The future is now Featured

8:00pm EDT September 21, 2006
PBX (private branch exchange) systems can now connect via Internet protocol. They are called, logically, IP PBX systems, and they are more convenient and less expensive in the long run than traditional systems.

A PBX connects telephone trunk lines with individual user lines and other equipment. It funnels and then distributes all incoming and outgoing calls, allowing a company to have fewer outside lines than extensions.

“The IP PBX system is more flexible than a traditional PBX,” says Jonathan Curry, vice president of sales and marketing for Curry IP Systems Inc. “Your desk phone can be plugged in anywhere there’s a high-speed connection, and people can connect to you by simply dialing your extension.”

Smart Business talked with Curry IP about the advantages to an IP PBX system and some of the disadvantages.

What are some of the differences between a traditional PBX system and an IP PBX?
Physically, they are very similar. With both, you have one main server that’s connected to all the phone jacks in your office. The only thing that sits on your desk is the extension phone.

A traditional analog system connects directly to the PSTN (Public Service Telephone Network) while the IP PBX is digital and more flexible because its main connection is to the ‘Internet cloud.’ In an analog set-up, the server always has to be directly connected to the extensions by a telephone line. With an IP system, your phones can be plugged in anywhere there’s a high-speed Internet jack — meaning that if you are across the office or across the country, you are always in touch.

The biggest advantage, though, is that an IP PBX makes the rest of your phones mobile. It’s great for satellite offices. And sales people who go out of town can take their desk phones with them and just plug into any high-speed Internet connection. This can provide companies with cost-cutting solutions, because they don’t need to pay for huge cell-phone bills.

IP PBX is also a more robust system. If a larger corporation wants to be interconnected, an employee can pick up his phone, hit a three-digit number and be connected across country — for free, just like it was an internal call, even if you’re overseas. So if you’re making a lot of long-distance calls, the monthly operating costs are much less expensive than if you use a traditional PBX system.

What about disadvantages?
One of the biggest concerns among corporate executives is reliability, because IP is such a new technology. In those cases, we’re able to give references or let customers try the equipment, and that usually helps put their mind at ease.

The upfront cost is another concern. It’s not an inexpensive thing to upgrade to, but inexpensive adapters can help ease into the digital service while retaining the analog phone system. This allows a company to upgrade one piece at a time.

Quality? The only time that people complain about quality is when their high-speed Internet connection is poor. But most companies are located in urban areas where quality is micromanaged, so it is often not a big factor.

The system itself is very dependable; in many cases, we have found it better than what companies are currently using. But like everything else in the VoIP world, the Internet and VoIP service providers are what make the difference.

What features are available with IP PBX systems?
All the features of the newer traditional PBX systems — call forwarding, call waiting, caller identification and more — are available in IP PBX systems. Just about anything you want, including conference calls.

In some instances, IP systems are even better than a traditional analog system. For example, I have centralized my voicemail and e-mail through the same program, Microsoft Outlook. It is set it up so that copies of my voicemail messages are sent to my e-mail. If I get a voicemail, I can forward the message to one person — or to a group — via e-mail and even add text to the message.

What’s next in IP telephony’s future?
The next big thing might be using voice-over-Internet in a wireless (wi-fi) environment. Google Wi-Fi was launched last month in Mountain View, Calif. There are citywide networks like that all over the country. In Mountain View, where Google’s headquarters is located, it’s a $1 million network and the antennas installed on light poles cost about $13,000 a year.

The technology is there to have a big umbrella over the entire city of Pittsburgh. In fact, just recently a company was contracted to provide that type of service here.

JONATHAN CURRY is vice president of sales and marketing for Curry IP Systems Inc. Reach him at (412) 307-3600 x14 or