A customer, a local landscaper, called me up a couple of weeks ago looking for advice on a pending telephone system acquisition. He had a limited budget to work with and needed less than 9 extensions (which included 2 fax machines.) While he’d sought a number of bids, only one had come back. He thought the vendor’s proposal was over priced and that the sales agent had not paid attention to his needs as a customer.
In all fairness to the proposed vendor, he selected Iwatsu which is a 70 year old vendor with many firsts with regard to telecommunications. Their recent claim to fame is their VOIP capabilities for business PBX. The issue is that it is a lot of phone system (in terms of cost) to address the needs of a small landscaping business.
In the past, I have bought, deployed, installed and maintained for the other major vendors: Panasonic, Nortel and Avaya. A while back I was ‘certified’ to work on the Nortel systems. And personally, I happen to think that Avaya makes the best quality VOIP system.
But I am not sold on VOIP PBX.
There is “something” about the quality of VOIP when it comes to PBX replacement which I don’t believe any company had adequately addressed; nor with existing technical limitations do I believe that it will be addressed soon.
Let me clarify — I am sold on VOIP for basic telephony services such as Time Warner Cable Business Class and Vonage. These local/long distance services use simple application specific devices over the traditional Internet connectivity and work excellent. Their cost is low — so low that as a shareholder of both AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) the current dominant market leaders I am almost embarrassed.
What gets me riled up is when I talk with the lawyer, accountant and business partners on their VOIP PBX, connected to their outbound VOIP carrier, connected to my inbound VOIP carrier, and finally to me. “Something” happens…we all talk just a little slower and sometimes entire syllables of words go missing. This isn’t acceptable quality to me on a cellular phone and it certainly is an unacceptable quality in a ‘landline’ conversation. My bottom-line is that I haven’t seen a VOIP PBX work well with either a VOIP carrier or another VOIP PBX.
Ultimately, the customer needed to make a PBX decision and it came down to price. The Iwatsu system came in at over $5,500 for parts & labor. We were able to find a Panasonic 824 Hybrid small office PBX with all of the components for $2,200 dollars plus my estimated labor of 8 hours (at the industry published rate of $45 for the 1st hour and $60 for the 2nd hour — and of course no charge for the recommendation) came to a grand total or $2,665.
The Panasonic was the best choice because of the availability of CO ports and extension ports. The base system was configured 3 CO x 8 EXT and the 2 x 8 expansion card costs $273 (compare this to $173 for just 2 CO’s on the Iwatsu card EXT ports cost extra.) This PBX has a built in voicemail option, but we wanted auto attendant; so we went with the Panasonic TVA50 that supports custom menus and voicemail. The TVA50 $498 integrates automatically with the PBX using APT integration — it took all of 10 minutes to install and about that long to program the auto attendant. Another nice feature about the Panasonic system is that the proprietary display phones are cheap at $143 — about half price compared to the Iwatsu.
Panasonic now bundles the software for PBX and voicemail integration with their systems. And the systems can be administered via a locally connect USB cable or over a LAN — all very cool features for a small business switch.
By the way, included in the $2,665 price tag are a couple of extra features. We saved so much money by going ‘traditional’ that my customer was able to add a couple of features he hadn’t planned on – music on hold with a custom voiceover $168 and a loudspeaker for his shop $125.
So if you are considering a VOIP PBX, I hope this posting helps you to consider a traditional PBX. And as always, give us a holler — the first 15 minutes are free.