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While on-premises phone systems still get sold to businesses with specific legacy or compliance needs, the rest of the world has adopted voice over IP (VoIP) as the default foundation for the modern phone system.
With VoIP at the core, today’s phone systems have expanded to include multi-modal offerings that combine different communications capabilities according to your needs.
Dubbed Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS), these systems offer deep feature sets for phone users while also integrating a long list of other channels, including video conferencing, in-house texting, online collaboration, and softphone capabilities.
That’s great once you know what you want, but navigating this dense technology jungle to get to that point can be difficult.
If your a small to midsized business (SMB) operator, it’s best to start with the basics.
Examine your company’s current phone solution and assess its capabilities, cost, and your overall satisfaction.
Then meet with your front-line business managers — the folks that actually use it to help generate revenue.
Pull your IT people into that conversation. Find out exactly how they’re using the system, where the pain points are, and what the wish list might be.
Don’t let IT do much talking, just have them listen and take careful notes.
With that data in hand, write yourself a handy Phone Plan.
What you’ve got, how much it costs, what your employees’ overall satsifaction is.
Follow that with a wish list of features you think you need right away and those you think you might need in the near future (1-5 years is a good rule of thumb).
This is where IT can start talking, mapping their knowledge of current VoIP and UCaaS capabilities to the needs your employees have expressed.
Figure out how many employees you might have in 5 years so you have some idea of how much the new system will need to scale.
Depending on your business, you might also want to talk to legal and see how any compliance or regulatory requirements might impact your selection process, too.
Now you’re ready to start taking demos from prospective VoIP providers.
If you’re a consumer looking for a home-oriented service rather than a business, then the process is similar, though much less complicated.
Figure out what you want from your phone system and start comparing.
Unfortunately, while there are still independent VoIP vendors that have consumer-oriented offerings, most if not all of them are much more focused on business sales.
That’s because it’s hard to beat your local internet provider on cost. Whether it’s Comcast, Verizon FiOS, or any of the many other home internet service providers out there, the vast majority offer some variation on the “triple play” package: Internet, cable TV, and phone.
Not only is this convenient, it’s usually equipped with decent features and comes at a very nice price.
To opt out of that in order to bolt on another third-party service probably means you’ve got some specific needs that standard VoIP systems don’t provide.
If you’re having difficulty figuring out what those might be, you can start by understanding what VoIP really is.
1. RingCentral Office (For Business)
Pros:A network with infrastructure in Europe, the US, and Asia. Very deep feature set of VoIP and business communication capabilities. New AI integrations.
Cons: Several integration issues happened during testing. Missing some features found in competing solutions. Hardware will cost you extra. Glip tool can be overwhelming at times.
Bottom Line: Easily our Editor’s Choice pick, RingCentral Office (for Business) brings it all for a cloud PBX solution, including artificial intelligence integration and a plethora of additional capabilities like faxing and video conferencing as well as custom application development and integration.
2. 8×8 Virtual Office Pro
Pros: Friendly, flexible pricing. A plethora of features out of the box. Solid mobile and desktop capability with easy setup.
Cons:No open API with which to build your own app integrations.
Bottom Line: Although Editors’ Choice winner 8×8 Virtual Office Pro has proven to be an outstanding choice in the small to midsize business (SMB) space, it now serves a larger audience as well, with new features geared toward larger businesses, enterprises, and call centers.
3. Vonage Business Cloud
Pros: Impressive administrative features and calling functionality. Wide range of features. Intuitive mobile apps. Better API integration than previous version.
Cons: Add-on features come at a cost. Conferencing isn’t included like in competing solutions.
Bottom Line: Vonage Business Cloud is the company’s recently expanded offering aimed at small to midsize businesses (SMBs). With an impressive array of features and management capabilities, this one should be on your evaluation list.
3. Intermedia Unite
Pros: Promises 99.999 percent uptime with a financially backed service-level agreement (SLA). Management of Microsoft Office 365 and hosted mail possible from improved Admin console. Offers a deep and evolving feature set.
Cons: Some features aren’t yet available to some customers as the company is still upgrading all of its users to the new service. Heavy focus on Microsoft for ancillary services.
Bottom Line: Intermedia was already a PCMag Editors’ Choice pick, but its Unite platform makes it an even stronger choice for businesses seeking a reliable cloud PBX with a generous amount of features.
4. Mitel MiCloud Business
Pros: Built-in team collaboration. Great mobile app. Predictive contacts search. Comprehensive VoIP, calling, messaging, and video chat features. Long list of available CRM integrations.
Cons: Comparatively high per-user pricing. No speech-to-text transcription.
Bottom Line: While it’s on the expensive side, the Mitel MiCloud Business
unified communications platform wins our Editors’ Choice award with excellent features, a nice play on mobility, and a long list of integrations.
5. NetFortris Fonality
Pros: Plenty of deep call routing and call center features. One-on-one assisted setup. Very complete head-up display, unified communications application.
Cons: Might be too complicated and expensive for a small business that just needs simple PBX functionality.
Bottom Line: NetFortris Fonality receives a well-earned Editors’ Choice among our VoIP competitors because this business-oriented offering has it all. From solid performance to an excellent selection of hardware options, Fonality is a great selection.
Pros: Toll-free dial-in numbers. Minutes included with plans. Can share screen with up to 2,000 users.
Cons: No whiteboard feature for sketching. Apps don’t include conferencing features. Free trial requires a credit card on file.
Bottom Line: Though Though it’s got some weak areas in administration and electronic white boarding, eVoice is nevertheless a well-rounded video conferencing solution that deserves a close look by most small to midsize businesses.
7. Ooma Office
Pros: Low-cost solution. Support for existing analog phones. An Android and iOS app that brings key features to mobile phones. Easy to set up and manage for those with limited telecommunications experience. Easy to use. Good online documentation. 24×7 support.
Cons: Limited selection of IP phones. No softphone client for Macs or PCs.
Bottom Line: Ooma Office is a solid choice for smaller businesses looking for a simple and safe entry into cloud PBXes. While it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the more advanced players, it’s available at a nice price and without a contract.
Pros: Very easy to set up and manage. Scales up or down with minimal effort. Good support for both Android and iOS mobile devices.
Cons: Default settings on mobile app typically need adjusting. Call quality a function of network and was noticeably spotty at times over Wi-Fi. Only call recording, no other call monitoring features. 24/7 phone and email support only available at higher tiers.
Bottom Line: Dialpad is a great example of how VoIP and unified communications are evolving. The service delivers solid features while focusing on softphones, mobility, and integration with third-party apps.
9. Microsft Skype (For Business)
Pros: Allows contact of Skype users, phone numbers, and all employees within the organization. Video and audio recording in calls. Supports up to 250 attendees in a meeting.
Cons: Not a full-fledged VoIP platform. No integrated dial-in audio conference features. Online plans don’t work with hardware phones.
Bottom Line: If you find yourself cobbling together web conferencing tools, chat clients, and Skype to handle all your communication needs, then consider Microsoft Skype for Business to simplify your setup. Just don’t expect a full-fledged VoIP service.