Finding the right small business phone system for your organization is an important decision if you’re looking to compete with larger, more established competitors. A comprehensive phone system for any small business should include a range of functions which not only support the way in which businesses communicate with customers and clients but also internally within divisional teams and departments.
Voice over Internet Protocol – also called VoIP and IP telephony – is fast becoming a business standard all over the world. It allows voice, video, and oftentimes collaborative interactivity without using dedicated phone lines, and is often less expensive than traditional telephone services. Granted, VoIP is a clear choice for many businesses, but how do you choose the best VoIP phone system for your small business?
How to Choose a Small Business Phone System
Our team of experts have carefully surveyed the best VoIP phones available from leading suppliers including Polycom, Mitel, Avaya, Cisco and more to bring you a selection of the very best office phones that are ideal for small to medium-sized businesses, catering for a broad range of budget options.
Many VoIP providers recommend particular models of desktop phones that are known to work optimally with their services. The larger providers also often supply phone handsets as part of your chosen package, either for a single up-front payment or as an on going monthly contract.
Fortunately, modern technology now allows even the smallest of businesses to implement the same processes as larger organizations, all without having to invest large amounts of money or labor into installation and ongoing maintenance.
Whether you are looking to install a new system or upgrade your network, there are a number of considerations you need to make when deciding on a phone system for your small business. These factors can be broken down into the following:
- How many business phone lines do you require?
- How many extensions are needed for the size of your office?
- What telephone system features would most benefit your business
- How will your businesses’s growth strategy impact your phone system needs in the future
This guide will explore a range of the best phone systems for small business, providing a breakdown of the different type of solutions to ensure you can make an informed decision regardless of the size of your business or the industry you operate within.
An an all-inclusive, fully operating phone system can have a huge impact on the success of any small business. A modern phone system will not only help to streamline a small business’s overall communication structure but by providing features and resources to aid everyday tasks a high performance system can also reduce call times, with crystal clear voice quality, aid collaboration between teams, departments and separate offices as well as allow for customer relationship management integration.
As well as the competing providers and the various handsets available you also need to consider the type of phone system your small business will use. The three most popular for business are PBX – a private branch exchange designed to save businesses money as a separate line for each user is no longer needed. PSTN – public switched telephone network or VoIP – Voice over Internet Protocol, or more simply a phone system that operates over the internet and one of the most popular types of system for modern businesses of all sizes which is explored in more detail below.
What is the size of your business?
VoIP Solutions for Small Business
Small business owners can have trouble building a strong reputation and it can be difficult persuading a potential customer that you can meet their requirements. Voice Over Internet Protocol systems allow businesses to appear more professional. Modern VoIP solutions offer a virtual receptionist, video conferencing, call recording, screening and other tools which businesses can make use of.
VoIP can give the impression of a larger business than it actually is, which can give customers more confidence. As an example, a caller may find it more professional to receive an automated line with a range of options to be put through to the right person than simply receive an immediate answer by a member of the team. VoIP can also create the impression that your business is well established and properly set up with wider coverage than perhaps a small local area.
Benefits of VoIP for Small Businesses
- Reduce Costs
- Aid Remote Working
- Increase Business Growth
- Reduce Costs
- Improve Professionalism
Before you make the transition to a new phone system it is important, even for a small business to make sure that you have the right resources in place such as a good broadband connection and what facilities you will need to support a mobile workforce. Both small and large businesses can compete on a level playing field with the new VoIP technology because the costs are very much the same and the features are extensive.
Small Business Phone Systems Cost
There are a wide range of potential costs and charges associated with setting up a business phone system. Some of these costs will only be applicable for on-premise systems, and will also depend on your existing network infrastructure and phone equipment:
- Cost of IP-PBX central unit and network converters
- Cost of installation
- Cost of handsets, headsets and associated peripherals
- Cost of maintenance
- Cost of employee training
- Cost of additional features and service options: international call support etc.
The cost of the IP-PBX and related hardware can vary greatly, from as little as $80 up to several thousand for fully-fledged units with support for SIP trunking and advanced features.
Handsets also vary greatly in price, from as little as $20 for basic models, to around $100 for mid-range business IP phones, to over $500 for more advanced units with video capabilities and other features. Quite often businesses will invest in one or two more advanced models for senior managers and the person who will be administrating the phone system for things like conference calls, and buy cheaper standard models for the majority of desks.
Service providers will also often bundle preferred models of handsets with their solutions, in which case you may be able to save by purchasing or renting such equipment as part of an overall package. It’s still a good idea to be aware of the regular price of the equipment you’re looking at though, so you know if you’re getting a good deal on a bundled solution.
A typical metric used to compare the suitability of different phone systems for businesses with varying requirements is known as Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). These figures can be plotted on a graph for hosted and on-premises phone systems, illustrating the essential threshold above or below which it is more cost-effective to invest in one or the other, based on how much you are spending per year and how many years you anticipate using this system:
In beginning to calculate the anticipated costs, you will inevitably begin to acquaint yourself with a few of the leading service providers in order to gather their pricing information. Our next step will be to look in more depth at the providers themselves and the broader service and support solutions they can deliver beyond costs for individual equipment items.
Additional Purchasing Tips
Think scalability: It’s important to invest in a phone system that can grow with your business. Ensure that the system you choose can be easily upgraded to handle greater volumes of incoming and outgoing calls, without having to go through the process again of getting a whole new system.
Budget for unexpected maintenance: It can be difficult to account for all the possible costs and overheads associated with a new phone system installation, but you should keep a contingency fund available if possible for those unexpected fixes and bumps in the first few months of getting the system up and running.
Focus on the options you need: It’s quite easy to be dazzled by the range and novelty value of some of the features available when first appraising your phone system options. Know which are the features that are essential or could add massive value to your business, and which are appealing but not absolutely essential. If a key feature on your wants list is not included as standard, see if the provider can add it, and there are features included that you know are of limited value to you, see if they can removed to reduce the overall cost. Modern VoIP phone solutions have never been so flexible and customisable, so take advantage of this.
Training: Check with your prospective service providers whether training for your employees and phone system users is included, whether this is also applicable for new employees who join the business after the phone system is set up, and in what form the training comes – is it a video series or in-person live workshops, for example.
Top 10 Best VoIP Phone Reviews
Whatever the size of your organization it is highly likely that your communications process could benefit from the adoption of VoIP phones across your workforce.
As the key advantages laid out above show, the benefits associated with VoIP phones vary from cutting costs to advanced functionality that can make your internal and external communications more efficient and effective.
The table below offers a quick comparison between individual models of phone system with full reviews given below.
|VoIP Phone Model||Price From||Our Rating||Core Benefit||Compare|
Polycom SoundPoint IP Series
|$70||Polycom HD Voice Quality|
Polycom VVX Series
|$125||Unified Video and Voice Communications|
Avaya 1600 IP Desk Phones
|$70||Simple, Easy to Use Interface|
Avaya 9600 Series
|$125||Access to Additional Applications & Instant Messaging|
Mitel MiVoice 5360 IP Phone
|$550||Large High Resolution Touch Screen|
We are confident the comprehensive reviews given in this section will lead you to a phone systems solution suitable for your business. If you’re looking for other types of communication systems, take a read through our best softphone comparison.
As already explored, making the right choice when it comes to investing in VoIP technology for your business can have a huge impact on the productivity of your workforce. With the following ten models found to offer the most to businesses on a number of fronts:
Editor Rating: Price: $70 – $520
The Polycom SoundPoint IP Series of desk phones are designed for businesses, providing a range of high-quality solutions whatever the size of your enterprise.
Models in the series
321 / 331 / 335 – basic enterprise phones
450 / 550 / 560 / 650 – mid-range three- and four-line SIP phones
670 – top of the range SIP phone with colour display
Excellent sound quality, including HD in the 650 and 670 models
Simple, intuitive user interfaces
Can be supplemented with a number of expansion modules for busy attendants, reception desks and call centres
A popular range with solutions for a range of budgets, from one of the largest and most respected business phone manufacturers.
Editor Rating: Price: $125 – $665
Polycom VVX Series feature unified voice as well as video communication all in a desktop device designed for executives and call center staff in any size of business. The combination of audio and video technology can take your communication and collaboration to the next level.
Models in the Series
1500 simple desk phone unifying voice, video and external apps
1500D dual-stack phone offering 1500’s capability
600 premium phone for small-to-medium businesses
Unified video and voice capabilities to improve collaboration and workflow
Integrated Unified Communications solutions
Interactice touch screen display
Customizable third party APIs
The Polycom VVX series provides easy-to-use business media phones that combine high-quality video and audio to improve productivity and collaboration. These phones form a useful basis for developing Unified Communications solutions in the work space or call center.
Editor Rating: Price: $70 – $150
An affordable range of IP desk phones combining the key features and benefits of traditional digital and IP phones. Avaya’s 1600 series is designed for business use and call centers, supporting from 3 to 16 lines and includes technology generally found in higher-priced phones.
Models in the series
1608 basic desk phone with 8 line appearances
1616desk phone with 16 line appearances for users who monitor their own extensions
Familiar user interface
Fixed features keys for common tasks
High-quality full-duplex speakerphones
The Avaya 1600 series provides enterprise and call center users with basic communication functions at an affordable price point. For users new to IP telephony, the series offers a familiar user interface that makes it easy to get into productive use.
Editor Rating: Price: $125 – $470
The Avaya 9600 Series of desk phones is designed to improve collaboration in the enterprise. The phones feature excellent acoustics and touch-screen access to web-based applications, calendars, directories and other productivity tools.
Models in the series9601a SIP only device for use in desktops and public areas
9608 fully functional phone with 8 line access. Also available with contact center features
9611G includes integrated, USB interface and 3.5 inch color display. Also available with contact center features
9621G features gigabit capability and touchscreen functionality on 4.3 inch color display
Key FeaturesTouch-screen access to Web applications
Access to instant messaging, voice messaging and presence status
GigE phones don’t require separate Ethernet outlet
Option to add data-intensive services and applications
Low power consumption
Contact center models feature greeting, call monitoring and agent status updates
The Avaya 9600 Series provides a range of advanced IP phones to enhance productivity and collaboration in many enterprise and contact center environments. Low power consumption, advanced functionality and high bandwidth provide a powerful combination that improves performance while controlling costs.
Editor Rating: Price: $550
The Mitel MiVoice 5360 IP Phone is designed for business executives and managers providing features that can increase productivity regardless of the type of work being carried out. This executive desktop phone integrates with the Mitel 250 communications platform and has the capability to create and deliver rich multimedia applications.
Models in the series
M250 communications platform supporting unified voice messaging, conferencing, automatic call distribution and teleworking
5360 an alternative executive desk phone with color display
Superior sound quality
Seven-inch high-resolution touch-screen display
One-touch access to many phone features and applications
A powerful, but easy-to-use executive-level phone with advanced multimedia capability, from an established manufacturer of IP phones.
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Editor Rating: Price: $100 – $190
Cisco’s SPA500 Series of IP Phones offer features to meet the needs of all levels of users from production staff to executives and management. These affordable fully-featured phones provide wideband audio, with application support and color displays and Wi-Fi capability on selected models.
Models in the series
SPA 501G/ SPA 508G fully featured 8 line business class phone models
SPA 502G/ SPA 504G fully featured 1 to 4 line phones
SPA 509G fully featured 12 line VoIP phone with HD voice quality
Wideband audio and HD voice quality
Monochrome and color display
Cisco expansion modules allow for additional capacity and functionality
Dual switched Ethernet ports for enhanced connectivity
The Cisco SPA500 series meets the needs of a wide range of users in businesses of any size. The phones offer the excellent voice quality, connectivity and functionality expected from a leading player in the industry.
Editor Rating: Price: $200 – $500
Cisco’s 7900 Series of Unified IP Phones combine convenience and user-friendly capabilities with sophisticated feature rich options, including hi-fi wideband audio, color LCD displays and campus mobility on selected models, ideal for small to medium sized organizations. The range of features available help improve productivity and efficiency throughout an organization.
7975G/7965G features include high-fidelity wideband audio and color LCD displays
7945G feature high-fidelity audio and backlit color screens
7943G features including high-fidelity wideband audio and high-resolution display
7931G designed for functionality and ideal for commercial and retail environments
Choice of greyscale and color displays, with LCD screens on selected models
Additional support for information services, including XML benefits
Dynamic softkeys for phone features and added functions
Wireless capability with selected models
High-fidelity wideband audio quality
Cisco 7900 Series Unified IP Phones provide feature-rich communication. With excellent voice quality, clear displays and wireless capability on selected models, these phones offer a versatile solution for organizations with wide-ranging needs.
Editor Rating: Price: $100
Snom’s 710 IP phone is a feature packed handset that offers HD quality audio, rich telecom features, as well as user-friendly design and high performance for small to large organizations. The 710 phone has an elegant and practical design with features ranging in skill level making it ideal for various job roles.
Models in the series
710 feature rich VoIP phone. Part of the Snom 7xx series. Alternative models include the 720 and 760 handsets with additional features depending on model
Stylish design handset ideal for modern business environments
HD voice audio quality
Advanced speaker and microphone technology
The Snom 710 is an affordable, fully-featured IP desktop phone from this innovative, quality-led German company. It offers a rich set of everyday telephony features to improve productivity and connectivity in large or small deployments.
Editor Rating: Price: $100 – $200
Yealink T2 Series VoIP phones are designed for business users who need access to a range of features for everyday asks. The Yealink T2 series meets the communication needs of businesses of all sizes and can improve workforce productivity and efficiency.
Models in the series
SIP-T29G high quality model with color display and HD technology
SIP-T28P top of range voice communications and large visual display
SIP-T27P feature packed SIP phone with wide functionality
HD voice quality across range of models
Large high-resolution easy to use displays
IP PBX functionality
Gigabit Ethernet support
Range of telecoms functions
Yealink T2 Series VoIP phones provide excellent quality and functionality across the range. Entry-level models incorporate features generally found on higher-priced phones, while the top models meet the needs of demanding users. This broad range offers choices suitable for small or large businesses.
Editor Rating: Price: $65 – $75
The Grandstream GXP series of VoIP phones are Linux based 2 line models designed for small-to-medium businesses. These phones feature superior HD audio quality, rich features and customizable applications to help users improve their overall communications process.
Models in the series1400 A feature rich 2 line phone with one SIP account
1405 feature packed 2 line phone with two SIP accounts
Key FeaturesLinux based operating system
2 lines with one or two SIP accounts
HD voice audio quality
Easy to use visual display
These next-generation IP phones give small and medium businesses access to superior sound quality and rich telephony features in a compact, affordable package.
How to Choose the Right VoIP Phone System
Finding a VoIP phone solution to suit your business needs is made slightly more challenging with the sheer amount of choice you’re faced with. With a number of leading manufacturers within the telecoms industry now focusing their efforts on IP phones you can be sure to find a solution that meets your budget and includes features most beneficial for your business.
There are many factors to consider – For example:
- Can your own network support standard VoIP phones?
- Do you make mostly local or long-distance phone calls?
- Do you have a backup system in place if your building’s power supply or internet connection fails?
- How many people will your VoIP system have to serve?
- Should you pay a flat rate or per minute?
- What is your overall budget? Some systems cost more up-front but may cost less in the long run.
VoIP Phone Benefits
If you are looking for a phone system for your business you no doubt already know that finding the right system at the right price can be a difficult task. Phone systems can be a costly investment but one benefit of VoIP phone systems is that they allow you to save some of this expense by eliminating setup and installation fees as well as preventing the need for any on premise server equipment and maintenance.
Gone are the days when VoIP technology could not match the voice clarity of traditional phone networks. Today you can make calls anywhere in the world and no longer be able to notice any difference at all with a significant improvement in the call quality and a decrease in the number of dropped calls meaning no more strained business relations and more satisfied customers.
The virtual nature of VoIP mean you no longer have to deal with the hassle of registering and setting up country specific phone numbers, instead you can ensure you can be reached on the same business number wherever you are. This is vitally important for any business owners who are required to travel for meetings and other appointments and may be worried about picking up calls on the move.
As with any organization, even with a team smaller in size the output and productivity levels must still remain high if an organization is to grow and hit KPIs. This means it is even more important that the phone system you choose has features that help your staff in as many ways as possible and additional features of VoIP phones such as unified video and voice functionality and customizable touch-screen displays can be vitally important.
As well as the convenience and cost-saving benefits of converging your telephone and Internet systems onto one network, VoIP also brings access to the kind of advanced phone service features that until a few years ago only large corporations could have afforded with a traditional telephone system.
Business VoIP systems provide a great degree of customization, allowing you to piece together just the features you want or need for your particular requirements – without having to pay for bundled features that you aren’t going to use.
Advanced voicemail / Click to call
The difference between the old-school answering machine and VoIP-enhanced voicemail perfectly illustrates how VoIP systems take conventional telephony concepts and bring a whole new level of flexibility and efficiency to their implementation. With VoIP voicemail, you’re never more than a click away from calling someone back directly and easily – but you might also prefer to get each voicemail emailed to you as an audio file attachment, or automatically transcribed and delivered to you via text message or email. You also have the option of tracking missed calls from your email, and calling them back directly from within your email interface: a feature known as ‘click to call’. You can even incorporate fax into the equation, sending and receiving ‘virtual faxes’ as PDFs.
From this software interface you have immediate access and control over every aspect of your business phone system, such as voicemail, call logs, contacts databases, programming greetings and messages, setting up conference calls and directing traffic. From here those employees set up as administrators can also manage billing and further customisation of the phone system as needed.
Find me/follow me
With VoIP you can assign each employee or member of the team a single ‘virtual extension’ number rather than everyone needing a separate number for each location. Calls to a virtual extension can then be set to ring all of your phones simultaneously, or in order, and also how to handle a missed call. You can choose if a call should go to voicemail or be passed to another extension. The virtual extension also works on outgoing calls, so whichever phone device you’re actually calling from or where you are, the receiving caller ID will show your number and you can present a consistent front to clients, suppliers and customers.
Also sometimes called a digital or virtual receptionist, an auto-attendant is a voice menu system that greets and guides callers through numbered options so that they can be transferred to the relevant departments or extensions within the company.
Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
Callers are greeted by an automated voice which presents them with a number of options – they can then interact with the voice, selecting their preferred option (for example, which department they would like to speak to) using the keypad on their phone. IVR systems can handle high volumes of incoming calls, and can reduce costs and improve customer experiences by providing access to information and services 24 hours a day without the need for human staffing around the clock.
Automatic Call Distribution (ACD)
Related to the hunt group or line hunt feature in traditional PBX telephony, ACD is popular with businesses receiving high volumes of incoming calls. The ACD system distributes incoming calls amongst a specific group of phone terminals or operators based on particular criteria such as the customers selection, their phone number, the selected incoming line to the system, or the time of day the call was processed.
Allows a user to enter a call between two other extensions or between an internal extension and an outside line, either creating a three-way call or simply monitoring (listening in on) active calls. The feature can be set up to sound a warning tone to the other users when a barge-in is about to take place.
Call Me Now
This feature allows customers to call your business directly from a form or contact page of your company website, making customer communications fast and easy.
Users have the option to record, playback, download and delete any incoming or outgoing calls. This feature is often implemented on an individual extension basis, so you make this a system-wide feature or you can choose which phones or extension users have access to the record functions.
Allows users to set different sets of rules for how their business phone system functions or routes calls depending on whether incoming calls are received during business hours (day) or after hours when no-one is in the around (night). Night mode typically serves as an ‘autopilot’ mode until the day mode is restored the following morning.
This feature enables users to set up virtual meeting rooms, which can then be joined by participants on their own devices. Most service plans will allow access for 15-25 participants as standard.
Going even further than conference calling, video conference calling works the same way, but also presents all parties with a picture (live video) of the other callers.
Different Types of VoIP Phones
Once you have all of the necessary components in place to build your VoIP system, it is worth looking at the different types of phones available for businesses. There are three main types of VoIP phone; wireless, soft and conferencing.
Wireless – A VoIP phone with built in Wi-Fi or a DECT transceiver which connects to a base station or access point. Cordless phones allows users to move freely around their workspace while on a call.
Softphones – This is in essence a software application which is installed onto a computer and equips the device with the ability to make and receive calls. Softphones are particularly useful for remote workers and even call centers because they are relatively cheap to set up and run.
Conferencing – A conference phone will usually function in the same way as an analogue telephone. However an IP conferencing phone will be used in a large business or conferencing facility where calls take place with multiple participants
With so many options available, VoIP offers a workable and practical solution for many businesses and contact centers who need a fast, reliable and high quality communications system.
How Does a VoIP Phone Work?
A VoIP or IP phone system routes your calls, voice messaging, SMS traffic and even faxes over either the public internet or a private data network rather than the standard telephone system. Most business users are attracted to VoIP solutions as a way of avoiding long-distance telephone charges.
When you a VoIP phone system, your voice is digitized into packets of information that the internet can route to the recipient, which might be another VoIP user or your VoIP service provider’s interface with the public telephone network. This allows VoIP users to contact standard and mobile telephone users seamlessly.
There are many different methods used to achieve this, however. For example, the system might use a ‘codec’ – a way of encoding audio or video signals – which is optimized for narrow bandwidths, for higher security, or for near-flawless audio clarity. Some systems can even choose which codec to use based on network performance and other factors.
Some ‘first generation’ VoIP solutions are modeled after the older phone network in order to offer fully compatible services. Other, ‘second generation’ VoIP providers like Skype provide free or nearly free traffic over a closed network of registered users. Still other, ‘third generation’ providers use a ‘federated VoIP’ system to allow dynamic connectivity between internet domains.
In terms of style and design a VoIP phone is made up up many of the same components as a typical desk phone. Advanced functions which will be explored in more detail below may include large touch screens and additional Ethernet ports.
5 Ways to Improve Call Quality
There are innumerable ‘tips and tricks’ to getting the most out of nay service, but following these 5 pieces of advice should put you well on your way to the best call quality VoIP technology can provide:
- Use a private, dedicated network rather than the internet for your internal calls. This provides more bandwidth and is also more secure.
- If you do use public internet, use a VLAN and the right switching equipment to keep data and voice traffic separate.
- Select or enable your provider’s network monitoring service. This will help eliminate packet loss and the ‘jittery’ sound quality it can produce.
- Chose equipment that supports ‘echo cancellation’ to eliminate one of the most common audio artefacts of older VoIP systems.
- Make sure your network has adequate bandwidth for your expected call volume, especially at peak times. You might even consider upgrading your network to allow for better sound quality.
VoIP systems regularly rank among the best business phone systems because of their low cost, flexibility and added features relative to traditional telephone systems. Now that you know a bit more about how they work and how to choose the best VoIP phones for you, you’re well on your way to making the most of this still relatively new technology.