Solving the Mystery of Business Phone Services

If you’ve ever shopped for phone service for your business, you may have felt utterly mystified by the dizzying array of possibilities.

 (photo credit: NEXTIVA)
(photo credit: NEXTIVA)
If you’ve ever shopped for phone service for your business, you may have felt utterly mystified by the dizzying array of possibilities.  You may also have been thoroughly confused by all the abbreviations and technical jargon.  
Why does it have to be so hard to get business phone service?
I’m going to walk you through the basics of Business Phone Service, decode some of the tech-speak, and help you figure out how to select the right kind of plan for your business.

What’s with all the abbreviations?

POTS, PBX, VoIP…it’s like phone providers are being deliberately confusing.  Let’s break these abbreviations down into plain English:

  • VoIP – stands for Voice over Internet Protocol.  It means that phone calls are transmitted over the internet, rather than phone lines.
  • PBX – stands for Private Branch Exchange.  It means a company uses one central number and calls are routed to different extensions. Picture the old-fashioned switchboard, but now computerized, of course.  There are a number of different kinds of PBXs.
  • ITSP – stands for Internet Telephony Service Provider.  Another name for VoIP provider. Is it any wonder people are confused
  • BYOD – Bring Your Own Device.  Phone service that lets you use your existing phone and doesn’t require the purchase of new phones.SIP – Session Initiation Protocol.  Basically, SIP powers VoIP.
  • POTS – (my favorite abbreviation) stands for Plain Old Telephone Service. Calls are transmitted via physical phone lines.
These are just the most common abbreviations used in business phone service. There are more, and you could spend lots of time decoding them and trying to figure out if they’re relevant to your business. But you don’t have to.  

How do you start to decide on a phone service?

First, you need to decide if you want traditional, physical phone lines for your business.  Why would you? If your company is based in one physical spot and reliability is the most important quality of your phone service, regardless of the cost. Simply put, physical phone lines require more hardware, especially if you’re thinking about multiple lines. While you’ll pay more upfront for the installation and equipment, your equipment will work even if the power and the internet go out. While you’ll forego some functionality and features of other systems, POTS certainly continues to serve the needs of some businesses.

What’s the next step?

If you decide that you don’t need physical phone lines for your business, you probably need VoIP or cloud-based phone service.  What’s the difference? Good question!
Lots of people use the terms interchangeably, and unless you delight in geeky details, it really doesn’t matter when it comes down to choosing the right business phone service for your company.  It’s common to find VoIP considered just the phone service (along with all the expected features like call forwarding, auto attendant, voicemail, etc.) Cloud-based service often refers to a system that integrates with other applications your company uses, like customer relationship management.
But once you’ve decided on internet-based phone service, you don’t have to get bogged down in the details.
Are there drawbacks to using internet-based phone service?  Sure. You’ll need reliable and fast internet service, and interruptions in that service will affect your ability to place and receive calls. The bright side: Technology gets better every day, and reliability continues to improve.
Your next steps:  Determine what features matter to your company and find a reliable provider who offers a fair price. Don’t worry…I’ll get you started on the features step.

A quick word about PBX

Does your business need a private branch exchange?  If you’re reading this article, probably not. PBXs are the most expensive business phone solutions, best suited to larger companies. VoIP and cloud-based systems have grown so sophisticated that fewer companies need PBXs, and those that do can typically find a hybrid cloud-based or hosted PBX.

So what kinds of features do you need?

Again, as technology – both software and hardware – has improved, most basic business phone providers offer more features than you’ll ever even use. Think about how you do business and list the features you need. Almost all phone providers offer features like auto attendant, hold music, voicemail, and call forwarding. What other features might you need?

  • Conferencing
  • Call recording
  • Analytics
  • Integration with specific apps
Build your list and start eliminating providers who don’t offer what you need at an affordable price.

Dare to dream a little

Believe it or not, there are business phone providers that offer free basic plans. You won’t have fancy features or great support, but the price may be exactly right.
But there are business phone solutions that can actually help you grow your company, with features and capabilities you didn’t even know, were possible. Nextiva, for example, uses AI and machine learning to help even the smallest of companies automate processes and become more efficient and profitable.  Just because your company is small, that doesn’t mean enterprise-level solutions are out of reach.
Take the time to prioritize your vital features and then compare a range of business phone solutions – from the freebies to the more robust plans – and think about the ways in which your phone service can help you achieve your business goals.