What’s the difference? Don’t get me started!
Search for any of these terms and you’ll see them used interchangeably on websites, blogs and within search engine results. Having been deep in the trenches of this industry for the past 10 years, the differences are crystal clear to me and it’s a shame that they’re not always used in the proper context. If we all stuck to these definitions, I think it would allow consumers to more easily compare offerings from different vendors.
A Virtual PBX service answers calls for the business and provides routing options. The calls are forwarded on to employees or locations anywhere in the world. With Virtual PBX, the various employees and locations each require separate phone service, whether that be a cell phone or land line. As Virtual PBX services only handle the incoming aspect of the businesses’ telecommunications needs, there is limited value here, which is why the service is normally priced extremely low. There are few barriers to entry which means there is a ton of competition in this space. In my opinion, this service is well suited for micro-businesses of less than 5 employees, startups working out of their home offices, or for those rare businesses where the bulk of the employees are on the road. As the business grows, it is inevitable that it will outgrow the Virtual PBX service and will need to replace it. Examples of this kind of service provider are Google Voice, Grasshopper and eVoice.
Hosted PBX services are designed to provide a full replacement for a company’s need for an on-site PBX device. Employees are outfitted with IP phones and are able to receive AND place calls through the PBX software, which is usually hosted in a data centre, although some have a hybrid model with equipment on site and off site. There is no need for employees to have land lines or cell phones, although if you do have a cell phone it can most often be integrated into the call flow of the system rather easily to provide an alternate contact method when you are not at your desk. Barriers to entry are moderate, and levels of service between providers vary considerably depending on the way their Hosted PBX is engineered. There remains a large group of regional focused providers that only work within a certain geographic area, but that is becoming less and less common. Examples of this kind of service provider in Canada include BroadConnect, BluArc and EasyOfficePhone, and I’d still consider Versature as part of this group, although we are quickly evolving into the next stage of cloud-based telecommunication services called Hosted Voice.
The evolution of Hosted PBX is called Hosted Voice. Hosted Voice, as with Hosted PBX, will provide a full replacement for a company’s need for on-site PBX hardware, but is usually geared towards companies of at least 10 seats, and up to 1000 seats. Going over and above the pure-play PBX replacement, Hosted Voice service providers deliver extra services such as fully managing the number of lines that the business requires, advanced call centre capabilities such as ring groups and call queue’s, call recording and call analytics (business intelligence) to allow you to make informed business decisions using the information from your calls. As well, Hosted Voice providers are true “cloud” players, operating out of multiple data centres with full geographic redundancy and fail over capabilities. Hosted Voice providers also have a footprint that spans the country and beyond, and this is really a necessity when dealing with larger accounts. Hosted Voice is the next generation of cloud-based phone services for larger businesses. In Canada, Versature is aspiring to be THE example of a Hosted Voice service provider and will have the last piece, full geographic redundancy and data centre fail over, within a few months.