PBX vs. VoIP

To be honest, you can’t really compare a PBX – a private branch exchange – against VoIP directly. What you are really evaluating is the merits of what might be described as ‘traditional’ analogue telephony services against the new digital technology of Voice over IP.

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What is PBX and how does it work?

A PBX is basically a switch box through which all calls can be routed. When only analogue services were available, all businesses that had several employees and needed to pick up calls coming into a central number and transfer them to different individuals or departments would have needed a PBX.

The PBX would also come with additional features, such as voice messaging, conference calling, hunt groups and so on. With VoIP, all of this is done in software. You may well have heard the term ‘soft PBX’ and if you do want to have someone fielding calls centrally and transferring calls to the appropriate individual or team, you will need to use that particular function of the VoIP service.

But all the capabilities of hosted VoIP systems are all driven and controlled by software. Everything happens in the cloud, so there is no need for that physical presence of the PBX in the reception area anymore – or a switchboard console on a receptionist’s desk.

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PBX vs VoIP – which is better?

With VoIP, everything is software-driven. A PBX is a physical – or at least an electronic – switching device, so you can’t really say that one of the other is better as they are entirely different technologies.

The fact is VoIP is the future of telephony. When you adopt a digital voice service, all the functionality that a PBX would have given you on an analogue system, will be done in software. Instead of a complicated-looking switchboard on their desk, the operator would have a console page on their computer screen, through which they could pick-up and re-direct calls.

This does not necessarily mean that your old PBX (if you have one) is destined for the local recycling centre right away. If you do have one, you may still be able to make use of it. Some VoIP services are backwards-compatible with PBX systems, so you can integrate it with your VoIP service using SIP trunking. This technology enables analogue lines to be connected to digital VoIP lines, so individuals call each other, even though they are using different telephony technologies.

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Key comparisons of PBX vs VoIP

What we are really comparing here is analogue and digital systems. The benefits of VoIP are quite well understood today. VoIP offers increased flexibility and mobility, making it easy for people to move around and still take advantage of the telephony services, and be available on their usual number – or via the ‘soft’ PBX. People can use dedicated VoIP handsets or connect via their laptops (possibly using a headset), or even their smartphones.

All this is ideal for organisations that have people working from home. That’s something we‘ve all got used to during the Coronavirus pandemic and it is clearly here to stay as a normal working practice. When you think about this, VoIP would seem to be an essential part of the set-up for any dynamic, responsive business today.

VoIP also gives the whole organisation more flexibility. If it should be necessary, relocating a whole set-up would simply be a matter of plugging devices into a different online connection and logging-in. VoIP can thus become an integral and essential part of any business contingency and disaster recovery plan.

You can scale-up and scale-down operations quite easily with VoIP. This is great for businesses that do project work or need to bring temporary workers in to deal with peaks and troughs of demand. Users can be added or removed from the VoIP directory within hours.

VoIP also you more control and data you can use to improve efficiency and drive improved customer service. Call patterns and activity can be tracked and reported on, so you can see how much time is being spent on different projects or clients and allocate cost more accurately. You may even be able to integrate your VoIP system with your CRM software.

An almost unlimited range of features are available with VoIP services. As it is all software-based, these can be just turned on and off as required. You don’t have to have them built-into the PBX from the start or pay for an upgrade. You will of course, pay more for a VoIP service if you add more features to it.

VoIP is also cost-efficient and easy to manage. Services come with a number of standard features and you can add others at any time. You will usually pay on a per-user, per-month basis, with some calls – to UK landlines and perhaps mobile as well, included as part of the deal. There will also be packages that allow you to make lower-cost international calls. For a business that is calling certain countries regularly, this can save a lot of money.

A PBX system would have to have all these features built-in from the start. Or available as an upgrade. It can’t compare in terms of flexibility, mobility, and scalability. In terms of call management, reporting and the overall package, a PBX system does not really bear comparison with VoIP either.

The fact is VoIP is the future of telephony now. You may still be able use your PBX alongside a new digital voice service, but the chances are that, in the not too distant future, you’ll switch over entirely to VoIP.

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Who offers VoIP services

There are plenty of choices when it comes to VoIP services. Established and respected suppliers, such as Gamma and Vonage, provide an excellent range of options and specialist services for business. BT also offers VoIP services designed for both larger and smaller organisations. There are many more options as well. Our advice is to make sure you think carefully in advance about your current and future needs before you go out and start looking at the options.

Key considerations with VoIP services are quality and reliability. If you previously had a PBX, you would probably never have questioned the quality of the line as, most of the time, it would be excellent. It’s the same with VoIP, but if you want to be sure of getting a great service, it’s a good ideal to pick a supplier with a good reputation and track record.

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