Telephone System Buyers Guide
What is your budget?
Like purchasing any piece of business equipment, a dollar amount
is most certainly a factor. Telephone equipment, like anything else,
is available in many different levels of quality. For instance,
there are systems that you may have never heard of that are higher
quality than than some more well known brands. There are also systems
that you may have never heard of that are bad news.
Buying a telephone system is a decision where your top people
need to be deeply involved. Why? Because telephones are basic to
your productivity,and buying the wrong system can cripple your entire
operation for years.You'll also want to coordinate your purchase
with other equipment that you already own or may need to purchase,
such as a voice mail or messaging on-hold system, phone headsets,
toll fraud equipment, or tabletop conferencing equipment.
Types of telephone systems
There are two major types of phone systems on the market. Key systems
are traditionally used by companies with fewer than 50 employees,
while private branch exchanges, or PBXs, handle larger workloads.
Key systems are based on the old multi-line phones that used several
buttons, or keys, to access an outside line. PBXs are essentially
a smaller version of the switching equipment used by the phone company
to direct calls.
More recently, the distinctions between the key and PBX systems
have become relatively blurred. Many key systems include features
that were once available only on PBXs, and some systems operate
internally as either a key or a PBX depending on the software that
is installed. The term "hybrid" is often used to describe systems
that resemble both key and PBX systems.
Digital vs. analog
Most newer and more expensive phone systems communicate via digital
technology. This means that sound is transmitted as bits of data
rather than audio waves. Theoretically, digital transmission has
many advantages over analog transmission. Digital signals are less
affected by interference and line degradation, meaning that digital
lines have virtually no static or hiss. However, most businesses
make outgoing calls over regular analog lines. This means that even
a digital phone system must convert signals back to analog waves
whenever a call leaves the office. Because very little sound degradation
occurs within the smaller confines of an office, analog systems
actually sound about the same as their digital counterparts. The
main reason for buying a digital system is that these systems tend
to be better equipped to connect with accessories such as voice
mail or caller ID.
Sizing a telephone system
When buying a system, a primary concern is to make sure the unit
is the right size for your firm. This means understanding the size
constraints of the system. In the case of key systems, system size
is usually indicated as a combination of "lines" and "extensions."
Lines indicate the total number of outside lines used by the company,
while extensions refer to every phone within the company. For example,
a system might accommodate up to 12 lines and 36 extensions.
In contrast, most PBXs define size in terms of "ports." Ports
indicate the maximum number of connections that can be made to the
system. This includes outside lines and inside extensions, as well
as accessories such as voice mail or automated attendants.
Even if a system can handle your current phone traffic, you also
need to check that it will be able to handle your future expansion
needs. The ideal system should be able to handle such expansions
in a very cost-effective manner. Check which items will need to
be purchased or replaced as your needs grow in order to get a good
sense for your future costs.Here are some things to ask yourself.
How many incoming lines and how many extensions are required? This
is a two part question. Future expansion must be a consideration.
Choosing the proper size of a telephone system is probably the single
most important factor. You may save money buying a small system,
but if there comes a time when you need to add just one more telephone
or one more incoming line, you could end up spending much more to
upgrade to a larger system.
Systems can be equipped with literally hundreds of features for
switching calls and directing traffic. However, dealers estimate
that 95% of system features are never used within a company. Instead
of comparing features on a one-to-one basis, you should examine
how a phone system is used. Limit your feature search only to those
features that will improve the work flow in the office. This will
allow you to focus on the real differences between systems for your
office environment. Although having the right features is important,
even more important is making sure the features are easy to access.
Because most employees devote very little time to learning how to
use a phone system, it is very important that the most common functions
be extremely simple and intuitive to use.
While the smallest systems may cost a few thousand dollars to install,
the price tag for more complex models can quickly climb to tens
of thousands of dollars. Phone system prices vary based on four
factors: The central cabinet. The central cabinet which controls
and oversees the entire phone system. This price differs between
systems, and rises as cards and accessories are added to a system.
A small central cabinet can cost as little as $3,000, with the price
increasing considerably for larger systems. The actual phones. Most
systems can be equipped with several different types of phones.
The least expensive sets may cost less than $100, but can make accessing
features very difficult. On the other end, some "executive phones"
sell for many times the standard price. These phones can make using
the system slightly easier.
Consider used equipment
New or refurbished? You could save considerably by purchasing refurbished
telephone equipment. How do you decide? Consider this. There is
usually a savings of between 20%-30% over new equipment, sometimes
more on older equipment. Refurbished equipment, from a reliable
source, can provide many years of dependable service. Just because
telephone equipment is refurbished it does not mean it is out of
date. Many businesses for one reason or another trade in their telephone
equipment when it is fairly new. (Maybe they chose the wrong size
system for their needs) In many cases, it is very hard to tell the
difference between new and refurbished equipment by sight alone.
If considering a refurbished system, check the revision level of
the equipment. Purchasing new equipment offers the security in knowing
what you are buying is current. The warranty is usually longer on
new equipment, but not always.
Check voice mail compatibility
If you expect to use voice mail with your phone system, make sure
that any phone system you are considering is capable of working
with a wide range of third-party voice mail systems. By keeping
your options open, you will minimize the chance of getting stuck
with an inferior or overpriced product.
Get extra wiring installed
To avoid rewiring down the road, you should request that plenty
of wiring be installed when the system is first purchased. A good
benchmark is to ask for at least double the wiring you currently
need. While this will add to the cost of installation, it will really
only be a fraction of the cost you will face if wires need to be
Look into phone line rates before selecting a system
Many local phone companies charge different rates for phone lines
that connect a key system versus phone lines that connect a PBX,
even though both have essentially the same functionality. Check
rates beforehand to see if this may affect your buying decision.