For those in the early stages of evaluating your options for a new VoIP phone system for your business, you’re bound to come across a lot of IT jargon, terms and concepts that you may be unfamiliar with. One particular area we often cover with clients is the PBX and VoIP relationship and how this shapes their various options moving forward.
With a clearer understanding of this relationship you will be able to better determine along with your IT staff or consultant, the right PBX platform and environment that meets your business communication needs and goals.
Let’s First Revisit what a PBX is
A PBX stands for Private Branch Exchange. When you own your own PBX you are essentially owning your own private phone network.
This private network extends only so far as your business or organization, meaning you can’t use it to control your home phone or your family members as a cool favor. No, it’s for your business only and its sole purpose is for routing, delivering, and managing calls.
PBXs are generally associated with on-site environments for controlling and configuring your phone system settings such as call forwarding, new numbers and accounts, voice mail options, etc. However, PBXs can also be used in the cloud and is what’s used for hosted VoIP solutions.
Technically a “hosted VoIP” platform is in all actuality a PBX – it’s just that it’s on a server which isn’t on-site and is owned and operated by another company.
When you sign up for hosted VoIP services, you will pay using an SaaS (software as a service) model. That means you pay monthly or annually for the use of the PBX. With an onsite PBX (such as ShoreTel Connect Onsite which you can read about here) you own it outright and keep it on your own premise where you do business – hence the term “on-site” or “on-prem”.
What Does the PBX Do?
Whether hosted or on-prem, the PBX is the brain center of your phone system, when it is shuts down nothing works. For outbound calls (calls from you to someone else) the PBX takes the call data and sends it where it needs to go.
The PBX is just one of multiple moving parts including firewalls, gateways, carriers, and various service providers that all work together so you can reach the person you’re trying to call. If your PBX is down, your call will not complete – it’s like being brain dead – nothing happens.
For inbound calls (someone trying to call you), the PBX takes the call data and is able to determine where to send the call within the organization. Not only does it direct where the call goes, the PBX also controls functions such as voicemail, automated attendants, transfer options, conference bridges, and menu options. If your PBX goes down, these options won’t work.
Businesses that rely on their phone systems for heavy call volumes often invest in Disaster Recovery options or redundancy options through their phone provider that prevent inbound and/or outbound calls from failing.
Does a Hosted PBX use VoIP?
When working with a hosted PBX, VoIP really becomes an assumed component because you connect with the PBX via your existing internet connection. Since it’s your internet provider that provides your internet connection, there isn’t any network configuration required on your part per se except phone configurations and potentially any firewall issues.
Using an On-Site PBX with VoIP
With an on-site PBX, in order for it to be used with VoIP, you need an IP based PBX, also sometimes called iPBX, IPPBX, or similar variations. Your PBX must be able to handle and route calls based on IP addresses, and that’s exactly what an IP based PBX does, unlike a traditional analog PBX.
An IP PBX uses IP addresses to associate and register phones throughout your network. With analog PBXs you have to install physical telephone lines running from the PBX to each phone. With an IP based PBX, you avoid this by using your existing data network to also handle your voice data (technically called voice packets).
Therefore, you’ve simplified your data and voice infrastructure by combining the two. Not to mention the drastic reduction in hardware and maintenance costs once associated with your original separate voice network.
Keep in mind, if you are not already well equipped with a data network to handle the additional voice, you will need to upgrade to accommodate the additional bandwidth load.
This is again where an IT consultant can provide valuable advice and guidance as they will help analyze your usage and current setup to determine what upgrades are necessary.
Don’t Forget about VoIP Enabled Phones
Don’t forget that in order for all this to work you need VoIP enabled phones which allow the registering of the assigned IP address it has. There are such things as VoIP adapters that can help avoid having to purchase all new hardware, but check with a dealer or consultant who can give an honest and unbiased opinion as to whether this is a viable option.
Whether you choose to go with a hosted solution or an onsite PBX, there are many considerations to take into account to make the best decision for your business. You don’t have to go at it alone however.
Our team here at CT-Pros is one of the best ShoreTel Partners in the world (literally). We can help evaluate your needs and determine which direction is the best for you and your business.
If you’re in any of the areas we service (Chicago, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, or Indianapolis), we will be glad to help you, just fill out our contact form or give a call and we’ll be glad to talk with you.