, a tornado won’t blow through and destroy all of your equipment, but power outages and Internet glitches are still very real possibilities. As you wait for the lights to come back on, you may have to rely on smart phones to communicate with the outside world. With the proper apps, VoIP-connected smart phones might make incoming calls more likely to get through, but Virtual PBX might offer similar options.
When it comes to diagnosing the reasons for issues, both VoIP and Virtual PBX providers may offer easy solutions, particularly when the problems occur on their end. In this case, you will benefit from a provider that maintains systems in multiple locations (known as “redundant”). If one goes down, they quickly switch to another location to minimize interruptions.
If the cause of a failure is in your facility, then VoIP systems may be easier to address without calling in outside technical support engineers.
This is another topic to bring up with providers before you buy your system. Be prepared to ask some what-if questions to find out how well providers handle these issues — including how they provide support, whether they maintain redundant systems, and what you may need to do on your end to get back in business.
You Can Have Both
Good news: your choice need not be limited to one system or the other. Without going into the technical details, VoIP systems can be integrated with PBX systems, which can be a real boon to connectivity for remote workers.
Granted, this is yet another question to ask potential providers. Find out how much more difficult it would be to set up such a system, associated costs, and ease of adding or removing VoIP lines within your PBX system.
Regardless of whether you choose PBX, VoIP, or a hybrid system, the right choices can help your small business communicate like the big ones do.