The Top 5 Phone Systems for Small Business
Despite our growing dependence on email and virtual forms of communication, reliable phone systems are still integral to any business. However, selecting the right provider for you and your needs can be challenging. Below is a list of the 5 most popular small business phone system providers and a quick look at how they differ.
Maybe the biggest player in the business communication field, Cisco is known for its technologically advanced solutions that include everything from voice call to video conferencing. Some of Cisco’s greatest advantages include:
- Networking expertise
- Virtually unlimited number of extensions
- Top-tier handsets
However, Cisco’s advanced technology can often be daunting for a small business without its own IT department. A few of Cisco’s other disadvantages include:
- Technically more complex
- You may need separate components for separate functions
- More expensive when compared to competitors
Bottom line: Cisco is an industry leader, but may be more appropriate for a medium-sized business that has its own dedicated IT staff. If you’re looking for a simple “plug-and-play” solution, Cisco is probably a bit too complex for your needs.
- Widely regarded as the best “plug-and-play” small business solution
- Ability to use non-Avaya handsets with the Avaya software
- Relatively little need for daily IT support
- Significantly less expensive when compared to other similar systems
Avaya does have its drawbacks, mainly relating to implementing system-wide changes. Other disadvantages include:
- Limited number of extensions
- Fewer options for networking equipment
- Capacity limits
Bottom line: Avaya is definitely more cost-effective than its competitors and has a long history of VoIP success. Using Avaya will provide you with access to a big name in the industry without the need for your own dedicated IT staff.
Known as the “#1 Rated Business Phone Service,” Nextiva may not be as large as Cisco or Avaya, but seems to have a deep understanding of what small- and medium-sized businesses need in a phone provider. Their trademark “Amazing Service” is one of their key selling points and illustrates their commitment to being a resource to business owners. Other advantages include:
- Freedom to use any handset with Nextiva’s operating system
- Month-to-month payment options and plans (no contracts)
- U.S.-based customer support
Nextiva’s disadvantages may not be as dire for small businesses, but they include:
- Per-line pricing, which can get pricey depending on how many phone lines you need
- No Canadian support
Bottom line: Nextiva receives positive marks online in relation to price and features; however, their support doesn’t always get great reviews. For an initial phone system for a small business, it might be a good place to start, since they do offer a free 30-day trial with no setup fees.
One of the few VoIP providers with its own proprietary software, 8x8 was named the number one provider in hosted IP technology by Frost & Sullivan in 2012. Their cloud-based technology makes them more nimble than some of the other legacy providers, like Cisco or Avaya. Additional advantages include:
- Ownership of technology allows 8x8 to offer solutions at a lower price point
- Well-suited for mobile and dispersed workforces
- Mobile softphone integration that allows you to take calls on smartphones and tablets
While owning the technology comes with advantages (i.e. no vendors requiring additional fees), it also has its disadvantages, including difficulty in changing providers (not a “plug-and-play” solution) when and if the time comes.
Bottom line: 8x8 appears to be a robust and strong solution for small businesses, especially those that value mobile integration. It has better international calling rates than some of its competitors as well, which can be important for some businesses.
Touting itself as “ultra-basic,” Vocalocity might appear to be underselling its services, but really it’s simply stressing that if you don’t need all the bells and whistles offered by some of its competitors, then they might be the perfect fit. In addition to keeping their available features easy to manage, Vocalocity’s other advantages include:
- Add-on features that increase functionality, available on a monthly basis with no long-term contracts
- Cloud-based PBX so there is no server or equipment to buy
- Free mobile apps for iPhone and Android for increased functionality
Vocalocity’s no-frills approach means that it will pose some disadvantages for small businesses, including:
- Lack of free international calling (although inbound and outbound calls are unlimited throughout the U.S. and Canada)
- Not suited for organizations with more than 50 employees
Bottom line: Vocalocity offers solutions that best fit smaller organizations. Its focus on the basics can be attractive for some companies that are looking for an easy-to-implement option.
These are just a handful of the many phone providers available to small businesses. Other providers to investigate might be RingCentral, Jive and Fonality. Additionally, most cable and Internet providers now offer small business solutions, including Time Warner Cable Business Class, Verizon, AT&T and more.
With so many choices, it’s important to remember the key features that are most important for you and your organization. Typically, these boil down to cost, functionality, support and bandwidth. Staying focused on your needs should make the process of finding and choosing a phone provider much less stressful.