The arrival of Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) was one of the most important developments in telephony and communications, particularly for businesses. In short, the best VoIP phone systems allowed you to make crystal clear calls over the internet, which was revolutionary.
For businesses, one of key changes that came with the adoption of VoIP phone systems was the speed at which they could set up their phone systems. Also, the best VoIP phone systems require no upfront investments in equipment, which further brings down the costs of having a quality business system across enterprises of all sizes, including startups.
Integration with the internet and the data generated with each phone call allows VoIP phone systems to act as genuine customer management tools, with a wide range of analytical functions that can improve productivity and customer engagement.
However, the popularity of VoIP phone systems also means buyers must choose from among hundreds of different options. No single VoIP phone system will cater to the needs of all businesses, so it's important to choose the right offering for you. Our guide sets out what we believe to be the best VoIP phone systems around and the factors you should consider before making a purchase.
Striking balance between price and features is a key consideration for all businesses that want to buy a VoIP phone system, but this is especially important for small companies. Dialpad VoIP system is designed with smaller business in mind, and this is evident from its pricing structure.
Dialpad's Standard plan ($15/mo) will net you many features you’ve come to expect from a modern VoIP phone system at an affordable price: call forwarding, HD video calls, voicemail greetings, call controls, SMS and group texting.
The Pro plan offers integration with popular services such as Slack and Zendesk, as well as round-the-clock support, while more demanding users can opt for the Enterprise plan, which features a range of analytics tools.
Dialpad offers quality softphone apps for Android and iOS and while these can take a bit of time to get into, their general functionality is well-designed, with clean user interface and easy navigation on the platform’s web portal. You are free to port a phone number that is already in use or ask for a new toll-free or local one. All in all, Dialpad is a capable contender for the title of the best VoIP phone system for smaller enterprises.
It's worth noting both the Standard and Pro plans are available for testing with a 14-day free trial.
The main selling point of VoIP phone system RingCentral Office is its range of supported features, and it also boasts a set of flexible plans tailored for almost every budget.
Conference calls, SMS and faxing, advanced call management features such as interactive voice response (IVR), team messaging, document sharing, call forwarding and recording, individualized access control and more are all on offer with RingCentral Office.
Users also have access to automatic voicemail, which can be set for the use after business hours, while the featured attendant can be programmed to help the caller get the person or department they need as soon as possible.
Price plan depend on the number of users and you can opt for monthly or annual payment. The most basic plan on offer is the Essentials plan ($19.99/mo) which, in line with its name, feels slightly bare bones. If you are on the lookout for a more robust offering, the Standard plan ($24.99/mo) features video calls and automatic attendants, video meetings with up to 100 attendants and integrations with popular 3rd party platforms such as Office 365, G Suite and Slack.
The Premium plan ($34.99/mo) offers advanced call management features such as whisper and barge, with added integrations with Zendesk and Salesforce to support advanced customer management. Finally, the Ultimate plan ($49.99/mo) comes packaged with unlimited storage and device status alerts.
Mitel is a veteran in the provision of business phone services and its VoIP system is designed to pack the power of a dedicated call center within a VoIP system. The system is designed around the concept of unified communications which is a term describing platforms that go beyond acting as a simple phone service and offer advanced features such as video conferencing, instant messaging and online fax in a single platform.
Features are grouped into individual plans, but a welcome option allows you to combine any of these into a custom plan. This is particularly suitable for businesses that have a clear picture of their future VoIP phone system needs.
The Essential plan ($20.99 per user per month) offers support for conference calls and video conferencing for 8 participants and virtual meetings with shared desktop features.
The Premier plan ($26.59 per user per month) increases the number of supported callers to 25, just as it does for virtual meetings and video conferences (12 users), with an added bonus in the form of support for call recordings, voicemail transcription and integration with Salesforce.
The Elite plan comes with a hefty $38.49 per user per month price tag, offering permanently active recording, operator support and archiving of calls.
8x8 is a cloud-based VoIP phone system. The first thing to notice about this solution is its competitive pricing. Yet, the features on offer with the most basic tier show that microbusinesses are not necessarily its main audience.
At the most basic level, 8x8 Express ($12 per user/mo) is a budget solution in all but its performance, with features even at this level including caller ID, HD & secure voice calls, intelligent call routing, support for mobile & desktop apps, business SMS, etc.
At a marginally higher price is the X1 package ($15 per user/mo), which seems to be designed to draw smaller businesses that plan to turn into medium-sized ones in the future. To support their efforts, this package will add call recording, multi-line support and paging to the basic plan.
Moving beyond these two most attractive plans will require more substantial investments. Yet even the platform’s X2 plan remains reasonably priced at $25 per user/mo, offering calls within 14 countries, video & chat support, auto attendant, music on hold integration with popular enterprise-grade apps and VoIP fax.
The next rung up is the X4 plan ($45 per user/mo), which comes packed with analytical functions that give insights into a VoIP system’s operations to administrators.
Once we get past this price point, the X6 and X8 plans are a bit of a tough sell, with their prices going above $110 per user/mo.
If you are looking for a scalable VoIP phone system and quality app integration, Vonage could be right choice for you, particularly if you are on the lookout for a scalable and future-proof solution.
The service's selling point is easy third-party platform integration, even in scenarios when you lack infrastructure or substantial funding. Supported integrations include popular platforms such a G Suite, Office 365 and Salesforce.
The three service plans on offer include Mobile (if you have no need for desk-based phones and the majority of work is done remotely), Premium and Advanced. Premium plan offers access to features such as chatting & file sharing, video conferencing and CRM integration. Advanced plan adds visual voicemail and call recording to the mix at a premium price. For each plan, prices are reduced with additional users you want to include in it, which makes them slightly less friendly to smaller businesses and startups.
Preparing for VoIP phone installation
Prior to implementing a VoIP phone system, the best advice for a newcomer is to get some basic information on the technology. Even if you count yourself a veteran user, you’ll have to show the same level of dedication in studying the VoIP providers, reviews of their products and a range of features that come with each service plan on offer. Yet, the best start is to have a clear vision of the role the VoIP phone system is going to play in your business.
First, you’ll have to check what your current phone system is capable of and decide if you want to install a VoIP system from the scratch (i.e. by removing the existing technology altogether, keep some of its parts or try to upgrade it with new features).
Bear in mind this decision will largely depend on your current circumstances. If you are running a small factory whose majority of daily tasks is performed in an outdoor environment, keeping an older but functional phone network will be a viable option compared to what is needed if you want to run something resembling a call center.
The preparations can get a bit more complicated if you decide to use the existing connection infrastructure, which forces you to implement a hybrid VoIP solution. In this case, one part of your communication network will continue to run on the analog technology, while the remaining portions are upgraded to VoIP. Yet, even this partial solution will allow you to make use of the VoIP phone system’s benefits.
Now, let’s imagine that you want a brand new VoIP phone system. First, you need to gather your IT and communication system maintenance crew and ask them to give you a rundown of the current capabilities of your existing infrastructure. This is particularly relevant for its capacity to handle and protect data, as the data will be the medium which “carries” the voices of your customers and employees. If you are going to keep some of the existing infrastructure, you’ll need to determine if it is capable of handling the extra data load that comes with VoIP phone systems.
Bear in mind that all VoIP services come with their own data network throughput demands. The same goes for meeting the system’s latency requirements (expressed in milliseconds) which also requires some advance testing. By checking the quality of your network connections in advance you’ll protect your business from having to deal with poor call quality, data congestion and crashes in the future. If you do not have time for these activities, make sure you check if your future VoIP provider can do it for you by sending their technicians to do this for you.
Essential VoIP features for SMBs
Modern-day VoIP phone systems are expected to perform a wider set of roles compared to their technological predecessors. In addition to supporting communication with employees and customers, they are expected to help the business provide better customer support, conference and video calls, mobile communication, texting and fax support, as well as integrations with 3rd party platforms and apps.
No matter which VoIP phone system provider you choose and which features it offers you already use, you still need at least the minimum of functionalities offered by VoIP and some of these are almost universal for all SMBs:
Conference calls are a staple of today’s business communication management, the only difference between providers being the number of supported participants and associated pricing.
Call recording is indispensable for all businesses that see the call management performance of its employees as a dynamic category. The ability to record calls can help you decide on the best approaches to improve the call handling performance of the persons that often represent the first line of contact with your business for many of your customers.
Call queuing supports putting calls on hold, particularly if your personnel is unable to answer all of them at the same time. If you run a growing business that needs to manage an increasing number of calls down the line, this is the feature to be put on your must-have list.
Call transferring and forwarding do exactly what their names imply and will help you keep your communication system uncluttered and functional.
Voicemail-to-email options allow the users to receive emails with the recorded messages attached as audio files. As emails are checked more frequently than recorded audio messages, this feature should allow you to better keep tabs on communications in general.
Number porting is helpful in case you want to keep your old number when switching to a new provider.
Interactive Voice Response (IVR) provides automated greeting, call transferring and message taking services. In addition to making call management easier, it helps your business be perceived as professional and focused on its customers.
Caller ID allows you to instantly identify a caller’s number.
Ring groups include employees who take calls from individual groups of returning customers. If you have a customer support department, for example, an entire group of employees managing these calls will be notified in case there is a call that is related to this field.
Cloud-hosted or on-premise VoIP?
One of key considerations in the process of getting a VoIP phone system is deciding if you are going to go with an on-premise or cloud-based system.
In case of the VoIP phone system on premises, the required hardware for running it will be installed at the location of your business, similar to what is done onsite in case of landline phone systems. Accordingly, your dedicated IT or maintenance teams will need to handle all tasks relating to keeping the system healthy, updated and upgraded (if needed). This option should also allow you to keep your hands on the existing phone system components that you consider useful in the design of a new hybrid communication system.
With cloud-hosted VoIP, the hardware needed to run the system is actually hosted in the cloud and maintained by the service provider of your choice. You will be required to physically accommodate only the phones themselves and all tasks related to upgrades and maintenance will be handled by the cloud VoIP phone provider.
Now, the question of which option is better for your business really depends on the size of your business and the stuff you prioritize in running it.
First of all, opting for an on-premise system entails much higher upfront costs for running a VoIP phone system. If you are running a startup or small business, these costs can be prohibitive and there is no option to make them lower unless you are willing to cut corners with hardware, which is hardly a sound strategy.
Instead of this, you can choose a cloud-based VoIP and get access to its features by paying a monthly fee for the customer plan of your choice. This option also relieves you of the obligation to provide physical space for the hardware components of an on-premise VoIP system, which can be an important consideration for smaller businesses or startups. As cloud-based solutions are maintained, secured and upgraded by the provider, you’ll be spared the cost of running a dedicated team of personnel in charge of maintenance and security.
On the other hand, larger companies are better equipped to cover for the much of upfront costs associated with the operation of an on-premise VoIP system and they are the best candidates for running it. This is particularly true if you feel that the monthly fee model associated with the cloud-hosted VoIP hardly justifies its lower price if you are required to pay for it indefinitely.
There are two additional factors to consider here, and these are related to the importance you assign to the control of a VoIP phone system and its customization. The on-site system will give you full control of the VoIP phone platform and its features and no third party will be involved in providing maintenance, checkups and security for the system. This should also give you more flexibility in dealing with the required upgrades and fine-tuning of the system, yet with the cost of having to run a dedicated tech support team and bear the responsibility for any misguided upgrade you perform.