In this article, we take a look at the different types of telephone switchboard and compare the best options on the market. We also explore the benefits of using a switchboard system…
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For most people, the words ‘telephone switchboard’ conjure up an image of someone unplugging and replugging phone lines in front of huge wall of switches. Unsurprisingly, the telephone switchboards of today are a little (read: a lot) different. In fact, some don’t require you to own any hardware at all. Sounds impossible, right?
Let’s take a look at what modern day telephone switchboards look like, and the best ones on the market right now.
What is a telephone switchboard system?
The first step in understanding how modern switchboards work is to abandon the idea of a physical ‘board’. Todays switchboards are automated. They greet the customer on the other end of the line, then use algorithms to direct their call and manage the queue.
Think about the last time you called a bank, or an energy company. Chances are there were a few steps between the call being picked up, and speaking to an actual human. In smaller businesses, there needn’t be so many steps, but the ability to put callers in a queue is still hugely important. Otherwise, you risk customers being unable to get through and giving up.
Before we go on to talk about the different types of telephone switchboard – we understand that the business telephones industry is full of confusing jargon and contradictory messages about what's best for you. That's why we'd like to help you to cut through the noise and zero in on the right system for you, quickly.
Simply answer a few quick questions about your business, and we'll match you up with the best telephone system suppliers for your needs. They'll then get in touch with tailored, no-obligation quotes and info, so you can compare your options with clarity and ease. This service is free – why not try it today?
What kind of telephone switchboard system do you need?
There are three main types of switchboard phone systems:
- On-premise PBX
- Hosted PBX/IP-PBX
- Virtual PBX
1. On-premise PBX
An on-premise PBX system will divert all calls through a telephone switchboard device that resides on your business' premises (don't worry, they're smaller than you'd think!).
Buying and installing this hardware in your company building will prove expensive – plus, you'll face the additional cost of employing (or training) someone who can maintain the system, or else pay for an external expert when needed. You'll also run the risk of your hardware becoming outdated over time.
The trade off, though, is that on-premise PBX gives you complete control over your system – how many lines you have, the features you choose to implement – and you won't be reliant on any third parties.
2. Hosted PBX/IP-PBX
Think of this like on-premise PBX… except it's not on your premises. Instead, you'll rent the telephone switchboard services from a third party. Usually, you'll pay a monthly fee per each of your employees that uses the system.
The benefit here is that there's little upfront cost (you don't have to buy any hardware), and you won't be responsible for maintaining the system yourself. The third party you're renting from is also likely to provide technical support, so you'll be able to get their help if you encounter a problem with the switchboard.
Be wary, though, that you won't have much control over the system and how it works, and your monthly costs will rise with each new employee that you set up on the system.
3. Virtual PBX
A virtual PBX is the simplest and most affordable type of telephone switchboard. This is a switchboard that's hosted in the cloud, so there's no hardware – and so no physical infrastructure or maintenance to worry about. As with a hosted PBX, you'll pay a third party a monthly subscription fee for the use of the system.
Though virtual, this switchboard can still route calls to the correct extension in any location, manage queues, put callers on hold, and alert employees when calls are waiting.
While this system is a cheap option – and an excellent introduction to PBX – for small businesses, it's worth knowing that the cloud connection may be less reliable than an on-premise solution.
Telephone Switchboard Comparison
We've ranked and reviewed some of the best telephone switchboard systems on the market. Our favourites are:
- Sangoma Switchvox (on-premise PBX)
- Grandstream UCM6200 Series (IP PBX)
- Xorcom Spark CXS1000 (IP PBX)
- 8×8 Switchboard Pro (virtual PBX)
- Callagenix Company Switchboard (virtual PBX)
Read on to learn more about what makes these telephone switchboard systems great…
Telephone switchboard type: On-premise PBX
Sangoma's range of four Switchvox switchboards offer everything you'd need in an on-premise solution. The Switchvox device that you choose will depend largely on how many employees you have, and how many calls they'll need to take. For example, the range's “entry-level” model – the Switchvox E510 – can support 150 users and 50 concurrent calls, while the “executive-level” model – the Switchvox E545 – can support 1,000 users and 200 concurrent calls. Given this capacity to support plenty of phones and calls at once – plus the fact that it's an on-premise system, and so will require additional maintenance resource from you – we'd recommend the Switchvox range to larger businesses.
Sangoma is more transparent about its pricing than other suppliers (although we could only find it in USD). The Switchvox software will set you back $1,000, while devices start at $695. For your first year, you'll pay $90 per user, with a yearly renewal cost of $25 per user after that – so setting up may prove pricey, but costs will shrink once everything's installed.
- Focus on tools that enable your employees to effectively work remotely
- Provides a variety of advanced unified communications features
- Offers a 10–20% discount to businesses with 200–500+ users
- Setup may prove expensive for businesses with smaller budgets, with software costs, device costs, and per-user costs to consider
✔ Call features including: voicemail/fax to email, presence, call queues, and more
✔ Integration with Salesforce CRM, Outlook, and more of your existing software
✔ Switchvox Softphone app enables staff to take business calls on any device
✔ In-house communications tools including instant messaging and web-conferencing
Grandstream UCM6200 Series
Telephone switchboard type: IP PBX
Boasting enterprise-grade features for voice, video, mobility, and data management, Grandstream's UCM6200 Series is a great option for medium to large businesses. The system comes in an easy-to-manage package that can be accessed remotely, taking the onus of hardware maintainence out of your hands. The UCM6200 devices offer a variety of functions, but shouldn't cost the earth, with no recurring charges or pesky unexpected fees.
The member of the UCM6200 family that you plump for will depend on the size of your business, and how many calls your teams expect to take. The UCM6202 and UCM6204, for example, can support up to 500 users and 50 and 75 concurrent calls, respectively. Bigger, busier companies should plump for the UCM6208, which supports up to 800 users and 100 concurrent calls.
- Powerful unified communications features, including video support
- No licensing fees, cost-per-feature, or recurring charges
- The pricing is not transparent – you have to contact the company to find out how much it costs
✔ Call features including: five-level IVR (interactive voice response), multi-language auto-attendant and call queue, voicemail/fax to email, and more
✔ Call recordings are stored in a built-in server
✔ SIP video support for in-house communications
✔ Built-in call detail records (CDR) track your phones' usage
Xorcom Spark CXS1000
Telephone switchboard type: IP PBX
Xorcom brings us the Spark CXS1000, a customisable telephone switchboard system that you can easily manage over the web. Supporting up to 30 users, two to 30 extensions, and 10 concurrent calls, this system is best suited to startups and small businesses – or larger companies that only need to kit one department out with a phone system.
Xorcom prides itself on how easy this system is to use, with an online portal that's simple yet intuitive. Enabling the flexibility that many small businesses need, the system supports remote extensions and call forwarding, and can connect to IP phones, digital lines, and analog phones.
- Easy to manage via a simple web-based portal
- Offers a wide variety of features to help small businesses engage in professional communications with customers
- Can only support a maximum of 30 users, so is only scalable up to a point
- Again, pricing isn't transparent – you'll need to request a quote
✔ Call features including: hold music, unlimited voicemail, hunt groups, call centre groups, and auto-attendants (IVR), and more
✔ Remote extensions and time-based routing ensure a call always reaches the right person
✔ Emergency notification module
✔ Built-in call detail records (CDR) track your phones' usage
8×8 Switchboard Pro
Telephone switchboard type: Virtual PBX
Switchboard Pro is supplied as an add-on feature for 8×8's Virtual Office phone system. It's super easy to use, with a simple interface that enables you to manage calls with a click of your mouse. In fact, 8×8 says that your employees will need very little training to learn how to use it – so you'll be able to get up and running quickly, with minimal down time.
This easy integration makes Switchboard Pro a great option for small businesses – especially since Virtual Office comes with all the reliability of being a market-leading system (as well as some excellent unified communications features!). With an at-a-glance view of everyone's availability for calls, plus unlimited search and sorting capabilities, using Switchboard Pro is a great way to boost your business' customer service credentials.
- Quick to learn and easy to use
- Benefits from all the reliability and features of 8x8 Virtual Office
- Not automated – requires more manual attention than, say, Callagenix's Company Switchboard
- As this is an add-on feature, we can't be sure how much it will cost you
✔ Call features including: click to dial any extension, supervised transfer (brief the recipient before sending the caller their way), transfer to voicemail, call parking, and more
✔ All the features that come with 8×8's Virtual Office system
✔ Easy to use browser-based software
✔ Chat function enables speedy internal communications
Callagenix Company Switchboard
Telephone switchboard type: Virtual PBX
With automated call answering and routing that's very easy to program, the Callagenix Company Switchboard will certainly make life easier for whoever used to answer calls to your company's main number. Plus, if anything changes (for example, you go on a hiring spree or rework your team structures), reprogramming your call pathways is super simple.
On balance, we'd say that the Callagenix Company Switchboard is best suited to smaller businesses with fewer phone lines – not least because the system is pretty affordable, at 70p per day, per attached phone number (that adds up to £21 over 30 days). However, it has to be said that this system is very scalable, so you may find you never have to trade your system for a more advanced model. In fact, it can handle tens of thousands of calls per hour – impressive!
- Message prompts and call pathways are super easy to automate and customise
- You can access as many simultaneous call lines as you need, without having to buy extra phone lines
- Doesn't seem to support as many features for remote working and internal comms (though integration with other Callagenix services may remedy that)
✔ Call features including: 24/7 automated call answering, customisable message prompts, pre-announcement of calls, call recording, auto-switching to voicemail, voicemail to email, and more
✔ Email or SMS alerts when faxes arrive
✔ Online call data and reporting for analysis, plus optional caller number reports
Benefits of a telephone switchboard system
Many small businesses assume that a switchboard is something that only the largest companies will profit from.
The key benefits of a telephone switchboard will be felt across businesses of all shapes and sizes:
1. Transfer calls to any location
Got employees or freelancers working remotely? No problem! So long as there’s an internet connection, a virtual switchboard system can reach them over a desk phone or mobile.
2. Reduce your infrastructure and maintenance costs
You can take a hosted solution, which is managed and maintained by a service provider ‘in the cloud’. You won’t have any upfront costs for infrastructure and you won’t need a technician on site to run the system. Instead, you pay an affordable monthly fee that covers management, maintenance and upgrades.
3. Advanced functionality
One of the most useful features of modern switchboard phone systems is ‘Presence’. This tells the system or the operator if an employee does not wish to be disturbed or is unavailable. The switchboard can then route calls to another extension if need be.
Telephone switchboard systems also support multiple communication channels, so callers can make contact by their preferred method, which could include email, voice, text, chat or instant message.
Hosted switchboard solutions offer another important advantage – scalability. If your business grows, or call volumes increase temporarily, you can increase capacity on demand. There is no need to install new lines or keep customers waiting in lengthy queues. Hosted switchboards give you much greater flexibility.
Next step: how to get your telephone switchboard system
By getting a telephone switchboard system for your business, you’re taking a great leap towards improved customer experience and office productivity.
But a great leap needn’t require hours of tedious research and contacting suppliers. In fact, your ideal telephone switchboard solution is only three small steps away:
Step 2: we will match your needs with the best suppliers for the job.
Step 3: these suppliers will then contact you with tailored quotes, leaving you to choose the one that’s right for you.
As the famous quote goes, “three small steps for your tailored quotes, one giant leap for your UK business…?”
….or something like that, anyway.