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June 16, 2010

Hosted PBX Review: Time to Take the Leap?

In this global economy of moving services and software to the "cloud" there is more and more talk of solutions that do not have to be installed or managed on premise. Interestingly, this idea was offered through hosted solutions before anyone started talking about a cloud.

Companies today are utilizing hosted IP PBX (News - Alert) services for virtual environments, highly mobile employees or when partners, branches and colleagues are geographically distributed. Provided by companies such as Telinta, hosted PBX solutions work over a high-speed Internet connection with either IP phones in office environments or softphones on personal computers or smartphones for mobile or teleworkers.

Such hosted solutions are gaining more attention as they deliver features that traditionally were reserved only for large enterprises, including automated attendant, dial by name, integrated voicemail, voicemail as e-mail, hunt groups, conference bridges and more. Hosted PBXs offer these features at prices that fit even into the SMB budget.

VoIP Planet recently tested a hosted PBX solution using Junction Networks' (News - Alert) OnSIP and the Brio 3.0 audio/video softphone from CounterPath. This particular PBX linked three - or sometimes four - members of VoIP Planet's highly distributed team. Two of the members are in the eastern U.S., one on the west coast and one alternating between Spain and Canada. 

This test returned an excellent call quality experience for those involved, even when the call was conducted over standard home cable and DSL Internet connections. Users even reported that when they used the super-wideband HD codec, it was at times the best quality ever heard on any VoIP service.

While this call quality was reportedly exceptional, reviewers did note that OnSIP and Bria are not the easiest of systems to set up and use. As full-featured products, the complexity involved can be extensive. At the same time, the reviewers felt both companies did not take the human factor into consideration as much as they should have to produce a completely user-friendly solution.

For instance, an administrative user of OnSIP has to remember three different logins and passwords to access all features and settings. To record a call with the Bria, one must click a tiny down arrow beside the call button to access a drop-down menu of call options. The record-call option does not appear unless the user is actually on a call. The same is true if you want to merge two calls.

The thing to remember with this hosted PBX solution is that there is always a learning curve with new technology. Yes, these solutions are more complicated, but that doesn't mean they aren't worth consideration. The true question to ask is whether or not the solution can easily be learned and what benefits your organization can enjoy as a result of its implementation.

These products do come at a price, of course, but you can pay for only what you need and not a whole solution full of options you can't afford. Hosted PBX is designed to appeal to those who want to achieve excellence in communication without breaking their budget.

Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMCnet and has also written for eastbiz.com. To read more of Susan's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Juliana Kenny

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