Before you can maintain, upgrade, or replace your phone system, you need to find it. If you are in charge of the phones in your office, take a field trip to get to know your phone system. Or talk to the hardware vendor that takes care of your phone system and find out where the system lives.
Phone systems are
Tip If nobody has any clue where your phone system is stashed, you need to follow the cabling from your phone to the point where it meets up with all the other phone lines and becomes an indistinguishable mass of wires. That mass ties into a large panel or a large plastic or metal box with pretty green and yellow lights flashing on it. When you see this, you have probably arrived at your phone closet.
Phone rooms are frequently locked to prevent corporate espionage or someone from backing up into the wiring blocks with a wrench, taking out ten people’s lines in the process. If your company does lock the phone closet, make sure you know where the key is so that you won’t be
Before you can do much, you need to determine the type of phone system you have. Fortunately for all of us, there are only a handful of types of phone systems. Each type is easy to identify by its features and requirements. The following sections give you the lowdown on the pros and cons of each type.
The bottom end of the food chain is to not have a phone system at all. Small businesses that only have one or two lines, but no central room that pulls all the phone lines into a control box of any kind, have no phone system. If you follow your phone lines across the wall, eventually they pass through the wall to a gray or brown metal box outside the building, and then off to a telephone pole.
If you have no system, the phone on your desk, whether it’s a single-line phone or a
The greatest thing about not having a phone system is that if
If you decide to upgrade at any time, you don’t have to worry about the limitations of your existing system or the money you have already invested in it, because you don’t have an existing system and have made no investment. It is
If you lack a phone system, you either have to rely on an answering machine to take your messages or sign up for a voicemail service provided by your local carrier. If your business is more of a hobby, or has a Bohemian twist to it, that may be fine, but you need to have a voicemail service of some
If you’re reading this book,
If you don’t have a phone system and you don’t want to pay to buy and maintain one, you do have an option. Most local
The local carrier offers Centrex (or Centranet) lines that enable the features of a phone system without all the hassle of having one. You probably have to dial 9 for an outside line, you can have voicemail, conference calling up to two calls, and a whole list of other features that you may never need or want. If you are
You don’t have to buy any additional hardware and you can pick and choose the features you want and will use. These services also prevent you from having to buy and maintain hardware. Local carriers usually start businesses out with at least three phone lines, and reserve four or five more lines so that you can quickly add new numbers if you decide you need more. If your main line ends in -3450, and you have -3451, -3452 and -3453, you will probably have -3454, -3455, and -3456 waiting in the wings for you to activate when you need them. Because the
As your company grows, you will need more services. Eventually, you will want the hardware in your building so that you can repair and modify the system yourself. Paying your local carrier for the services every month will eventually be more expensive than buying a phone system and providing them yourself. Installing a phone system allows you to select as many features as you like and only pay for them once.
If you don’t believe that you will ever have more than 15 employees, and you really hate to deal with phone systems, stick with Centrex or Centranet service. If your business
If you have a key system, you have a phone closet with a metal or plastic box in it that all the phone lines in your office connect into. One feature that identifies a key system is that you don’t need to dial 9 for an outside line. Some larger non-key systems dial the 9 for you with a feature called assumed dial 9, but the key system is the only one that doesn’t require it at all.
Although key systems may have features like voicemail and conference calling, they’re still
Tip If you’re buying your first phone system or replacing an existing phone system, your hardware vendor can help reduce costs. The technology won’t be cutting edge, but then again, you may not need a system that can scale up to 672 phone lines. If you don’t foresee that you will ever grow to need more than 48 lines, your hardware vendor may have a used or refurbished system that works just fine for you. Before you buy a used or refurbished system, you need to ensure the following:
The hardware vendor can and will maintain the system.
You can still easily purchase
The expansion cards or the phones that connect into it (yes, you may have to buy new phones) don’t cost so much that buying new phones is cheaper.
Along the same line, if you are completely replacing your phone system, call your phone vendor to see whether you can trade in your old system. For every business moving to a 200-station system, there is some little start-up in need of a system for 20 people. Your hardware vendor may be able to help you sell your old system, or may buy it from you for a fraction of what you paid for it (but still more than you would get if you
Key systems, as well as all telephones, phone systems, and wiring that reside at your office are referred to as
Customer Premise Equipment
The term CPE may be thrown around when you are chatting with your local or long-distance carrier, so don’t let it shake you. The
Remember If you have a key system, the dial tone you hear when you pick up a line is sent to you directly from your local carrier. If you ever have a problem with your phones (say you pick up the handset and you hear nothing but dead air), the issue is probably caused by your local carrier.
You own your own phone system and don’t have to wait for anyone else to repair your issues on their timetable.
The main benefit of a key system is that it enables the telephone at your desk to access a larger pool of phone lines. If you have a three-line telephone without a key system that goes directly to your local carrier, you can only access the three lines plugged directly into that phone. If the lines in your stand-alone three-line phone are 206-XXX-1200, -1201, and -1202, for example, you can’t receive a call on that phone from someone calling on line -1204.
A key system enables you to access all the phone lines for your company. You can program the key system to automatically route a received call to an opera-tor phone or directly to a desk. Calls can also be transferred between phones connected to the key system, freeing up the initial phone that transferred it to receive another call. Even a small key system enables you to manage more lines and have increased functionality when compared to multiple-line phones used without a phone system. Owning your own key system
Key systems are generally not very robust and may not have all the features you require. If you want to set up elaborate time-of-day routing features to automatically route calls to voicemail after hours, or if you want to have large-party conference calling, you may not get what you need from a key system. Because key systems are on the lower end of the telecom spectrum, you may not have a ton of room for expansion before you end up having to upgrade to a larger system.
Take a look at your business and try to determine how many more phone lines you will need in the next 12 months, 5 years, and 10 years. When you have a rough idea of your needs, call your hardware vendor for a consultation. If your return on investment is more than six months, you may want to look for other options. If you suddenly hit an unexpected growth spurt and are forced into a larger system, you may have enough revenue coming in to buy that new phone system you really want.
Post Branch Exchange
is more robust than a key system and can handle any quantity of phone lines. You can drop in 24 phone lines, or 672, or more. It really doesn’t pay to use a PBX for fewer than 24 phone lines unless you love to buy high-tech gadgets with more features than you will use. The most
Tip You may be able to connect phone lines from different carriers into the system and have the PBX choose which carrier to send each call to depending on the area code and phone number being dialing. If you have a better international rate on your MCI line, for example, you can have calls that start with 011 sent over your MCI lines. If your cost for calls in state is lower through AT&T, you can program all the area codes in your state into the PBX system so that those calls are sent over your AT&T lines. This feature is actually called least cost routing (LCR) and can be built into some phone systems. Talk to your hardware vendor if you think your company can use LCR.
PBX systems have features that may be desirable for your office for one reason or another. Aside from the usual LCR features, routing features,
Have you ever wanted to know who in your office made a specific call? Have you ever wanted to track the calls you make on
With this feature, you can use the LCR feature to route outgoing calls to a dead line. For example, if someone dials a number in the 900 or 976 area codes, you can block the calls from being completed. Local carriers offer 900 and 976 blocking, as well as international blocking, but this may not be enough protection for you. Your company may also want to prevent people from dialing the 1010 codes advertised on TV for the dime-a-minute rate, or you may want to block outbound calling to
International blocks placed on your service by either a local or long-distance carrier only cover calls that are preceded with 011. This standard international block works fine if you are trying to prevent calls being made to places like Europe, Asia, and South America. If you want to block all calls made to anyplace other than the 50 U.S. states, you need to install additional safeguards in your PBX system. Countries like Canada, Puerto Rico, Guam, Jamaica, Barbados and most of the Caribbean can be reached by just dialing 1 and the area code for the country.
PBX systems may be very costly. The specific telephones that are required to work with them also cost a pretty penny. Also, expansion can be very costly, and finding parts or qualified service technicians for older models isn’t always a snap.
Another consideration is that if you have a PBX system, the dial tone you hear is generated by your phone system. If your building loses power and you have a PBX system, all the phone lines that feed into the PBX system go down. Unless you have a battery-backup system on your phone system, you can’t accept calls or dial out until the power returns and your PBX system has the time to boot up.
The solution to this problem is to keep a cheap, single-line phone in the office and ensure that you have at least one phone line that doesn’t go through your PBX. Your fax line doesn’t need to access voicemail or transfer calls, so it makes a great candidate for doing double duty. Simply plug that single-line phone into your fax line and at least make calls outbound until the power returns.
In telecom parlance, a hybrid isn’t an
If you’re looking to buy a PBX system or want to upgrade your existing PBX unit, call a few hardware
A multiplexer is a device that receives a dedicated circuit from your carrier and breaks the circuit into individual lines that you can use to send to your desk phones.
In simpler terms, your carrier will charge you less to pull one fat cable into your building than it charges to pull 24 regular-
Remember A multiplexer is a piece of hardware you may have in addition to your phone system. The MUX doesn’t have any three-way calling features or voicemail; all it does is break down the dedicated circuit into phone lines. Any features that you need on your phones are still supplied by your PBX.
You can now use a dedicated circuit and save on the monthly charge to bring in all those individual phone lines. (See the section, “Making the final cost comparison,” later in this chapter.)
The MUX is one of the first pieces of hardware into which your dedicated circuit connects. It is a potential point of failure that can take down all service
Do you go dedicated or stay switched? To find out the answer, you have to crunch the numbers. Keep reading.