While consumers have largely dumped their traditional phone connections in favor of multi-functional smartphone devices, desktop phones continue to be a business necessity.
After all, a landline offers the advantages of the highest quality voice connection, ease of use with a dedicated phone device, and more affordable calling plans than mobile phones. These days, business phone landlines are increasingly digital rather than the analog copper phone lines of yesteryear, and leverage the data capacity of the internet via VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology.
Selecting a phone plan for your business requires planning and foresight beginning with your company’s needs. Think about the number of phone lines required for employees, including dedicated lines for those archaic fax machines that continue to soldier on (which will eventually be replaced by online fax services one day soon, we hope). Also factor in what additional services are needed, such as voicemail, integration with mobile devices and any international calling needs.
Once you have done your homework, you are ready to do the shopping for a new small business phone service. In making our selections here, we compared features, pricing, user and professional reviews to pick out the best services around.
- We've also highlighted the best business smartphones
- Want your company or services to be added to this buyer’s guide? Please email your request to [email protected] with the URL of the buying guide in the subject line.
Mitel is one of the giants of Voice over IP (VoIP) telecoms, and its MiCloud offering aims to provide more than just a business phone system, but rather an integrated telecoms solution which can not only account for mobile working but aims to take advantage of the mobile opportunities. It offers a cloud-based telecoms system, which can not only provide, record, and store calls, but also emails, social messaging, as well as any other communications media.
This big advantage of this service is that the initial hardware outlay is very much reduced, as you're more dependent on your internet or cellular connections than having a bank of phone lines each with their own business telephone system. It also means updates and upgrades are available as standard, so you shouldn't have to worry about buying telecoms systems that might seem out of date after a couple of years.
Micloud has all the features you'd expect from a standard business phone system, not least audio, video, and conferencing calling, as well as voicemails and call routing. There's also plenty of scope for setting up different features for different people in your teams, and collaboration and collation is at the heart of this system.
Pricing is set by Mitel Premium Partners, who can provide a quote to fit according to business needs, but expect to pay around $5 to $15 per user according to service features required, on top of any hardware costs.
Vonage is a well-known player in the residential VoIP market, and its Vonage Business offering focuses on commercial phone service; it has distinct plans that cater to enterprise, as well as the small business market.
For the latter, Vonage Business endeavors to use your current internet to have a plug-and-play solution that does not require on-site installation, and offers a 14-day free trial. It is a more premium service with over 40 included phone features, and claims a business grade “99.999% uptime reliability.”
The plans are priced depending on the number of users. For example, for 1 to 4 users, the bottom rung Mobile plan starts at $19.99 per user per month, which includes unlimited calling and SMS messages, and apps for both desktop and mobile use. Premium features include a call log, an administrative portal and a virtual receptionist.
The next plan up is the Premium plan that costs $29.99 per user per month, and adds video conferencing and file sharing via Amazon Chime, as well as integration with popular Customer Relationship Managers such as Salesforce, Office 365 and Zoho.
Ooma Office is the business version of the popular (almost) free residential service. Here, service plans require a one-time purchase of an Ooma Office base station for $199.99, and then unlimited calling to the US and Canada starts at $19.99 per user per month, which includes bonus features such as virtual fax, a local or toll-free phone number, and a conference extension. More users can be added for $19.99 each.
Rounding out the service are over 35 features including 24/7 customer support, music on hold, a virtual receptionist, a mobile app, and a choice of modes for answering calls after hours.
Ooma Office is mildly hampered with no lower tier plan for cash-strapped businesses, and there is no lower cost for economies of scale as additional users are added to the plan, as each is charged at full price.
The 8×8 Virtual Office Desktop is another cloud-driven VoIP plan that allows for more distributed working. It features a lot of the basic features you'd expect in a business phone system, such as support for click-to-call and mobile support, so users aren't tied to a single location. There are also options for web conferencing and video meetings.
However, where the 8×8 Virtual Office Desktop really stands out is in the numerous features it boasts. There are multiple plans available, but even the most basic offers extension dialing, auto attendant, ring groups, call recording and internet faxing. There are also more advanced ones such as integration with Zendesk, Netsuite, Salesforce, and a number of other CRM platforms, as well as other online toolkits from the likes of Google and Microsoft.
Of course, there is an initial hardware outlay, but a lot of options are offered in terms of desktop phones, cordless phones, and conference calling units from Polycom as standard.
However, what you get depends on what you need, and there are three different service levels: Virtual Office, Virtual Office Pro, and Virtual Office 8×8. The latter two offer online meetings, and the highest-end boasts a virtual contact center. While pricing used to be advertised, these days you'll need to request a quote.
Phone.com endeavors to be an affordable business VoIP service, and with a pay per minute base plan that starts at $9.99 per month (when paid annually), it does best the competition at the low end in terms of cost. The trade-off is that the plan only offers a limited 300 voice minutes monthly with 5,000 SMS, which is only adequate for the most limited business use.
On the bright side, even on this bare plan there are premium features included, such as voicemail to email, call blocking and call queuing. It is also indicated that the service is HIPAA compliant to meet the standards of privacy for healthcare-related businesses.
Perhaps the more realistic options for most businesses are the Plus Plan for $14.99 monthly (when paid annually) which gives you a still paltry 500 minutes, and 10,000 text messages. Disappointingly, even the top Pro Plan (which is $29.99 monthly on an annual contract) also limits your minutes to 1,000 per month, and 20,000 SMS messages.
Other business phone services to consider
Whether you're looking for a more traditional PBX phone system or a VoIP phone system, there are a lot of different providers out there. Which one is best for you will depend on your own needs and business size. While we've featured five providers above, there are a huge number of alternatives. Here we'll take a quicker look at another five.
Avaya is another of the big names in unified communications, and along with Mitel has established itself as a leading specialist player for business telecommunications. Even so, it caters for the full range of business sizes, from small to enterprise, so don't be put off thinking big names means big costs. Cloud-based VoIP is already an established offering from Avaya, with many different options available to suit your business.
RingCentral promotes itself as an all-in-one solution for all business sizes, with a unified communications strategy that means plenty of integration options, from Google to Microsoft, Oracle to Amazon, and Zendesk to Salesforce. Pricing begins at just $19.99 for up to 10 users, with call management and phone system administration, as well as phone rental options for conference phones and even desks.
FluentStream is another cloud-based VoIP provider that offers a multi-faceted UCaaS platform and a good number of integrations. There's a decent list of features even for the basic plan ($20 per month), with increasing levels of service options up to contact center level. As expected, mobile use is treated as standard rather than an option, with apps available for Android and iOS.
DialPad is a business VoIP platform that powers voice, video, messages, and meetings, and is especially geared towards mobile use. That offers a huge potential benefit by reducing initial outlay costs for hardware if employees can simply use their existing phones or tablet devices. Different sizes of business are catered for, integrations are standard, and pricing varies between $20-$35 per user according to the number of advanced features required.
Skype is possibly an option easily overlooked, but had already established itself as a leading provider of VoIP even before it was purchased by Microsoft. Now it offers all the cloud and Office integrations you'd expect from the powerhouse parent company. So long as you're happy to keep your calls online and use mobile phones or tablets for calls and conferencing, this could be the cheapest option of all the ones listed here.