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What is a PBX phone system? | Prices, Reviews & Tips

Want a cheaper and more flexible phone system? PBX phones could be a game-changer for your small business. Here we explain all

A phone system will connect your business with the outside world. But the best phone technology will help you work more productively, make more calls, and save money.

You may already have faced a jungle of acronyms when researching phones for your small business. What is VoIP? Virtual or self-hosted? And what’s the cloud got to do with it all?

Here we explain everything you need to know about PBX phones, what they could for your small business, and reveal our unbiased lists of the top providers and phones today.

Or, if you’d like to skip ahead, you can just fill in the interactive quote-finder we’ve made for our readers by clicking this link. You plug in some quick details about your small business, and we’ll match you with the suppliers who can offer you the best deals.


In this article we cover:



WHAT?

1. What is a PBX phone system?

PBX stands for Private Branch Exchange. This just means your phone server – the system used to switch between calls.

A PBX lets callers communicate internally (within your small business) or externally (with the outside world). That’s because it links up your office phones with the public telephone network, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) companies and SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) Trunks.

If this is starting to sound complicated, this diagram breaks down how it’s all connected in an IP (internet-based) PBX system:

pbx phones iconograph

PBX phone systems are ideal for small businesses because they let you call your colleagues for free, add more phones without drilling new phone lines, and tap into features like transfers, voicemail and call recording.



HOW?

2. How do PBX phones work?

In the pre-internet days, phones were analog, meaning they ran on physical wires. But today’s PBX telephone systems are digital. That way, a computer manages the calls, auto-connecting lines based on dialed numbers.

Generally, your PBX system will be hooked up to internal telephone lines connecting all your office phones, plus outside lines that lead all the way to your PBX provider. Usually, you just dial 9 to reach a number outside your network.

When selecting a PBX phone system, users have two options:

  1. Traditional PBX
  2. IP PBX

Traditional PBX systems have their own phones, so users are bound to a particular provider. Switching your PBX supplier might mean replacing all your phones – and big costs. You’re also often tied to a limited number of outside phone lines and internal handsets.

But with an IP PBX system, phone calls run over the internet, and give you much more flexibility. That’s why we always recommend IP PBXs to small business owners. Next we’ll explore the main benefits.


3. What is VoIP PBX?

You might see VoIP PBX called just IP PBX. It’s the same thing – the “IP” stands for “Internet Protocol”, and just means a set-up where phone calls work through your the internet connection.

What are the advantages of an IP PBX?

The main benefits are the reduced costs and added flexibility. You cut costs because you can use a single network for all your calls and data – your phones just connect to the same server as your computers. And it’s more flexible, since you can easily link up more phones or switch suppliers.

Here are the main plus points of an IP PBX phone system:

  • Flexibility – Join calls remotely, switch supplier, and add unlimited phone lines
  • Affordability – Enjoy lower call and running costs
  • Productivity – Connect your phone to your computer to help you make more calls
  • Simplicity – It’s so easy, you don’t need an IT team

Plus, if you go for a virtual (hosted) PBX, you can let a company sort it all for you. We explain all below.

Some small businesses even like to link their IP PBX phones up to their CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software to boost the level of customer service they can deliver.

You can also get your hands on key features your business might want like:

  • Answering machine
  • Call queues
  • Digital receptionists
  • Ring groups

You can compare quotes and read our list of top VoIP phones and providers on this page.

Or this video will get you from zero to clued up in IP PBX in 90 seconds (no sounds required):


4. Virtual PBX phone system

Virtual PBX phone systems are sometimes called a hosted PBX. As you would expect, this means rather than you as the business owner setting up your own exchange, you simply give that responsibility to another company.

This option is perfect for small businesses with no in-house tech support, and it makes it easy to add as many phone lines as you need. Below we’ll walk you through the top providers for start-ups and entrepreneurs.


5. Cloud based PBX phones

VoIP PBX phones are hosted in the cloud (servers in the internet like Apple’s iCloud). The main benefit of this is you can save a fortune on hardware and repairs throughout the years.

You also have the freedom of hooking your desk phone number up to your computer and mobile, so you can take calls from wherever works best for you.



WHICH?

6. Best PBX phone system providers

With PBX phones now a must for many small businesses, the list of suppliers offering this technology is booming. Here we’ve narrowed it down to only the leading IP phone providers for small businesses.

We find these the best PBX phone system providers:

PBX Provider Great for…? Rating
Cisco World-leading communications ★★★★★
Panasonic Quality and innovation ★★★★★
Samsung PBX systems tailored to your small business ★★★★
Ringcentral Hassle-free phone systems ★★★★★
Gradwell Award-winning VoIP technology ★★★★
Vonage Flexible VoIP phone systems ★★★★★

In our assessments, we focused on the key areas our start-ups tell us matter most to them:

  1. Features
  2. Value for money
  3. Customer service

Below we drill down to offer comparisons which should help you decide which one would work best for your business.


Cisco – For world-leading communications

cisco logo Features★★★★★
Value for money★★★★
Customer service★★★★★

Cisco is a world leader in IT and telecoms, and have been helping businesses of all sizes connect since 1984. The Cisco PBX phone systems are hard to beat, with an entire range designed with small businesses in mind.

Their quality products minimise hassle, so you can get on with what you do best. Plus, they offer super-speedy set-up, personalisation, and flexibility, so they will shape around your business, even as it changes.


Panasonic – For quality and innovation

panasonic logo 150 Features★★★★★
Value for money★★★★★
Customer service★★★★★

Panasonic have been making electronics almost since they existed. But today, they’re still the go-to for quality designs and innovative technology.

With one of the largest ranges of PBX phone systems on the market, small businesses are sure to find one that’s right for them, and they have something to suit all company sizes and budgets.


Samsung – For PBX systems tailored to your small business

samsung logo 150 Features★★★★★
Value for money★★★★
Customer service★★★★★

You may know Samsung for their well-built mobile phones, but rest assured their PBX systems offered are just as exceptional.

Samsung have just unveiled a new range of PBX phones for small to mid-size businesses, all tailored to give you more for your money. And if you’re already a Samsung mobile user, you can expect seamless integration with your incoming calls.


RingCentral – For hassle-free phone systems

ringcentral logo 150 Features★★★★★
Value for money★★★★★
Customer service★★★★

As the go-to for over 350,000 global businesses big and small, Ringcentral promise more productivity and less complexity with their communications solution.

They use VoIP phone calls, and guarantee high quality, security, reliability and above all, fair prices. You’ll also find a host of exclusive features, like easy upgrades without losing your number, freephone options, and international calls for just £2 a month.

You can also click this link for our in-depth review of the best telephone providers for small businesses and the chance to compare tailored quotes.


Gradwell – For award-winning VoIP technology

gradwell logo 150 Features★★★★★
Value for money★★★★★
Customer service★★★★

Gradwell phones are a great option for businesses of all sizes. Founded in 1998, their VoIP business phones are award-winning, and trusted by 22,000 companies and entrepreneurs worldwide.

As well as kitting you out with all the telephone gear your small business need, you can count on Gradwell to provide top-notch add-ons like headsets, routers, wiring and adaptors, so you can be up and running in a flash.


Vonage – For flexible VoIP phone systems

vonage logo 150 Features★★★★
Value for money★★★★★
Customer service★★★★★

Vonage is another leading supplier of telecoms services to small businesses the world over. They specialise in VoIP, and have an impressive range of plans on offer. That means they’ll be a keeper, even for when your business grows.

With Vonage, you get clear and reliable contracts, starting from just £11.50 a month, plus their physical phones come with free line rental and installation.


7. PBX phone system reviews

You can expect to pay between £50 and £300 for a good value PBX phone system from a reputable company, and when deciding you’ll want to consider the features you’re after and how deep your pockets are.

Sometimes you’ll find refurbished phones online for discounted rates, but we wouldn’t recommend these. Often, they have been repaired because the systems were faulty to begin with, so they won’t give your business the same peace of mind.

Based on our rigorous investigation, these are the top PBX phones for small businesses today:

Supplier Model Great for…? Price

bt logo mini
Converse 2300 Practical small businesses £59.99

panasonic logo 50
KX-TGF320E Busy small businesses £83.99

gigaset logo 50
DE410 Pro IP Efficient small businesses £96.00

unify logo 50
IP 55G Efficient small businesses £185.00

cisco logo
SPA 525G2 Smart small businesses £239.99

You can also read our deep-dive reviews of the leading PBX phones for small businesses by tapping this link.


Break it down for me

  1. WHAT? – You can think of a PBX phone as your business’ phone server – the system that makes sure the calls go to the right people.
  2. HOW? – Nowadays, they’re digital – and you can either host the operating system yourself, or let a virtual provider take care of it.
  3. WHICH? – Most small businesses opt for IP PBX phone systems for more flexibility, more efficiency and lower costs.


WHERE NOW?

Where can I compare quotes tailored to my small business?

It’s easy – we’ve made a quote-finder to help save our readers time and money. You answer a few simple questions about your small business, and we’ll use your answers to match you with the PBX phone providers who best meet your needs.

Of course, there’s no pressure to sign up to anything. We just think it’s the fastest way to find out more, ask any questions you have, and get the most reliable quotes to compare.

You can start today…