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Friday, July 22, 2011

Understanding The Different Small Business Phone Systems Available

Small business phone systems are classified into one of four types, Key System Unit Less (KSU Less), Key System Unit (KSU), Private Branch Exchange (PBX), and Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP). If you’re considering a new telephone system, it’s important you have a basic understanding of how each one works, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each system type.

It’s worth mentioning that additional factors to consider when investing in a small business phone system include: how many telephone extensions will you need, what user features are important, what wiring infrastructure is currently in place, and of course budget. Don’t worry, I’ll be writing a follow up article to this discussing these other factors in detail. Back to the types of phone systems.

The 4 Types of Phone Systems Available

1.  KSU-Less
Relies on landline (phone wire) technology to function and is the most basic small business telephone system out there. Features reside directly on individual phones. For the most part, KSU-Less systems are losing out to VoIP systems.

  • Low cost
  • More features than single line phones
  • Limited features
  • You’ll need someone with expertise working on these systems since you install and maintain the systems in-house
2.  Key System Unit (KSU)
Relies on landline technology to function and uses a central control  device referred to as the key system unit (KSU) to provide features which aren't available with ordinary phones.

  • Have several features that a PBX system has 
  • Can cost less than a PBX system but this is changing
  • You may find desired features are lacking compared to a PBX system
  • Since these need to be professionally installed, they can get pricey when compared with newer IP-PBX systems
3.  Private Branch Exchange (PBX)
PBX systems can use both landline and VoIP (called IP-PBX) technology offering you greater flexibility and features compared to other systems. Similar to key systems, a central control device (box) resides within the business.

  • Almost limitless features
  • Highly scalable - especially if control box supports IP functionality
  • Installation and  configuration costs can be high although some IP-PBX systems are extremely affordable for a small biz
  • Maintenance is required and can only be done by a professional
4.  Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
VoIP phone systems treat audio as data, turning your words into tiny packets of information that are sent over data networks (the internet). As they arrive at the other end of the call, the data is turned back into audio.

  • Minimal installation fees - unless you’re looking at hosted VoIP (this will be discussed in a different article)
  • Eliminate long distance charges
  • Maintaining call quality - high quality sound demands quite a lot of bandwidth, so voice quality could become a challenge if you reach your bandwidth capacity.
  • Outages - unlike digital phones which get their power from phone lines, VoIP phones are dependent on a power source. If you lose power, you lose your phone system. Having a mix between digital and VoIP is preferred although may be cost prohibitive.
Now that i've given you an overview of the different kinds of phone systems, how do you go about deciding which small business phone system suits you? Read my post on what’s the right small business phone system for your company.