Small and mid-sized businesses considering hosted PBX service just gained one new option as of the beginning of this month. Intermedia, which holds the reputation as the world's largest provider of Microsoft Exchange hosting, has launched a hosted PBX with unlimited domestic calling and extension dialing. In addition, the company says its new service comes with unified communications (UC) capabilities such as voicemail-to-e-mail and click-to-call.
Subscribers to the hosted PBX service will be able to use VoIP, Voice over Internet Protocol technology, to make or receive phone calls without having to invest in any back-end equipment. A robust Internet connection is required to the tune of about 90 kbps per call though, and a hosted Exchange account from Intermedia is also required. In addition, hosted Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) service is required to enable the UC features.
In return, users get access to a plethora of features, such as a voice menu to greet callers and channel them to the correct staffer, extension dialing, and the ability to define hunt groups. Hunt groups are predetermined phone numbers that are routed directly to the appropriate department (e.g. sales) so that calls can be dealt with promptly.
In addition, voicemails can be sent to an e-mail inbox as a .wav attachment, a feature that greatly facilitates mobility. What caught my attention though, is the "Find me/Follow me" feature in which employees can be contacted even when out of the office by simply setting up a mobile or home number that will ring if the main number isn't answered. And as you would expect from a hosted service, the relevant administration is done online through Intermedia's HostPilot Control Panel. In a nutshell, there is absolutely no need for users to concern themselves about the underlying hardware or licensing details. You can see the full list of features here.
Having served as the decision-maker in the acquisition of PBX solutions a couple of times in the past, I feel that there is a gap in the solutions available to the small or branch office and those catered to mid-sized or large business. Often, smaller businesses are forced to invest in high-end PBX systems they can ill-afford, with the alternative being cumbersome individual phone lines that don't scale well beyond a couple of dozen users.
For its service, Intermedia apparently recommends Linksys and Polycom IP phones, while customers who will be using softphones are advised to go for CounterPath Corp's X-Lite. Full configuration support will be extended for recommended options; though softphones and hardware supporting standard SIP should work, Intermedia does not offer any guarantee on that front.
As part of a promotional rate, Intermedia is offering this hosted PBX service at $25 a month, excluding taxes, for the first three months. Customers will, of course, need to acquire their own IP phone and pay for any international toll charges incurred. Note that the creation of hunt groups is subject to a monthly fee beyond one free hunt group that is included.
Depending on your business sector, the price could either be just right, or come in as a little steep. The plug point is that costs are predictable, and because the various VoIP phones or software setup can be used for configured for another hosted PBX provider or an in-house deployment, this might be the perfect interim solution for some businesses.