Lab test: VoIP phone systems walk the talk
Appliances from Allworx, Critical Links, Fonality, Microsoft, and Sutus have slick telephony features and affordable price tags, but differ significantly in breadth, depth, and complexity
Most of the units support a good range of VoIP handsets – usually from name vendors that include Linksys and Polycom.
Scalability is a significant differentiator, with these systems supporting anywhere from eight users to more than 300. Remember, though, as you add more users you may hit the wall of network bandwidth, as increasing volumes of digital voice – as compressed as it is – begin to contend with printing, file server, and other network traffic. To get around this problem, vendors in this roundup often include QoS and bandwidth management utilities.
My final important discovery – something that vendors don't like to discuss – is that system costs are potentially just part of your outlay. Hidden expenses can be $5,000 to $10,000 for a reseller to install and customize your IP PBX. Even with that extra cost, these solutions all deliver on their promise of providing communications for SMBs on par with far more complex and pricey alternatives.
In deciding which of these solutions might satisfy your needs, start by asking a few questions. Are you a single, small office or a fast-growing SMB with multiple sites? Do you have someone skilled to manage the system? Do you need only a PBX or would Web and file servers be valuable?
And the winners are…
Small offices with five to 25 employees should look closely at Microsoft Response Point and Sutus Business Central and also consider Fonality's PBXtra. If simplicity is more important than features, Response Point is my choice. But if telephony features are the main attraction, then I give the nod to PBXtra. If an all-in-one system is appealing, then you can't go wrong with Sutus.
Larger organizations should seriously consider Allworx, Critical Links' EdgeBox, and PBXtra. Because these solutions all have extensive features, the selection isn't as clear cut. My recommendation, unless you need surplus features such as a router or firewall or Web server, is to go with PBXtra. Moreover, when you consider the cost of software editions and especially phones, PBXtra scales more economically than Allworx and EdgeBox.
Below are the test scores (on a 10-point scale) and brief summaries of the five solutions. For more detail, follow the links to the complete evaluations.
Allworx 24x v.6.8
Score: Very Good 8.6
Bottom Line: A true all-in-one system, each Allworx appliance combines full PBX and VoIP duties with networking functions including automated backup, e-mail and Web server, security, and LAN management. Rich communications features include unified messaging and presence awareness, along with options such as call queuing, a conference center, and group calendaring. Another important differentiator is site-to-site access, with 100 sites supported. See complete review.