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The Different Types of Business Phone System

Business Telephone Systems Buyers' Guide

Broadly speaking, there are four main types of business phone system:

  • KSU-less (key system unit) systems
  • key systems
  • PBX (private branch exchange) systems
  • VoIP(Voice over Internet Protocol) systems

We'll run briefly through each system in turn...


KSU-less Systems
A KSU-less phone system is reasonably priced and easy to install. It has many of the characteristics of a costlier key or PBX phone system but without the need for a system cabinet. And because you don't have to wire the phones to a particular network or location, you can move them around as necessary.

Unfortunately there are drawbacks, the main one being the lack of interest among phone system suppliers in KSU-less systems. This means you're responsible for not only buying but installing, programming and maintaining the phones. Furthermore:

  • a KSU-less system is unsuitable for a company with ten or more staff
  • phone system extras such as answering machines, fax machines and headsets may not match the system's requirements
  • KSU-less systems occasionally experience "crosstalk", whereby different conversations on the system merge into each other

Despite the low cost of a KSU-less system, it can be worthwhile comparing what a key or PBX system, or possibly a hybrid version of these, can offer you instead.

Key Systems

Key phone systems are most common in businesses where there are five to forty extensions. A central control unit known as a KSU (key system unit) provides the business features that are unavailable with standard phones. These features include contacting other extensions and ensuring privacy for callers.

PBX Systems

PBX phone systems are programmable and flexible. So if you have forty or more extensions, or you want a phone system that gives you state-of-the-art technology, a PBX system may be the best choice. What's more, the days of high prices and bulky ancillary equipment are now gone. PBX phone systems may still be relatively expensive but they are certainly more affordable than previously, and the central control unit for a small company can fit comfortably on or beneath a desk.

Hybrid PBX/Key Systems

Some key phone systems now incorporate PBX features, and others work as either a PBX or a key system according to their software. The result is a blurring of the characteristics that once made PBX and key systems distinct. Suppliers refer to these combination phone systems as "hybrids".

A hybrid can be a good alternative, but when you contact phone system suppliers, ensure it gives you all the functions your business requires now and in the future.

VoIP Systems

VoIP telephone systems use the internet to carry voice calls. This means that rather than a seperate wired phone system each telephone will usually be connected to an internet enabled computer. The advantages are enhanced configurability and programmability, the ability to add several new phones without teh installation of new lines and cheaper international calls. As every Skype user knows though, the internet can be unreliable for carrying voice signals - VoIP phones sometimes lead to frustrating silences and missed words.

Phone System Setups

You'll almost certainly need to have your key, PBX or VoIP business phone system installed and maintained professionally. Outside lines and in-house extensions, for instance, must all lead to the KSU or PBX central control unit. Any customised features must also be tested and adjusted as necessary.

Phone system installation isn't cheap so prepare to shop around by comparing several quotes.

And note that if you hope to reduce installation costs and use your existing phones, you may be out of luck. Only recent phone models are likely to match the requirements of the KSU or PBX central control unit. If in doubt, speak to the phone system supplier and check compatibility.

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