Choosing a business phone system in 2023

Kelly McGrain
Kelly McGrain

As a small or medium-sized business owner, you know how important it is to stay connected with customers and partners. A reliable business phone system is a crucial tool for managing calls, scheduling appointments, and handling inquiries. But with so many options on the market, it can be challenging to find an affordable business phone system that also meets your needs.

In this short article, we’ll look at the different types of phone systems available today, and which types of businesses those phone systems work best for.

As a small or medium-sized business, the four main phone systems you’re most likely to be choosing between for all your business calls and texts are:

  • Landline
  • VoiP
  • Virtual
  • Combination

While there is different technology that we’ll touch on powering these three systems (and even more variation among the technology in each bucket), those are the general buckets small and medium sized businesses will need to consider.

Traditional landline systems

You may recognize these phones from doctors offices, or at work yourself. These are the most traditional systems, usually supported by local, regional, or national phone companies. When talking about the technology, you may see them referred to as public switched telephone networks (PSTNs), which use what’s called an analog system that runs via the telephone companies copper wiring.

In order to use PSTNs, you need private branch exchange (PBX) hardware in order to use the landline service. This hardware (think an office phone) can create many of the features you’d expect, like extensions, call transferring, and call directories. Many phone system providers are phasing out landline systems, which also means hardware devices are older and newer technology will most likely not be supported.

Pros:

  • A very reliable solution

Cons:

  • Expensive: for the most part, one of the more expensive options
  • Hardware costs: with most providers moving away from this technology, it will be difficult and expensive to purchase and repair hardware
  • Outdated: modern technology will not work with the old software or hardware leaving you behind your competitors
  • Stuck to a desk: while some offer mobile forwarding, some do not and some are very hard to configure leaving many leads dropped on the floor

VoIP phone systems

A Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system uses the internet to make and receive calls, which can be a more cost-effective solution than a traditional landline. VoIP systems often come with a range of advanced features, such as virtual numbers, call routing, and transcribed voicemails, at a fraction of the cost of a traditional phone system. They also allow computers and tablets to essentially be turned into phones where you can make and receive business calls and texts, among other things.

There are two types of VoIP setups, on-premise, something most small businesses will not be considering that consists of hosting your own hardware onsite, and cloud-based VoIP systems, where there is no hardware or maintenance to worry about (other than the phones or computers you already own). There are very few small and medium sized businesses that will require on-premise VoIP systems, so for brevity, we’ll look at cloud-based systems when comparing the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive: generally one of the cheaper options
  • Easy to configure: you can configure many of these systems from your computer or phone

Cons:

  • No control: if the internet goes down, so does your service until the provider fixes it
  • Poor sound quality in low connectivity: you may be in places with lower connectivity which can impact the sound quality or interrupt the call all together
  • Missed opportunities: when you have 0 internet connectivity (either through wifi or phone data) you may miss out on leads or opportunities

Virtual phone system

Virtual phone systems connects those who call a main business number to employees on their mobile or home phones. Some of these systems can also ring “a landline” along with other mobile phones, making it an ideal option for teams who are not tethered to a desk. These systems essentially leverage the phone’s network in order to connect individuals. They often have features such as automated receptionist, voicemails, call screening, and more.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive: this is generally one of the cheaper options (baring phone bill add ons)
  • Mobility: allows a business to operate with remote workers or from multiple locations
  • Professional: many of these systems allow employees to make calls and send texts from the businesses number, keeping business records with the business

Cons:

  • Added expense: because the system is leveraging your phone’s network, depending on your carrier there may be extra charges
  • Unusual calling experience: due to how calls are routed, when you go to make a call say from your personal cell phone using the company number, there may be odd experiences, like you having to pick up an incoming call to make a call, or calling from what looks like another phone number than the business number you want to call from

Combination

Combination is not really a different type of phone system, rather it takes from the best of VoIP and virtual phone system to combine into one technology for high quality and consistency while still maintaining a lower price point.

Like VoIP, this technology uses internet connection to make calls. However, when it detects that the signal is low, it moves the call to process on your mobile or landline phone’s network allowing for high call quality and dependability so calls and texts rarely get dropped. And these systems have all the same bells and whistles VoIP and virtual phone systems have, like call routing, extensions, transcribed voicemails, and more.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive: this is generally one of the cheapest options out there
  • Mobility: allows a business to operate with remove workers, or from multiple locations
  • Professional: many of these systems allow employees to make calls and send texts from the businesses number, keeping business records with the business
  • Easy to configure: you can configure many of these systems from your computer or phone

When shopping for an affordable business phone system, it's also a good idea to consider the long-term costs. Some systems may have low upfront costs but charge more for additional features, users, or lines. Be sure to compare the total cost of ownership for different systems to ensure you're getting the best value for your money.

Here at CloudLine, we use combination, which means we can offer affordable plans with high call quality and consistency. Our system also works great for remote or mobile teams, as anyone can install the app and make and receive calls and texts from the business number, from anywhere, helping your business look more professional, keeping customer communication records with the company, and helping your employees keep their personal numbers private. We are also one of the only providers that does not charge per user, so adding employees doesn’t get more expensive for your small business.

That being said, there are many great providers out there, and finding an affordable business phone system doesn't have to be a challenge. Here are our top picks for small and medium sized businesses looking to start, grow, or just upgrade their business phone systems in 2023. With today’s technology, saving money might actually mean an upgrade in functionality for both you, and your customers!