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August 12, 2008

Defining the Capabilities of PBX Systems

By Michelle Robart, TMCnet Editor

Source: VoIP-News.com
Private Branch Exchange (PBX (News - Alert)) and Internet Protocol-Private Branch Exchange (IP-PBX) can change the way a company communicates. Below are just some of the ways a company can benefit from a PBX system, and things to know before committing to a PBX solution.
Q: What is a Private Branch Exchange (PBX)?
A: A PBX (private branch exchange) is the switching system that manages calls between internal users. It also shares a number of lines that connect to the external, public phone system and parcels them out as needed to the internal users. In addition, PBX systems have other features that allow them to take incoming calls, send them to the correct extensions, connect calls to answering services, etc. At its core, a typical PBX consists of a set of external phone lines, a computer server system that manages call switching, a set of internal phone lines and some form of console for manual control. For more information, go to Phone Systems For Dummies.

For most businesses, these capabilities are non-negotiable and taken for granted. What’s more interesting is the set of business features that now come with PBXs such as voicemail, conference calling, call routing.

Q: What is a key system?

A: Key systems are most often seen in small offices that require only a few extensions. Traditionally, key systems did not allow callers to share the lines that connect to the public phone network, unlike a PBX. This being said, the distinction between the two has blurred in recent years and is not all that meaningful.

Q: How can you tell the difference between a key system and a PBX?

A: The distinction between key systems and PBXs is becoming less clear. Historically, you could distinguish between the two with a simple test: with a PBX, you must dial a number like 9 or 0 before dialing an external number; with a key system, that’s not necessary – you just dial direct.

Q: What does the advent of VoIP mean for phone systems?

A: VoIP or IP telephony systems perform all the switching and connecting of VoIP calls. In many cases they do the same for regular telephone calls (in systems that can handle both kinds of phone system). These modern day phone systems are also highly programmable and can perform advanced functions including voice menu systems, automatic call conferencing, click-to-call (click on a contact record on a PC screen to initiate a voice call), call logging and tracking and much more. Using an IP-PBX system and VoIP telephone service allows an organization to combine (or converge) voice and data networks into a single system for cost-savings, simpler management and greater functionality.

Q: Who makes phone systems?

A: Some of the largest phone system vendors include:

Alcatel, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, Nortel (News - Alert), Shortel, and Siemens.

There are also a number of upstart vendors who have emerged in recent years to offer reasonably priced, feature rich systems. These include companies like:

Aptela, Dialexia, Digum, Fonality (News - Alert), Pingtel, Talkswitch, and Whaleback.
Q: What is an internal telephone switchboard (IP PBX) and why are so many companies now relying on them?
A: Today, many companies use internal telephone switchboards, known as IP PBX systems, a development on Private Branch eXchange (PBX) which now incorporates both IP technology and VoIP networks.
Q: How has the integration of the IP interface greatly expanded the functionality of PBX systems?
A: Today, PBX technology is taking on a whole new realm- the Internet world. Instead of routing calls through old circuits, modern PBX solutions use the Internet protocol to exchange information. Instead of being restricted to the office, users are now able to work from virtually every corner of the globe, and still experience the full variety of their network's PBX features.
Q: Why is the automated attendant the most critical feature to any PBX system?
A: The automated attendant serves as a virtual receptionist directing calls to the different departments, voice mailboxes and extensions on your PBX network. A well programmed automated attendant gives a business the power to manage a high volume of calls without a high volume of personnel dedicated to answering phones.
Q: Why it is so important for every efficient PBX system to automatically forward calls to various destinations within the PBX network?
A: If a user can't get to his or her phone, the system should forward calls to their co-worker, supervisor, voice mailbox or any other destination based upon the most efficient solution for a company. Too often, companies fail to consider other call forwarding options beyond voicemail, and thus, lose company efficiency, employee and consumer satisfaction, and may ultimately lose business as a result.
PBX systems that lack the capacity to forward calls to the correct destination in a timely manner can cripple a company's incoming communications. So make sure to compare forwarding capabilities before purchasing a PBX system.
Q: Why is conference calling one of the more powerful features of PBX?
A: Instead of exchanging a series of e-mails with co-workers to debate an important topic, conference calling enables communication with a large number of people in real time over the phone.

Michelle Robart is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Michelle's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Michelle Robart is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Michelle's articles, please visit her columnist page.

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