Should I Replace My Telephone Systems?

A telephone system is a major expense for any business but it is necessary for handling incoming and outgoing calls efficiently. There are a large number of telephone systems to choose from. They all have a set of features that are very similar. These features are upgraded and improved over time but the original features usually remain. I am referring to things like WATS lines or least cost routing. These features were required when telephone service was based on distance and time on a call. Features such as hold, Park, conference, transfer, intercom, and messaging are essential to any phone system. Most of us are familiar with these features and are used to using them on any system.

One holdover, of old phone systems, that I have found in my travels, are the large number of copper lines coming into the systems that have never been reviewed. Many times there are lines and numbers that nobody knew existed, but still appeared on the telephone bill. Usually these bills are so complex that it is difficult to find these extra lines. This brings me to a major difference in the new telephone systems. Most of the new systems are IP-based with the ability to plug copper lines into them. What this means is that the majority of the phone lines that come into the system are Internet-based and don’t require a pair of copper wires. It is possible to increase or decrease the number of line appearances that are available simply by logging into a website. It is only necessary to have one phone number for customers to call into. The only reason for additional numbers is to direct calls to a particular individual. This is accomplished with direct inward dial or DID numbers, which are simply program numbers and are not associated with any particular pair of wires.

When we evaluate the viability of the company replacing the telephone system, one major consideration is what they’re currently paying on the telephone bill. Many times the savings can more than pay for the new system. I usually recommend that they keep one or two copper lines and supply the rest of their phone service via the Internet. This makes it much easier for them to control their costs and adjust their lines depending on the business. Even though today’s business Internet service is almost as reliable as copper telephone lines, this will guarantee that they still have telephone service in the event that their Internet service is down. Adding VoIP telephone service simply involves going to a website, signing up, and entering a username and password into the phone system programming. It is possible to increase incoming capacity temporarily to handle an advertising campaign.

Some of these VoIP providers have a per line monthly charge of $8-$25. With this you get a certain number of minutes of call from 500 to unlimited. Other providers have no monthly charge and simply bill by the minute. Which service you use depends on the types of calls you make. One of the big advantages is that we are no longer tied to two or three providers. There are literally hundreds of telephone VoIP providers on the Internet. Considering that you can port any telephone number to any provider, it makes it very easy to switch providers when your needs change. If you are running a special or an advertising campaign, it is easy to add additional channels for incoming calls. It is just as easy to eliminate those channels once the campaign is over.

Another major advantage of the IP telephone systems over the traditional telephone systems is the way they are set up and connected. The traditional systems have a wire running from each telephone back to the central unit and closet. There are a number of punch down blocks and many wires in a rats nest. Moving an extension usually involves either reprogramming the telephone system or swapping the wires. Adding additional telephones usually involves adding new cards to the system and additional wires, as does any new incoming lines. An IP telephone system simply plugs into the router and the two backup copper lines. All of the telephones can plug in anywhere there is a network jack. If you move to another office, simply take your phone with you and plug it into the network jack in that office. In fact, if you take the telephone home, you can plug it into the network jack at home and it appears as if you are still in your office. This is a tremendous advantage in the event of a snowstorm or if you are not feeling well.

To carry this concept one step further, if you are a small business and you would like to have people in different locations working for you, it is possible to place telephones in each of these locations and have it appear, to customers, that everyone is in the same office. If you have more than one office with multiple people in each office is also very easy to put a system in each office location and simply program them to talk to each other. Unlike in the past, requiring you to have a pair of wires that you paid by the mile, you can be in any part of the world with an Internet connection and have the same access to all employees as if there were in one location, with no additional monthly charges. You can call an employee in another part of the world by dialing their extension as if they were in the next cubicle. I have even seen companies with important customers in another country simply ship them a telephone and tell them they can talk to their sales representative for free anytime they like.

I think it would be advantageous for anyone who has had their telephone system for more than a few years to take the time to investigate the cost of replacement and the many advantages of the new systems. Not only will the savings in telephone service end up paying for the telephone system, but the many additional advantages will make your business more efficient and accessible to customers. Following are a few examples of the many features that are included with these IP telephone systems.

IP Telephone systems built-in feature list:

· call assistant

· mobile connectivity

· VPN

· conference center

· automatic call distribution

· TAPI driver

· dual language support

· multisite support

· unified messaging

· VoIP phone service

· full PBX and key system

· presence management

· remote telephones

· routing management

· voicemail

John Umina is president of ProDesign Corporation, a provider of commercial technology including networking, telephone, conference room set up and automation. ProDesign can assess your business needs and can provide, install and maintain all of your electronic systems.