The case for moving to Voice over IP (“VoIP”) telephony is undeniable. Cost savings, flexibility, and additional functionality are all major benefits of making the move. However, for some organisations the cost of acquiring and installing a full-blown VoIP PBX System makes the move uneconomic. There are alternative ways of having a VoIP PBX System that are easier on the budget, and not just by using some fancy financial footwork.
One way is to turn capital expenditure into operational expenditure by moving to a hosted PBX environment.
In this scenario, you move your telephony to a third party who manages and maintains your PBX System on their equipment, on or off your premises. The only potential one-time costs of the move are any infrastructure upgrades and the supply of appropriate handsets. In most cases, the handset costs can be included in the hosting charges.
A second way, is to install a software only IP PBX. The current award winning market leader is 3CX.
Which should you choose?
If you are budget constrained, then a solution like 3CX is a realistic alternative to a hardware based solution.
In slightly more technical terms it operates to industry standard SIP and VoIP gateway protocols. It runs on-site on a standalone server or in a virtual machine environment. It also supports an on-site or hosted cloud environment.
3CX operates on both the windows and open systems platforms, so will easily fit into your existing environment. It supports most industry standard handsets, and with the SIP option for windows, android and iOS it can support most popular smartphones. As an added bonus, it also supports a desktop softphone application, ideal for call centres and handsfree environments. Want video-conferencing? 3CX supports group sessions of up to 25 participants.
The cherry on top is its ability to integrate with many popular CRM applications, Microsoft Office and Google. Many users state that the “no vendor lock-in” policy is a blessing, in that it allows users to choose virtually any handset, provided of course that it conforms to industry standards.
How big can it get? 3CX claim to support an unlimited number of extensions.
Pricing is based around functionality and integration it will support. If you need integrated Call/Contact Centre or integration with more than Outlook and the Office 365 address book then the standard version is not for you. You need the Pro or Enterprise version.
Any downsides. Not many, though some users say it is better to choose the version one up from the one you think you need. Upgrades are costly.
The principal one-off cost is network readiness. VoIP needs a minimum quality of network cabling, in technical terms, Category 5e or better. Any VoIP capable network segments that do not meet this requirement will need to be upgraded or replaced. Obviously, all places that you need a handset need a network point. That may mean new cable runs.
The second part of network readiness is providing power to the new handsets. This can be over the network, in which case all your network switches need to have Power Over Ethernet (“PoE”) capability.
The alternative is to have an adjacent power point for a power brick wherever you have a handset. The two solutions are not mutually exclusive. Part of your network could be PoE capable, and part using power bricks. Note though that both shouldn’t be used on the same handset.
You may need to replace existing non-PoE switches or install new power circuits.
Also note that both onsite and hosted solutions need connectivity to your existing telephone system wiring for those extensions having equipment that does not support IP, for example some older fax machines, modems and alarm lines. Don’t rip the cables or frames out when installing the new IP cabling.
These costs need to be included in your budget calculations. If you are choosing a hosted solution, your service provider should be able to carry out a network audit for you and advise you of the potential cost of creating a VoIP capable environment.
If you are going it alone with a solution like 3CX, make sure that you have considered all the potential one-off costs you might encounter. It may be prudent to use temporary IT specialist support to prepare your network and install the solution, particularly if you are installing it in an existing virtual machine or cloud environment.
The advantage of the off-site hosted solution for the budget conscious is that instead of incurring capital expenditure in buying new equipment you are paying a monthly fee for the service. In addition to the cash flow benefit, in some places there are also tax advantages in using operational rather than capital expenditure.
In either case, the cost will be balanced by a substantial reduction in call charges.