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Phone Systems 101

With this hectic world that we live in, it is so easy to get overwhelmed with all the information out there regarding phone systems. Buying a phone system in San Antonio doesn’t make it any easier with all the choices in the marketplace. I am going to try to keep this as objective as possible, and do not want to have this come across as a sales pitch. There are many things that you need to consider when purchasing a phone system. Here are a few that I thought are important:

What is a phone system and what does it do?

A phone system is basically a hub for all your phones and phone processing. Traditionally, phone lines would be ordered from a provider. Once the phone line was installed, a basic phone would be purchased from Office Deport or any similar store. However, as businesses started to grow, they needed to have a better solution; a solution that allowed intercommunications between extensions, capability of having more than 2-4 lines connected to the system, voicemail, auto attendant, etc. All these features are not able to be provided by these base-line phones. Therefore, the need for the phone system arose.

All the cabling for your office will run to a central point and terminated. Your phone system will install on that wall with that cabling. The phone lines from your provider will connect into your phone system and your in-house cabling will connect into your phone system as well. Now the job of the phone system is to provide every phone with those phone lines. The phone system acts as the center of all communication both inside the office and calls made externally.

How big of a system should I get?

There are many stages of phone systems that you can purchase. There are some systems that are “616″ phone systems meaning they come ready to support 6 lines and 16 extensions but will never grow larger. There are some systems that will grow to 12 lines and 40 extensions, then others that will grow to hundreds of extensions. The safest bet for companies is to sit down with a vendor and discuss their options for the size of their company. Many systems, if outgrown, can have many of the cards swapped over to a bigger system, protecting your investment.

What is the difference between voicemail and auto attendant and why do I need it?

Most phone systems offer both voicemail and auto attendant cards for their systems. More and more the line between the two systems is fading. What voicemail does for your company is providing you with a way of leaving messages for people who are not in the office at the time or for after hours. Auto attendant is a feature where all incoming calls are answered with an automated response. The caller then navigates through the menus till they find their correct destination.

Most voicemail systems today can do either. Many companies do not like to have all their incoming calls answered by an automated response. However, that is no reason not to purchase a voicemail system. Keep in mind that you can always use the voicemail feature without ever using the auto attendant feature.

More and more voicemail systems are offering solutions for your company that will make your business more efficient. With features like forwarding messages, cell phone alerts, cascading mailboxes, inter-office reminders, unified messaging (we will talk about that later), your business can operate much more efficiently than ever before.

What is unified messaging?

Unified messaging is a technology that allows all your voicemail messages, emails, text messages, etc. to be consolidated into one box. Every company has a different name for their messaging system that they use with their systems. In basic terms, it allows you retrieve your voicemail messages from your email.

There are a few things to keep in mind when thinking about this feature. One is how much is it going to cost and what extra equipment do I need? Some systems have this capability built into the actual voicemail card and some systems require you to buy extra equipment that is not installed in your system.

Secondly you need to find out how much it will cost based on how many mailboxes you use. Many providers charge per mailbox for this feature. There are some systems like the Samsung system that charge one rate for unlimited mailboxes that have this capability. This is an important question to ask your telephone vendor when exploring telephony options.

What is VoIP?

VoIP stand for “Voice over Internet Protocol” and simply put, it is the technology that allows for telephone communications over the Internet. There is a difference between a VoIP phone system that you can purchase and a VoIP phone line that you can get from Vonage, Time Warner, etc. One is a way of providing phone lines (Vonage) and one is a way of providing phone system capabilities across the Internet (this is what we will focus on).

There are so many things to keep in mind when you start talking about VoIP phone systems and we will not touch on everything. But I will do my best to touch on the things that I feel are important when choosing whether or not VoIP is right for you, and which VoIP system is right for you.

First off, do you need a VoIP phone system? More and more phone system manufacturers are making sure all their phone systems are easily upgraded to be VoIP capable. One question that should be asked when getting quotes is if you decide to upgrade the phone system to make it VoIP capable, what equipment and cost would that entail. A VoIP system allows the employee the capability of unplugging his or her phone from their desk at the end of the day, taking it home, plugging it into any Internet connection, and still being a part of the office.

There are two types of VoIP systems, there are Pure VoIP systems and there are hybrid systems. The pure VoIP systems are basically a computer server with VoIP phones sitting on the desks. Much of the major VoIP companies like Cisco, Shoretel, etc. use this type of setup. This setup has major drawbacks though. They are not traditional phone systems so features like paging, software upgrades, analog phone lines, etc. are much more expensive and a lot of times not even possible.

With a hybrid phone system you get all the features of a traditional phone system plus all the features of a VoIP phone system. There really is no drawback to this solution. It is tried and true technology mixed with the new technology of VoIP. It is also, in most cases, much cheaper. This is a solution that I would suggest with looking for a VoIP phone system.


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