Special Focus

TMC Labs Calls 3CX Phone System a Solid Buy

By Rich Tehrani, Group Editor-in-Chief, TMC  |  December 04, 2014

By telecom standards, 3CX Phone System for Windows is a relatively new entrant into the communications space, but over the years the company has distinguished itself as a provider of easy-to-use communications and collaboration solutions.

A major differentiator, as the name implies, is that the system installs on a Windows PC and is easy to set up. It competes most directly with open source phone systems, which could require more knowledge or experience to manage. It is also up against newer cloud-based systems from the likes of 8x8 (News - Alert) and ShoreTel as well as on-premises hardware from a slew of companies such as Avaya, Cisco, Panasonic, and Toshiba.

Installation

Installation on a Windows PC was straightforward. The company has a user manual online which effectively guides users through the set-up process. Once the system is running, emails are sent to users with files that auto-configure the client. In our testing, this method not only worked for PCs but also for an iPhone (News - Alert) 6 Plus and a Samsung Galaxy S5.

When trying to use the web interface, however, something strange happened. When we logged in over a web browser, cutting and pasting the user name and password into the admin console from an email, it didn’t work for some reason. We then decided to manually enter the user name and password and when we did this, the screen went blank. After some head scratching, we pinged the server and it responded repeatedly in less than one millisecond, leading us to believe there was something else askew. When we tried using an iPhone 6 Plus and Safari, however, the interface came right up. This led us to check the server configuration screen under Settings where we found entries for Blacklist. It seems we entered our credentials into the system too many times and our IP address became blocked. This is a great security feature that could also be frustrating for first-time admins.

Documentation/Training

This is a very easy system to use, and training is not a major issue as the GUI is quite intuitive. If users get confused, they can simply click on the letter “I” which brings up a web page with the user manual.

We appreciated the design of the company’s 3CXPhone module, which mirrors the look on smartphones. This greatly reduces the learning curve.

In addition, the company has a set of videos that make it easy to use various functions of the system.

Features & User Experience

What is intriguing about this phone system/PBX (News - Alert) is the fact that it is not only simple to use but also supports call center functions like calling queues. It should be noted that there is an optional call center component with advanced functionality, if you require it. Moreover, there is support for IVR or as the company calls it, digital receptionists. Also included are support for fax, VoIP gateways, remote connections, screen pop via web queries, and more.

The Server Manager interface is not unlike what you might see in Android (News - Alert) or iOS with options on the left and settings on the right. Although we didn’t test these, the availability exists to purchase the 3CX Cloud Server, the 3CX CRM Integration Module, the 3CX Hotel Module, and the 3CX Voice Application Designer.

In addition, 3CX supports WebRTC integration, meaning customers will be able to more easily click to communicate with your company, and users will be able to communicate directly through a web interface. Another interesting feature is that chats can be elevated to WebRTC calls. Currently, WebRTC is supported by Chrome and Firefox.

There is also virtualization support, which is important for companies with more sophisticated data centers.

Build/Design

Overall, we liked the layout and design of 3CX Phone (News - Alert) System. The user interface is lightweight yet powerful while the management console gave us tremendous functionality in an interface we are familiar with, where icons are on the left and settings on the right.

Performance

The system performed as you would think it should. We tested calling, voicemail, etc. Leaving a message immediately activated an envelope notification on the client screen. Calling an extension simultaneously rang smartphone and softphone. Sliding a missed call notification on iOS initiated a return call that went back through the 3CX PBX to a neighboring smartphone, etc.

In one test, we emulated a frustrated worker by clicking on many of the users in the system at once and initiating chats, calls and conferences. We soon received an error message saying the number of licenses ran out. To solve the problem, we just had to hang up the lines. Basically, the system performed as expected.

Quality

In our testing, we were happy with the voice quality and the system met our expectations. We tested via our corporate network throughout numerous days and noticed no discernable issues. Chatting also worked as expected.

Differentiation

The company gives users the power of a traditional hardware-based phone system in a low-cost or no cost software-downloadable option. Here are the official prices:

Standard Edition

Pro Edition

Product Edition

Sim Calls

USD

USD

3CX Phone System 4 SC

4

$495

$670

3CX Phone System 8 SC

8

$895

$1,210

3CX Phone System 16 SC

16

$1,395

$1,885

3CX Phone System 32 SC

32

$2,500

$3,375

3CX Phone System 64 SC

64

$4,995

$6,745

3CX Phone System 128 SC

128

$8,750

$11,815

3CX Phone System 256 SC

256

$14,995

$20,245

3CX Phone System 512 SC

512

$24,995

$33,740

3CX Phone System 1024 SC

1024

$43,750

$59,065

Support

Our call to support was necessary because we couldn’t get the client to work on one of our PCs. It turns out the latest version of AVG AntiVirus created a conflict and kept the service from working properly. The issue was solved quickly by the company and resolved quickly on our end simply by disabling AVG.

Room for Improvement

We’d like to see a system that alerts the administrator that an account has been locked. Moreover, we disabled AVG when testing the system; in a perfect world, we would like to see the systems coexist. There are of course many antivirus products out there, but if you have already invested in AVG, you might want to be sure this is worked out.

On the bright side, you can always try before you buy simply through downloading the system for yourself and testing to see if there are any compatibility issues. This isn’t as easily achieved when installing a hardware-based phone system, as you need to install the hardware first.

One final nit, it may make sense to have an initial screen informing the user of a web browser that his or her IP address has been blocked. There may be security reasons that keep the company from doing this, but it could frustrate new users.

Bottom Line

3CX Phone System worked as promised. It has a clean UI for users as well as administrators, and the softphone client apps worked very well, allowing users to communicate from anywhere and seem like they are in the office. Having access to an easy-to-use 64-line phone system that has the necessary features and already supports WebRTC for less than $7,000 makes this product, in its various phone line configurations, a solid buy.




Edited by Maurice Nagle
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