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An IP PBX is a private branch exchange (telephone switching system within an enterprise) that switches calls between VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol or IP) users on local lines while allowing all users to share a certain number of external phone lines. The typical IP PBX can also switch calls between a VoIP user and a traditional telephone user, or between two traditional telephone users in the same way that a conventional PBX does. The abbreviation may appear in various texts as IP-PBX, IP/PBX, or IPPBX.
With a conventional PBX, separate networks are necessary for voice and data communications. One of the main advantages of an IP PBX is the fact that it employs converged data and voice networks. This means that Internet access, as well as VoIP communications and traditional telephone communications, are all possible using a single line to each user. This provides flexibility as an enterprise grows, and can also reduce long-term operation and maintenance costs. Like a traditional PBX, an IP PBX is owned by the enterprise.
Private Branch Exchange (PBX)
A PBX (private branch exchange) is a telephone system within an enterprise that switches calls between enterprise users on local lines while allowing all users to share a certain number of external phone lines. The main purpose of a PBX is to save the cost of requiring a line for each user to the telephone company’s central office.
The PBX is owned and operated by the enterprise rather than the telephone company (which may be a supplier or service provider, however). Private branch exchanges used analog technology originally. Today, PBXs use digital technology (digital signals are converted to analog for outside calls on the local loop using plain old telephone service (POTS ).
A PBX includes:
- Telephone trunk (multiple phone) lines that terminate at the PBX
- A computer with memory that manages the switching of the calls within the PBX and in and out of it
- The network of lines within the PBX
- A console or switchboard for a human operator (optional)
In some situations, alternatives to a PBX include centrex service (in which a pool of lines are rented at the phone company’s central office), key telephone systems, and, for very small enterprises, primary rate Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN).
Key IP PBX Features
If you’re looking for a PBX, here are some of the features you should be sure are included:
- VoIP Ready: The world is moving away from legacy PSTN lines and towards VoIP. Make sure your PBX can support IP stations (phones) and IP trunks (service). SIP is the current de facto standard, so don’t buy a phone system that doesn’t support it.
- Voice Messaging: Once upon a time, voicemail was an optional add-on. Today, it’s table stakes. Look for PBXs that can forward voicemail messages to your email as attachments. If possible, look for IP phones that support visual voicemail.
- Mobility: Most businesses have at least some road warriors who spend much of their time out of the office. Make sure your PBX supports mobility features like Find Me / Follow Me, remote IP extensions and fixed / mobile convergence.
- Conferencing: One of the best ways to cut down on travel costs is teleconferencing. Make sure your phone system has native support for true multi-party conferences (not just basic three-way calling).
- Reporting: If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Make sure that the PBX you pick includes basic call history reporting features.
IP PBX Advantages
- It uses your LAN- An IP-PBX business phone system will reside on your network using your existing LAN. The PBX server is only a short distance away, so signaling distance and time (latency) is very short and does not depend on traveling over the Internet and other networks.
- Lower operational costs over time– In addition to taking advantage of lower cost VoIP routing, purchasing your own IP-PBX lowers costs over time. When using hosted VoIP the initial costs are most likely lower, but monthly subscription costs are ongoing and higher over time when compared to an IP-PBX. An business owned IP-PBX will usually result in lower averaged monthly operating costs especially for systems with a higher number of users.
- Easier to configure and install than proprietary phone systems- Proprietary phone systems can be cumbersome and difficult to navigate around their software to configure and install. An IP-PBX system will be much more familiar to computer savvy people, especially someone who has experience with networks. This can be especially true for Asterisk based systems that have a front-end GUI such as FreePBX.
- Simpler Management- The GUI of an IP-PBX will be much more user friendly than traditional PBXs. This allows for easier changes and additions.
- Easy to move phones- Because phones are IP based, they are like PCs, move them from one connection to another and they find home and connect right back up to the PBX server. No longer are the days when a simple phone move needs to have cross connects changed and a phone technician making a billable service call.
- Unified Messaging– Having the ability of receiving and listening to your your messages from your Outlook inbox, along with PDFs of faxes increases communication and productivity. Integration with work applications, such a CRM packages can help business perfrormance.
- Branch offices– can be added to an existing system and connected through an Internet connection. (Again lower cost, with the IP-phones being the major cost of the hardware needed.)
- Remote Extensions– employees can plug in a compatible IP- Phone at home to their Internet connection and be extension dialing.
- Cost savings by connecting to VoIP providers via SIP trunking- Using SIP trunking with an in house IP-PBX can connect to lower cost VoIP providers; reducing phone bills, especially long distance and International calls.
- More choices- Major companies that have built PBXs are now focused on IP connectivity, but even better are all the upstart companies that are building Asterisk IP-PBXs with lower prices and vendor neutral hardware.
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