How-To

How to Choose a Cloud PBX Provider

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When using a cloud PBX, customers have access to advanced features and enterprise-level functionality, while enjoying reduced infrastructure costs and minimized system administration concerns. However, you should diligently compare providers to ensure that you do not subscribe to a service that does not fit your needs and goals.

This article lists some points to consider before committing to any hosted PBX phone service provider and should assist you in choosing a service that meets your communication needs.

Are my feature set requirements satisfied?

Before you start looking for a provider, you must compile a list of features that are essential to your business model and operational requirements, and also consider what features you might need in the future.

In many cases, the cloud PBX provider charges for a specific set of features, or bills on a per-feature basis. Therefore, it may be useful to differentiate between “must have” features, and less important ones which you consider to be beneficial.

Does the cloud PBX provider offer any hardware/software?

In general, IP phones or softphones are used to make and receive phone calls when connected to a cloud PBX. IP phones, also called SIP phones, are specifically designed to be used with VoIP and Ethernet infrastructure, and have features and functionalities that are suitable for PBX connectivity. Softphones are pieces of software or apps that turn a computer, tablet or mobile device into a cloud PBX-compatible phone, and can be downloaded from a wide variety of providers.

You may wish to use legacy (PSTN) phones to connect with you cloud PBX. In this case, the phone will be connected to an ATA (Analog Telephone Adapter), which converts analog to digital data, and vice-versa.

IP phones, softphones and ATAs may be purchased independently or may be included in packages offered by your cloud-based PBX provider.

 Is there flexibility to change the number of users?

One of the most important benefits of a hosted PBX is the ability to easily increase or decrease the number of users or lines as your requirements change. Ideally, you should have the ability to make these changes via an easy-to-use web portal, without having to contact your provider. Also, it is important to establish if there are fees involved in modifying your configuration and to understand the cost of adding users to the system.

 How does the system handle remote and mobile workers?

Today’s workforce is becoming more mobile, and managers and employees need to access their phone networks remotely. This means that remote devices should behave in the same manner as desk phones, and remote workers must be able to access the entire suite of features offered by the hosted PBX.

Some providers offer softphones or mobile apps, which are highly integrated into their cloud PBX platform and facilitate maximum accessibility for mobile VoIP clients.

 Can I keep my current phone numbers?

A major business consideration when switching between providers is the porting-in process, and your ability to use current phone numbers with your new hosted PBX. The time taken to complete the porting process, the costs involved, as well as the required administrative procedures are very much dependant on your provider.

Another consideration is the porting-out process. If you at any stage you choose to move to another service provider, you should have the freedom to take your phone numbers with you.

 Are there any startup costs?

Larger hosted PBX installations may require a site survey and network analysis, for two important reasons:

  • In general, the cloud PBX is delivered as an Over-The-Top service that uses your existing Internet connection and Local Area Network (LAN). Therefore, your Internet connection or LAN may need significant upgrades to be able to handle the additional communications load.
  • A site survey is important from a network planning perspective, and will result in a template and a full list of requirements for the hosted PBX system.

Are there costs that are not covered by my service plan?

Your provider may levy additional charges for items such as:

  • Long distance and local calls
  • Toll-free inbound calls
  • Telephone minutes used
  • Features such as queuing, multi-party conferencing and transcoding
  • Emergency services
  • Inbound and outbound fax services

Compare the rate decks offered by various providers, especially with regards to per-minute call charges for local and international calling. It may be that a certain provider offers a low monthly rate for basic services, but their international calling costs are high when compared to other providers.

Is support included in the system cost?

Responsive and competent customer service and technical support is critical when selecting a hosted solution, and it is important that you know what assistance is provided, and the cost for the various levels of support. Support includes issues such as training, initial setup, adding and deleting users, changing system features and managing network and service outages.

If you have a service trial period, try out the various support options to assess the vendor’s responsiveness and ensure that you receive the promised support quality.

What about quality of service and reliability?

A quality hosted PBX provider will offer direct connectivity, access to major service providers and multiple data centers and Points of Presence (PoPs). Also, they must employ a network system architecture so that an outage or natural disaster in one location does not affect the entire system and result in service interruption.

The selected provider should also offer a continuity plan that allows your business to remain operational in the case of an unexpected emergency, by re-routing your calls via an alternative network such as a mobile data/cellular carrier.

What about faxing?

If faxing is a necessity for your business, you will want to know if your potential provider has an appropriate and reliable solution. Many providers only handle inbound faxing, where received faxes are sent to an email address, while others support the use of a traditional fax machine coupled with an ATA (analog telephone adapter).

Are emergency services provided?

When using a cloud PBX, delivering emergency services is complicated. A typical VoIP emergency application would use a combination of manually entered and dynamically updated user location information, with direct integration into the local emergency services system. Note that these services are supported on a per-country basis, and you need to ensure that emergency services are implemented in your required geographies.

 How secure is the system?

When using a hosted PBX, you are taking your phone system off-premises and relying on a third-party provider whose equipment may be vulnerable to security threats. You should be satisfied with the vendor’s expertise in providing secure services, the physical security of the provider’s equipment, and the presence of real-time monitoring to ensure that any unauthorized access or suspicious activity is detected as early as possible.

Is an easy-to-use configuration and management portal provided?

You do not want to be dependant on your provider to make modifications to your voice system such as adding or removing users, or changing the settings of features such as voice menus or ring groups. In addition, you should have access to operational statistics and analytics that will help you to manage your phone system.

Self-service configuration and management of your voice system should be available via an easy-to-use, web-based, online console.

What is the contract termination policy?

It is important to be aware of any contract cancellation fees, the cost of those penalties, and they and how long will you be subject to them. In the event that your provider does not live up to expectations and you need to terminate their services, you should be clear on what your obligations are at any point in time.

How financially and operationally stable is the provider?

Knowing the financial strength of any company is not an easy task, but some investigation into the stability of potential providers is recommended. In addition, there have been a number of consolidations, mergers and acquisitions in the VoIP space. Ensure that your agreement addresses these possibilities so that you do not have service interruptions during any such business activity.

Try before deciding

The move from traditional phones to a cloud-based solution is not a one-for-one swap, and there are many things to consider before committing to a provider. Fortunately, most cloud PBX providers offer a free, limited period trial of their service, and you should take advantage of this to determine if the implemented solution suits your requirements.

There are many reputable providers of cloud-based PBX services to choose from, such as RingCentral, 8 x 8 and Intermedia, and there are a number of online reviews that present useful summaries and comparisons of cloud PBX services.

Your move to a cloud PBX should result in a highly flexible, responsive and cost-effective way to do business. Applying due diligence in selecting your service provider will go a long way to ensuring that your voice requirements are met now and into the future.