Virtual PBX Puts a Professional Spin on VoIP

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PC World
Monday, March 17, 2008; 1:19 AM

As businesses of all sizes begin to rely on VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), thevirtual PBXoption   has become a widely popular choice. A virtual PBX arrangement, in which a telephony system is provided   through an Internet download and then managed by an outside service, offers a low-cost and easy-to-set-up means for a business to use VoIP services. Such a system can assist companies and solo entrepreneurs in creating a more professional image that lets them grow their businesses more quickly.

Yet for businesses searching for a virtual PBX provider, the options can be daunting. Some services excel in providing businesses with a diverse range of calling features but make it difficult to combine those features without increasing the cost of the calling plan significantly. Other providers may offer basic services at a low cost but might be unable to grow with the business's need for enhanced calling features.

Before you can choose a virtual PBX provider, as well as the plan   appropriate for your business, you should first understand what services are available and how they work.

PBX is the commonly used term for a private branch exchange,   a telephone exchange system that serves one business. Originally a PBX was designed to allow companies   to control their phone systems through in-house operators. Today, instead of just connecting calls, these systems also connect fax machines, computer modems, and other types of technology that route through the phone lines.

Businesses embracing VoIP were, from the start,   highly interested in making use of PBX systems, but they had to find a way to do so that didn't tap their resources. The solution has been to use "hosted PBX" systems, in which an outside company manages the private VoIP system; instead of the telephone exchange system's being located at the business, it is located at the site of the VoIP host. This arrangement allows a small business to take advantage of a comprehensive VoIP system without having to maintain a staff to keep that system running.

Just as VoIP systems have begun to offer a variety of features, virtual PBX providers have evolved to supply additional services, such as messaging, call-forwarding, and call-waiting options, as well as advanced calling features such as automatic dialing. Virtual PBX hosting also offers advanced features that are unique to the integration of the phone and computer.

For example, many providers offer Outlook integration so that users can access e-mail address books through one location. Additionally, many services offer click-to-call widgets, which appear as buttons on the business's Web site or social networking profile; when a customer clicks the button, the two parties connect   by phone. This is a major feature that helps businesses move seamlessly between online and voice interaction.

On a simpler level, the integration of voice and data features allows for ease of communication within the business itself. Since virtual PBX services host video, voice, and data conferencing, a company can achieve remote collaboration without investing in   any additional software or hardware. Moreover, virtual PBX systems provide an online means of tracking call data, which can assist with billing and budgeting.

Among a number of other benefits, virtual PBX requires no   extra hardware   and little training; as a result, it   entails lower startup costs for the business.   A virtual PBX setup might not be the right solution for every business, however. For example, companies requiring automatic call distribution may find that their options are limited   on a   virtual PBX; although ACD is available through most virtual PBX systems, it tends to be a simplified version that could   be insufficient for   businesses regularly routing calls to different areas of the company.

Assessing the Providers

The growing demand for virtual PBX has led to an increase in the number of VoIP companies offering   the service. Each company provides the same basic service but has unique pros and cons.

Currently the top five virtual PBX providers in the market areGotVMail,Packet8,RingCentral,Vocalocity, andVoiceNation. RingCentral and VoiceNation have distinguished themselves in creating   the impression that a small business is bigger than it is through the use of certain VoIP features such as call-center functions. In contrast, GotVMail has set itself apart as an ideal service for the solo entrepreneur who doesn't have a lot of money to spend on advanced features but still needs basic VoIP functions.

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