The virtual phone system is an easy way for small businesses to sound and function like a large, established business, without having to purchase hardware. Virtual phone systems can give your business the edge it needs to compete with other larger companies. It makes a great first impression and uses the most advanced, state-of-the-art technology that businesses need to stay ahead.

Small businesses can truly benefit from a virtual phone system because it allows a more flexible work schedule. Employees are no longer tied to their desk waiting for a call. They can easily work from any location and have their calls professionally answered and routed to wherever they are so there are no important calls missed.

The virtual phone system offers advanced technology, with features that include a 24/7 auto attendant, customized recorded greeting, call forwarding, voicemail to email, voicemail to text, conference calling and much more.

What Is A IP PBX?

Also known as a PBX, Unified Communications System or business phone system, a PBX acts as the central switching system for phone calls within a business. IP PBX systems handle internal traffic between stations and act as the gatekeeper to the outside world. The initials PBX stand for Private Branch Exchange, a very old fashioned term for a system that has evolved significantly over the past century.

A traditional PBX is made up of two key elements: lines and stations. The lines, sometimes called trunks, are connections to the global public switched telephony network (PSTN) by way of a telephone company. Stations are simply telephones or other endpoint devices like fax machines, modems and credit card terminals.

The original mission of the PBX was to provide shared access to limited resources. Rather than having a separate phone line for each phone, a business could share a small pool of lines across a much larger pool of stations. When a call came it was answered by an operator who then connected it with the appropriate person or department. When someone inside needed to make a call, the operator connected them with an available line. Frequently these early systems were simply called “switchboards”.

Over time, operators were replaced by electromechanical and later electronic systems for managing access to lines. Additional features were added to automatically route incoming calls, to allow active calls to be transferred between stations and to permit or deny calls based on various rules. Adjunct systems were added for voice messaging, call queuing and other value added services.

Today, a business phone system is much more than just a simple switch. Adjunct technologies like automated attendant, voice messaging, call queuing and multi-party conferencing have become standard features. Basic analog and proprietary digital phones are giving way to standards-based IP phones. Outside connectivity is now available over the Internet in the form of SIP trunks or other VoIP services.

When PBXs were originally developed, wireline phone calls were the only type of electronic communication available. Today, the communications landscape has expanded to include email, instant messaging, video conferencing, desktop sharing, SMS and mobile telephony. Unified Communications is a catch-all term that describes the process of merging all of these technologies and integrating them with business processes. Unified Communications aims to increase efficiency while simplifying management.

Key IP PBX Features

If you’re looking for a PBX, here are some of the features you should be sure are included:

VoIP Ready: The world is moving away from legacy PSTN lines and towards VoIP. Make sure your PBX can support IP stations (phones) and IP trunks (service). SIP is the current de facto standard, so don’t buy a phone system that doesn’t support it.

Voice Messaging: Once upon a time, voicemail was an optional add-on. Today, it’s table stakes. Look for PBXs that can forward voicemail messages to your email as attachments. If possible, look for IP phones that support visual voicemail.

Mobility: Most businesses have at least some road warriors who spend much of their time out of the office. Make sure your PBX supports mobility features like Find Me / Follow Me, remote IP extensions and fixed / mobile convergence.

Conferencing: One of the best ways to cut down on travel costs is teleconferencing. Make sure your phone system has native support for true multi-party conferences (not just basic three-way calling).

Reporting: If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Make sure that the PBX you pick includes basic call history reporting features.

Asterisk As A PBX

Asterisk was originally created as the engine for a PBX system (in fact, many refer to it as the Asterisk PBX) and includes all of the components necessary to build a powerful, scalable business phone system. These include advanced features that usually cost extra on a commercial phone system: things like voicemail, automated attendant, call queueing, conference bridging, parking, paging, and intercom calling.

Asterisk is technology and protocol agnostic, which means that you can connect it to the outside world using VoIP or traditional telephony technologies. It also means that you can use virtually any standards-based IP phone; Asterisk includes drivers for SIP and other protocols. That being said, Digium offers a line of IP phones that were specifically designed to compliment Asterisk and take advantage of a number of key productivity features.

Asterisk is future-proof. Unlike traditional phone systems that are generally upgraded using a forklift, Asterisk continues to evolve. Phone systems based on Asterisk see significant improvements each year as new features are included.

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