If You Can Stomach the IT Burden, an IP PBX Is Awesome

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For many business owners looking to set up or streamline their team’s telecom services, an IP PBX system can be an excellent choice. As its name suggests, this approach marries the functionality and cost-effectiveness of modern Internet Protocol (IP) technology with a cohesive Private Branch Exchange (PBX) internal phone network.

Before getting started with an IP PBX, you’ll first want to choose between a hosted or on-premises system. Both offer a bevy of advanced features for a privately secured phone network, but they differ in the amount of up-front costs and the degree of control over your system.

An on-premises network requires a heavy initial investment, along with adequate office space to house your hardware. It also requires ongoing IT support and regular checkups on system maintenance—which are no small tasks regardless of the size of your network. Still, for those who value customization and prefer a more hands-on approach, this setup provides you with complete oversight of your security protocols, approved users, and features.

Conversely, a hosted network leaves all of those things up to a remote service provider—so you won’t have to deal with any equipment, but you will have to put up with all the potential problems, outages, and policies that come with a hands-off approach.

How an IP PBX Works

When we think about the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) as a whole, a PBX system is essentially a smaller, private community of users within that larger network. Companies and organizations typically establish a PBX so their team can operate as a professional, cohesive unit. Each department or service area is then divided up into bundles of phone lines called trunks and is often identifiable by its own extension code.

PBX systems have existed for decades, and they traditionally relied on older infrastructure that sent voice calls as electrical signals through in-ground copper wires. With these systems, physical trunk lines had to be allocated for each user and paid for by the month regardless of how much use it got.

Thanks to a modern IP upgrade, however, today’s PBX networks can utilize Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking. This allows calls and other data to be transmitted virtually (and in higher quality) over the internet using Voice of Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. Each of these lines can be established or removed as needed, and you don’t have to pay for what you don’t use—which drastically reduces costs for business owners.

As the aging copper network continues to decline, VoIP-based solutions like IP PBX systems give business owners a set of advanced, cost-effective communications tools that support a thriving enterprise. They can also be implemented without having to upgrade your entire analog phone system, as long as you can incorporate an analog-to-VoIP adapter or VoIP-compatible router.

Graphic from Nextiva to show how an IP PBX works.

What Does an IP PBX Include?

An IP PBX offers several standard features that can help boost productivity and streamline your business operations. These typically include:

  • Conference Calling: To keep your team on the same page with multimedia group call options, such as voice and video
  • Voicemail: So your team members never miss a phone call
  • Caller ID: For creating a more personalized caller experience
  • Call Logs/Analytics and Reporting: For tracking your line usage while maximizing productivity and accountability for your team
  • Call Forwarding and Routing: To ensure your customers reach the right person to address their needs
  • Call Transfer/Queueing and Parking: So you can design an automated system that supports the best possible customer service experience
  • Unlimited Scalability: To accommodate the changing needs and availability of your team by adding or removing trunk lines as needed, in real time
  • Next-Generation Mobility: For facilitating a seamless remote work experience anywhere you or your employees may be
  • Streamlined Interface: So you can make immediate updates to your IP PBX system with just a few clicks
  • Intercom and Paging: To streamline communication between team members
  • Music On Hold: So callers will hang on the line until a team member is ready to help them

Who Manages an IP PBX?

With a hosted IP PBX, all system maintenance and security practices are managed by your VoIP vendor. If you choose to establish an on-premises network, you’ll need to manage and fund these crucial aspects yourself. From the initial setup and maintenance to the regular upgrades of your software infrastructure, you’ll need someone on your team who is well-versed in these systems and their operations.

Many business owners elect to hire an in-house staff member or a team of IT experts who can tackle the day-to-day functionality of their network. You can also outsource this kind of support by contracting help only when needed. There are certainly benefits and drawbacks to both approaches.

With an onsite IT team, you have regular access to people who are already familiar with your specific system and company needs. Finding, hiring, and retaining the right fit for these roles can present a challenge—plus you’ll have to consider the annual salary requirements as part of your system cost—but these hurdles may prove to be worth it for tailored support that ensures smooth daily operations.

On the other hand, an outsourced team can reduce your ongoing salary costs while providing support when necessary. However, random technicians may not fully grasp the complex goals of your organization, so you may lose time bringing them up to speed on your system-related issues. Rather than spreading out your support costs over an annual salary, you’ll also be faced with a bill every time a problem occurs—and any additional IT challenges they encounter may run up your total.

In the end, to keep your on-premises IP PBX network running smoothly, it’s probably a good investment to have at least one expert onsite for troubleshooting basic issues.

When is an IP PBX a Good Idea?

These days, an IP PBX is beneficial for nearly any company of any size. There’s not much to hate about team members enjoying better call quality and the ability to forward calls from their office numbers when working remotely. Customer service teams can also benefit from call queueing and dialing capabilities that maximize productivity while supporting the best possible customer experience.

Other features, such as call menus and auto-routing, are good for ensuring that customers reach the most qualified person to help them. This helps your company make the best use of employee time and talent. Plus, as your company grows and changes, you can easily update phone numbers and lines with very little added cost or effort.

At the end of the day, if you can front the initial funds for an onsite network, supply a dedicated space for the equipment, and handle the ongoing costs of IT support, then it probably makes sense for your business to go with an on-premises solution. Not only can your long-term costs be lower than with a hosted option, but you can also configure your system to your exact specifications, taking advantage of the latest firmware and firewall protections without having to trust these measures to an offsite host.

When it comes to functionality, you can also hand-pick which VoIP communications features you need for your business without being limited by what’s available through a specific hosting platform. If scalability is important to you, this type of system empowers you to add or remove users anytime at no additional cost.

Ultimately, determining if an onsite IP PBX network is right for you depends on the up-front investment you’re willing to make and how hands-on you’d like to be with your system.

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