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The advantages of a hosted PBX: the key benefit (besides cost savings) is that the service can send calls virtually anywhere.

While mobile phones, PDAs and landlines allow workers to stay connected with the office, often they cannot synchronize those devices with one preset number that works through the company's PBX system. This means that callers need to try various numbers to reach a person or that they must leave a voice mail and hope that the recipient returns the call in a timely manner.

Many companies use a traditional on-site PBX, but when mobile professionals need to be connected, setting up a system to handle remote offices and mobile workers can be complex and costly. Most PBX hardware only sends calls to phones that are physically wired to the PBX inside the same building.


One alternative is a hosted PBX system that delivers the functionality a traditional of on-site PBX but as a service. The subscriber does not buy the equipment and can use regular phones. Other than the cost savings, the key benefit a hosted PBX is that it can make the office of virtual by sending calls almost anywhere, enabling employees to work without constraints.

Employees can receive calls through the company's main business number whether they are working in the office, at home or on the road. The "follow me" feature allows calls to try several different numbers for each employee.

When a call comes into the sales department, for example, how is the call routed? Will the caller be forced to leave a voice mail if the first person the call is sent to is on the phone or out of the office, or will the call be routed to another representative?

An automatic call distribution (ACD) queue is a standard part of many sales organizations and call centers. ACD queues know, for example, which employees are working, which are already taking a call and which are on a break or out for the day. Calls are then routed immediately to an available agent instead of making the caller wait while different numbers are tried. If all agents are already busy, the caller can be given the option to wait for the next available agent.

In many hosted PBX environments, sales members can log themselves in and out of the ACD queue or have calls routed to mobile phones. Sales managers can choose how they want to route calls, whether based on skill level or on which sales person has been idle the longest amount of time. Policies can be set to identify who is calling and to route those calls to the appropriate sales representative, allowing the representative to know who is calling in advance.

Communications professionals often spend a lot of time maintaining and upgrading premise-based PBXs, or in managing the PBX vendor who provides the service and support. Expanding and upgrading the system also can be challenging.

A hosted PBX reduces upgrade costs and complexity, as the hosting company houses the equipment and is in charge of updating and expanding the technology to meet the needs of its subscriber base. In addition, hosted PBX systems can usually scale to any size. The service provider typically has many thousands of extensions spread across its client base, so adding an additional extension for your company does not tax the provider's bandwidth.

Another important consideration is possible downtime. If the power goes out, the traditional, hardware-based PBX system goes down. Because a hosted PBX service is always hosted at an off-site location, an outage at the customer site usually does not affect the phone service provider. Calls can still be taken on cell phones or at alternate locations using the follow-me/forwarding feature.

Sometimes a hosted PBX service can be used solely as a backup for existing hardware PBXs. Using a hosted PBX service in this way is usually less expensive than using it full time, and it is almost always cheaper than buying another piece of hardware to put on a shelf in case of an emergency.

When considering a hosted PBX, check that the technology allows for full-featured reporting. With some hosted PBX services, sales managers can print out phone logs for each sales representative to evaluate effective use of the team, or see graphical representations of call traffic through the day to know how best to staff for increased call traffic. Many services offer Web-based voice mail retrieval and control settings, allowing for access from anywhere.

There are two main types of hosted PBX technology available today, the standard hosted PBX and the hosted IP PBX. The standard hosted PBX normally accepts calls from and sends calls to any type of phone, anywhere. Usually, these systems involve some kind of per-minute fee for calls to cover the costs from the underlying phone carriers.

Hosted IP PBX services typically use voice over IP (VoIP) to send calls over the Internet to subscribers. This requires using only VoIP phones sold by the service provider and calls generally cannot go to cell phones or landlines. The tradeoff is that these services typically charge only a monthly flat rate for all calls, allowing better budgeting and control for companies with widely varying call traffic.

Call quality is also a consideration with hosted PBX services. Standard hosted PBX call quality will depend on the transmission medium. The highest quality phone calls come when the service sends calls across standard phone lines. Cell phones and VoIP phones will likely reduce call quality but give benefits in flexibility and/or cost.

Hosted IP PBX systems rely on Internet telephony and have the associated questions about reliability and quality. These can be improved by selecting the most suitable vendor and making sure the adopting company's own IP infrastructure is appropriate.

For more information:

Greg Brashier is vice president of marketing for Virtual PBX, San Jose. Calif.
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Title Annotation:Voice Networks
Author:Brashier, Greg
Publication:Communications News
Date:May 1, 2008
Previous Article:Managing voice matters.
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