Telephone Systems

By Aimee Bradshaw | Writer and researcher

office phone

What is a telephone system?

We may think we know what a telephone system is, but as is the case with most technology, there’s actually a lot more to it.

The most basic and most familiar phone system is a traditional phone system. This usually consists of one telephone line, and one or two handsets – that’s it.

But if the question you’re asking is “what is a business telephone system?”, then that’s when things start getting a little complicated.

There are actually several different types of business telephone system. These vary in the way they work, and in terms of the features they offer.

While a traditional phone system consists of two main components (a telephone line and a handset), business telephone systems boast additional elements that make them more suitable to professional life.

These elements may include:

  • Additional phone lines
  • Basic software
  • A PBX (private branch exchange)
  • An internet connection (IP)
  • Advanced software

In the next section, we go into detail about the different phone systems available, and how each of the elements above will help your business succeed.

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What are the different business phone systems?

Thankfully, an office telephone system isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. There are different types of phone systems that are suited for different business sizes and set-ups. Take a look at the table below.

Multi-line telephone systemPBX telephone systemVoIP telephone system

Main features:

  • Multiple lines
  • Multiple handsets
  • Basic call handling

Main features:

  • Multiple lines
  • Multiple handsets
  • PBX hardware
  • Basic software integration
  • Automated call handling

Main features:

  • Multiple lines
  • Multiple handsets
  • Cloud-based or self-hosted server
  • Advanced software integration
  • Advanced call handling

Suitable for:

Very small to small businesses

Suitable for:

Small businesses

Suitable for:

Small, medium, and large businesses

Price point:

Low to mid

Price point:

Mid to high

Price point:

Low to high

Business telephone systems – the lowdown

Multi-line phone system

A multi-line phone system is the next step up from a traditional phone system. It’s a system that allows you to have multiple phone lines, thus easing up the competition on each individual line. Every employee or department is allocated their own phone number, which rings through to the department handset.

Alternatively, you can have the system set up so every number filters through to the same handset. A dedicated employee then picks up the call, and forwards the caller to the right extension number.

Read more: Multi-line phone systems for businesses

PBX telephone systems

A PBX telephone system is very similar to a multi-line phone system. The only difference is that call handling is automated, rather than manual. Callers phone in, and are greeted by an automated attendant who talks them through the department options. The caller then presses the number that coincides with the required department, and the PBX connects the call to the right line.

You can connect a PBX unit to the internet, which allows for basic software integration. You’ll be able to look at data such as call volume, call length, and how often a certain customer calls.

Read more: What is a PBX telephone system?

Did You Know?

SIP trunking also allows you to convert your analogue PBX system into a digital PBX system, which means you can make calls over the internet, in addition to over the traditional telephone line.

VoIP Telephone systems

VoIP telephone systems, also known as IP PBX telephone systems, use the internet to send and receive phone calls. You can host a VoIP system remotely (via the cloud), or on-premise (providing you have the right hardware installed).

It’s worth bearing in mind that there is a significant difference in the setup price of an on-premise VoIP system compared to a cloud-based VoIP system. This is because a cloud-based VoIP system requires far less hardware or installation assistance.

Read more: VoIP business phone features

Did You Know?

A VoIP system often works out as the cheapest phone system, despite it being the most featureful. This is because phone calls made over the internet are far more cost-effective.

Why do I need a business telephone system?

Here’s why a business phone system is better than a traditional phone system – no matter the size of your business.

1. Build healthy customer relationships

Each of the business telephone systems featured in the previous section will help you to build healthy customer relationships. But how?

  • Call straight through to the required department
  • Automated attendant directs callers to the right department
  • Basic CRM software integration means better customer management
  • Basic call forwarding so you never miss a call
  • Automated attendant directs callers to the right department
  • Intelligent call forwarding so you never miss a call
  • Clever software integration
  • Choose your own hold music to keep customers patient
  • Multiple voicemail functions, so you’re always on top of missed calls

2. Increase mobility

Businesses are no longer static. Employees are out on the road, as well as in the office – and luckily, business phone systems are designed to facilitate this.

  • Make calls internally and externally at the same time
  • Make calls internally and externally at the same time
  • Redirect calls to mobile phones
  • Make calls internally and externally at the same time
  • Redirect or forward calls to mobile phones
  • Use the same number across multiple devices and locations
  • Collect call data to help your sales strategy
  • Easily move offices with a cloud-based VoIP system

3. Improve internal communications

Effective internal communication with your employees is just as important as effective external communication with clients.

  • Dial and transfer calls internally
  • Dial and transfer calls internally
  • Conference call with other offices
  • Dial and transfer calls internally
  • Conference call or video call with other offices
  • Software integration offers internal instant messaging

4. Increase productivity

Phone systems automate certain processes, and provide data that can make operations more efficient.

  • Each department has its own phone number, meaning less time spent directing calls
  • Automated attendant directs calls for you
  • Basic call data allows you to make more intelligent business decisions
  • Forward calls to a call center
  • Automated attendant directs calls for you
  • Set up intelligent API for automated call answering
  • Detailed data insight allows you to see high performing and underperforming employees
  • Monitor data trends to capitalise on contact time
  • Forward calls to a call center

Invest in the best office telephone system for your business – top tips!

There's a lot more to investing in the right phone system than simply thinking about your present day requirements.

Where is your business going?

You need to think about your future.

As a business owner, you may be looking to keep costs down with a multi-line phone system – and that’s great. But what are your growth objectives?

A multi-line phone system has limited call management and expansion capabilities, which may not make it cost-effective in the long run.

A PBX phone system is expensive to install, but offers more call management features, decent expansion capabilities, and the potential to connect to the internet.

A VoIP phone system offers heaps of call management systems, and can be as small or as scalable as you need.

Would you prefer a hosted or self-hosted phone system?

Multi-line, PBX, and on-premise VoIP systems are self-hosted phone systems – they all require you to take ownership of the infrastructure and maintenance of your phone system.

Due to the simple nature of a multi-line phone system, expanding it and maintaining it shouldn’t put too much strain on a small business.

PBX and on-premise VoIP systems are far more complex, and will require an in-house or contracted tech expert to properly maintain it – whether that’s updating the phone system software, or adding new lines and handsets.

Hosted phone systems require the least maintenance. This is because your supplier performs much of the maintenance for you, remotely.

Cloud-based VoIP is currently the only hosted phone system available. A small monthly fee covers the cost of the maintenance, and works out far more cost-effective than contracting a tech expert.

What features would you like from your phone system?

Think about why you’re looking to upgrade your office telephone system. If all you need is more lines, a multi-line system could be your best option.

If you’re looking for more lines, basic call management, plus some data insight, think about a PBX system.

If you’re looking for all the above, plus more, consider a VoIP system.

Which supplier should I use?

It’s always best to do your research before you commit. Ask for quotes from a range of suppliers, and compare the packages and prices they offer you.

Check supplier credentials on review sites such as TrustPilot and G2Crowd, just to make sure they have a healthy number of satisfied customers.

And always read the contract – you don’t want to be tied into something long term, especially if you’re looking to upgrade your phone system fairly swiftly. VoIP providers often offer short-term or monthly rolling contracts for your convenience.

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How much does a telephone system cost?

How long is a piece of string? The cost of a telephone system depends on a number of things, including

  • Installation costs
  • Hardware costs (e.g PBX, cables, router)
  • Number of handsets
  • Number of lines
  • Maintenance costs

The best way to find out how much a phone system will cost is to receive quotes directly from a supplier. Discuss your requirements with a member of the sales team, and they’ll be able to provide you with a tailored quote.

You can also receive quotes quickly and easily, simply by filling in our form. Once you’ve provided some basic information, the best suppliers for your requirements will be in touch.

Aimee Bradshaw Writer and researcher

Aimee is Expert Market’s resident telephone systems, point of sale, and field service software go-to. If she’s not writing about business products, you’ll find her daydreaming about Dorset beaches.

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