How to Buy a New Office Telephone System: Provider Information


This is the fifth installment of our series, “How to Buy a New Office Telephone System.”

In our last blog, we explored the large number of business phones available today. 

This installment in our series delves into the connection of your PBX to the outside world. With your present system, you are likely connected via dedicated voice circuits (otherwise known as lines) provided by one of your local phone companies.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, the leading providers of legacy voice circuits are AT&T, TelePacific, and XO Communications.

Legacy Voice Circuits

There are two types of legacy service.  The first is analog, where each circuit is a pair of copper wires from the carrier’s central office to your location.  If you have ten lines, it requires 10 pairs of copper wires.  Analog is the oldest telephone connection, first available in 1876.  The more common legacy circuit is a PRI, which is a digital line that supports up to 23 simultaneous phone calls.  There is a third newer option where providers use an Internet circuit to deliver service but then convert it to analog or PRI at your facility.  This is typically called a dynamic voice and data circuit.

It is important to determine the type and quantity of lines that you are using now so your new communications solution is configured correctly.  And if you plan to move away from legacy service, it’s still necessary to know the maximum number of simultaneous calls you can make and receive on your telephone system.  Likely, you’ll configure your new business communications solution to support that same number of simultaneous calls.  This information can typically be gleaned from your phone bill.   Another way to calculate your needs is to ask your receptionist – that person will know the number of calls at peak calling periods.

In addition of your voice lines, you’ll need to inventory the analog lines that you have for such devices as fax, burglar alarm, fire alarm, POS, etc.  You can likely get rid of all of these dedicated lines and convert to Internet-based solutions.

Lastly, you need to determine whether you are under any contract for services.  If you have a substantial period of time left on your carrier services contract, it may mean that you’ll have to stay with a premises-based PBX and continue to use analog lines or the PRI circuit until the contract expires.   Either that or face early termination fees on the existing circuit, which typically is calculated as the number of months remaining multiplied by the monthly cost.   It’s a big chunk of money.  Obviously this is something you need to know up front.  

Modern Alternatives to Legacy Voice Circuits

When buying a new business communications solution without any contracts in place, you will have more options as to the type of circuit you can use.   In addition to legacy analog or PRI circuits, you can explore SIP trunking.  SIP trunking is a direct replacement for the old circuits.  And SIP trunking is considerably less money on a monthly basis as it works on your Internet circuit. Lastly, it provides features that are not available on the old services.

If you choose a virtual PBX, you don’t need a dedicated voice circuit as the service works over your data connection.

Other Communications Services     

It’s time to cast the net a bit wider and explore other areas of communications services in your organization.  Are you paying for audio conferencing services?  Video conferencing?   Are you using any collaboration services such as webinars, screen sharing and chat services?

If so, you should look at the costs of these services.  Or they might be free, but do they serve your needs?    It’s quite possible that your new business communications solution could include these services.  It has the potential to save money and maybe even more importantly, integrate these various communications tools under one roof.  

Your Internet Circuit  

“Man, a new communications solution has a lot of components these days”, you might be thinking.  And you are absolutely right.  What used to be PBX that simply made and received phone calls has turned in to a unified communications platform.  Communications today includes voice, voice mail, conferencing, collaboration, video, chat, mobile phones, remote users and more.    This has come about as voice has now become a service on our data networks.   Thus, your data network is an integral part of the total solution.

Telephones and PBXes are now devices that interconnect with your data network just like computers, printers and cloud services.  And telephones and communications services use Internet bandwidth and require high quality data connections.  So, your quest for a new communications solution now includes consideration of your data network.  Is it up to the task?  Will you need more bandwidth or better quality service?  If you run your phones and computers on the same connection, you are risking a single point of failure for both voice and data.

The answers to these questions are different for smaller business compared to larger organizations.  There are certainly budget concerns.  And you need to consider the additional data network demands of moving other services to the cloud.  It quickly becomes evident that greater bandwidth and more reliable Internet connections become a necessity.  And likely, you’ll want to consider more than one circuit so that you don’t risk having a catastrophic outage when your only Internet connection fails.

Okay, let’s lighten this conversation up a bit. All of that sounds like it will cost lots of money.  Not necessarily.   First, you should be saving considerable money by moving away from legacy services.  Second, Internet providers are all racing to provide more bandwidth for less money.   Whether it be your local cable company or old phone company, they are spending billions on fiber and equipment to deliver ever larger amounts of bandwidth.

So, in the end, the new phone system demands a better network. So do cloud services.  It’s likely that it will be the perfect time to chuck your old legacy data services and implement a cloud and VoiP-ready data network.  You may be surprised what you can do when you move into this new world of voice and data consolidation.

We’ll discuss data networks in more detail in our next blog.

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