VoIP Phone Systems for Small Businesses

The more I research on the potential and possibilities of VoIP phone systems, the more companies I see trying to get a piece of the market.

Reminds me of a blog entry I read recently “Everything I Know About Business I Learned From Poker” and more specifically the quote: “If there are too many competitors (some irrational or inexperienced), even if you’re the best it’s a lot harder to win.” which definitely rings true here.

Below is a partial list of VoIP phone systems geared towards small businesses, meaning deployments of less than 50 phones. Although several of these systems can easily scale into the hundreds of phones.

  1. PhoneBochs from Rochbochs, Inc. (Duluth, MN based Rochbochs builds appliances based on Linux ranging from firewalls, asterisk telephony, Zimbra Email Collaboration and Fax over IP.)
  2. GXE502X from Grandstream. (Brookline, MA based Grandstream builds the GXE502x appliance, a powerful all-in-one voice + video + fax + data communication solution for the small to medium sized business)
  3. Jazinga PBX from Jazinga. (Toronto based Jazinga integrates data networking, traditional telephone service and low-cost Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service into one simple solution for small business and homes)
  4. Response Point from Microsoft. (Redmond, WA based Microsoft could not miss the action and introduced their next generation phone system for small businesses.)
  5. Trixbox from Fonality. (Los Angeles, CA based Fonality who acquired Trixbox which itself was re-branded from the open source project Asterisk @Home brings both software and appliance offerings to the table going beyond the small business market.)
  6. Switchvox IP PBX from Digium. (Huntsville, AL based Digium and the cradle of Asterisk brings forth their flagship product Switchvox which is probably one of the most popular offerings out there today.)
  7. TalkSwitch from Centrepoint Technologies. (Canada based Centrepoint, now TalkSwitch provides telecommunications solutions ideal for small and multi-location businesses with up to 32 telephone users per office.)
  8. PIKA WARP by PIKA Technologies. (Ontario, Canada based PIKA builds appliances focused on Asterisk and Linux solutions for small businesses.)
  9. BYOB by yourself. (Locally based, you can “Build Your Own Box” using Sangoma or Digium hardware for POTS landlines and build your own VoIP phone system using any Asterisk distribution, including Trixbox®, Elastix, AsteriskNOW, Elastix, CentPBX, and PBX-in-a-Flash, or FreeSWITCH, or YATE.

Amongst the other options available are the hosted solution where you pay a fixed cost per device, and then there’s the Colo solution where you would have one of the options above hosted by someone else.

There are many variables that need to be taken into account and every business is different.

Small businesses are likely to have some type of broadband connectivity to the Internet, whether cable or DSL and not the more reliable T1 circuit. Although I have not had any problems with my broadband connection for over 3 years, I have seen businesses add redundant cable and/or DSL because they have to stay up when their service gets interrupted occasionally during a storm.

The amount of simultanous calls at any one time and the codec used will also play a role in deciding if the hosted solution is viable, since most broadband providers do not offer symmetrical upload and download speeds but rather assimetrical where the upload is usually much lower than the download speeds.

My rule of thumb for a business with more than 10 phones and 3 lines with heavy phone usage is to stay with the premises PBX and only use VoIP trunks as secondary circuits for savings.

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