Best Multi-Line Phone Systems for Small Businesses in 2021

Multi-line phone systems are an excellent way to streamline phone communications for your small business. Learn more about the best phone systems available here.

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Based on our in-depth research, the best multi-line phone system for small businesses is the VTech CM18245. Vtech is an established, reputable player in the telephone systems game, and its CM18245 model is a feature-packed, quick-to-install handset with an easy-to-use interface.

But the important question is, regardless of VTech CM18245’s title as our best multi-line phone system, is it beneficial and affordable for the needs of your business specifically?

The last thing you want to do is waste time and money setting up a multi-line phone system that isn’t right for your business. Because when it’s done right, this is an excellent way to ensure calls can be transferred to the right employee or department quickly and easily. Multi-line phone systems work regardless of whether someone is physically in the office or working remotely – they’re perfect as hybrid working becomes the new norm post-pandemic.

So instead of spending hours of your own time deliberating system features and comparing provider costs, why not let us do the hard work for you? Our comparison tool, created by our telephone system experts, will provide you with personalised bespoke quotes from the best multi-line phone system providers in the UK. It takes just minutes, and there are zero obligations on your part.

Or, if you want to carry out further research, read on for our review of the best multi-line phone systems. We’ll also explain how a multi-line phone system works, and reveal why they are such a good investment.

Best multi-line phone systems: an overview

According to our expert research, the top multi-line phone systems for small UK businesses in 2021 are:

  1. VTech CM18245
  2. Polycom VVX 250
  3. AT&T 1070
  4. BT Versatility
  5. AT&T TL88102

There are many competitors offering great multi-line phone systems to small businesses. It’s hard to separate the quality from the not-so-quality, which is why we used our phone systems expertise to select these five phone systems to help you make an informed decision moving forward. Below is a general overview of each system:

Phone System CostBest forNo. of lines
VTech CM18245£141Small businesses requiring a PBX auto attendant phone system with lots of useful additional featuresFour
Polycom VVX 250£112Small businesses regularly communicating via phone who need high-quality audio callsFour
AT&T 1070£159Businesses wanting the flexibility to grow or scale back operationsFour
BT Versatility£299Small businesses who have the potential to grow and scale up fast, who need extra line capacityFour/Eight
AT&T TL88102£95Micro-businesses whose employees could benefit from an affordable, hands-free, long-range handset phone Two

Pricing is correct as of 25th August 2021 

As every phone system varies widely in its capability and functionality, it is vital that you choose the equipment that best suits you.

To make sure you choose the right system, you should carefully consider:

  • The size of your business – what do you need?
  • How many lines are needed – how many people will it service?
  • How accessible it is to use – will your staff need training?
  • The customisable features – how can you personalise it?
  • Your growth strategy – can it develop with your business?

Our custom-built comparison tool will help you answer all of these questions in minutes. The tool selects providers most suited to your business needs, so all you have to do is compare prices.

Best multi-line phone systems: a deep dive

CM18245_phone_system

VTech CM18245

Key features:

✔ Dect 6.0 technology

✔ Auto attendant

✔ Customised on-hold music

The CM18245 is an easy-to-install small business-specific phone with an answering system. What’s great about this system is that only the main console needs to be connected to analog lines, as it uses DECT 6.0 technology to wirelessly connect all other handsets, meaning installation takes minutes rather than days. As this phone is PBX enabled, it also comes with an auto attendant for each line, which can answer outside calls and route them to the appropriate extension. The main console also digitally records up to 180 minutes of incoming messages and outgoing announcements, which is very handy.

Cost: £141

Pros:
  • Includes a 2.5mm jack for connecting devices to play custom hold music
  • Quick and easy installation means you and your employees can focus on working rather than on hardware setups
Cons:
  • The interface and ease of use isn’t the best, so it can be quite complicated to operate – taking multiple buttons to replay messages, for example

 

multi-line-phone-systems

Polycom VVX 250

Key features:

✔ Web-based configuration

✔ 2.8-inch color display

✔ Poly acoustic clarity

If you're looking for HD audio quality, look no further than the VVX 250. With echo cancellation and Polycom's own ‘Poly Acoustic Clarity' to tackle background noise, this multi-line system is perfect for employees needing to regularly communicate over the phone with customers and clients, who often worry about the audio quality offered by multi-line systems. Another handy feature of the VVX 250 is that the LCD display is colourised, much easier on the eyes, and far simpler to read than a lot of competitors on this list. It’s also compatible with more than 60 industry-leading call control platforms, including RingCentral and 8×8.

Cost: £112

Pros:
  • The Polycom HD Voice and Acoustic Fence technologies deliver an excellent call sound quality experience to your customers and clients, and background noise cancellation makes this phone is the best for crystal-clear communications
  • System cost is cheap and great value for money compared to other competitors on this list, considering you get the best audio quality and compatibility with over 60 call control platforms
  • VVX 250 phones are easy to install, configure and manage through Polycom’s professional-level web-based configuration tool
Cons:
  • Customer support costs extra through Polycom
We get it, there are plenty of providers offering similar products, and it can be a pain reading through reviews and analysing comparison tables...

So why not answer a few simple questions about your business using our incredible comparison tool, which will tailor your specific needs to the best multi-line phone systems available.

You'll receive bespoke quotes and additional product information to make it easier to select your best-fit provider. Plus, it only takes a minute.

 

at&t1070_multiline

AT&T 1070

Key features:

✔ 32-Number speed dial

✔ Memory loss protection

✔ Expandable up to 16 handsets

If you need to regularly contact multiple clients, the 32-number programmable speed dial system on the AT&T 1070 is perfect. The phone’s three-party conferencing functionality lets you collaborate as a wider team using three handsets on three lines, and the speakerphone is one of the strongest available on our list. Each line has a distinct light indicator, and you have the option to set up different ringtones for each to help pinpoint the source of incoming calls. Other features include auto redial, caller ID, and the ability to expand up to 16 handsets if needed (including the AT&T models 1040 and 1080).

Cost: £159

Pros:
  • Speed dial system with up to 32 numbers makes it easier to contact regular clients, colleagues, and customers
  • 200-entry memory and a 200-name-and-number caller ID history to help record large volumes of calls
  • Memory loss protection prevents the phone from losing its saved data
Cons:
  • The setup process is a lot more complicated than that of other multi-line systems on our list

 

BT Versatility

Key features:

✔ Expandable up to eight lines and 16 handsets

✔ Direct dialling in

✔ Integrated help desk facility

The BT Versatility multi-line phone offering is unique in that you are able to add expansion equipment to the system, meaning the four lines that come as standard can be increased to eight, with up to 16 handsets. This is great for small businesses looking to grow fast, because you’ll already have the solution to a common problem with multi-lines, which is handling large call volumes. What’s even more convenient is that the DDI (Direct Dialling In) can improve call routing and management, by providing more numbers that can be dialled into the organisation than there are lines.

Cost: £299

Pros:
  • More than 50 call handling features are available for enhanced call management – and each phone can be programmed with a different set of features, helping you customise each department’s call setup
  • Comes with an integrated help desk facility, making it easy for small businesses to implement customer relationship management services such as customer care and technical support
  • The system includes one hour’s battery backup – in case of any power supply mishaps
Cons:
  • Most expensive multi-line phone system on our list – there are definitely cheaper options, including a VoIP phone system

at&ttl88102_multiline

AT&T TL88102

Key features:

✔ Four-party conferencing

✔ Long range between deck and handsets

✔ Can add up to 12 handsets

The TL88102’s best feature is undoubtedly its hands-free ability, and with a long connection range between deck and handsets, it’s perfect for small business owners who are constantly on the move. The handset clearly displays the name, number, and time of incoming calls – and includes a lighted keypad allowing for easy dialling in low light conditions. The answering machine is digital with a mailbox for each line, and with dual caller ID functionality, you’ll be able to see both caller numbers at the same time.

Cost: £95

Pros:
  • DECT high-quality voice and sound means higher call quality for customers and clients
  • The system includes call screening and intercepting functions so you can pass on less important calls
  • Affordable - cheapest multi-line phone on our list
Cons:
  • With only two lines, it can be difficult to manage high call volumes in busy periods
Remember, a multi-line phone system can be easily adapted and expanded to meet the bespoke requirements of your business.

Add extra lines – increase capacity

Personalise the phone book – manage contacts easily

Use wireless technology – expand reach

Integrate headsets – enjoy greater freedom to complete tasks

Customise voicemail options – show individuality

Use unique ringtones – differentiate between team members or priorities

Transfer calls – send calls to another location

There are many options to choose from, so you should consider how you want to use the phone systems to communicate in your business – not only for now, but for the future.

Different custom options can also be included – just be sure to consider why certain features are useful and what their short and long-term impacts will be for your business.

Do you need a phone system to support a larger team of five staff of more?

When managing the communication of larger teams, making the right choice from the start is crucial – as changing later can lead to a lot of hassle and expense.

If you're in need of extra guidance, you can use our phone systems comparison tool to help you make the right choice for your business. It's completely free, and no obligation on your part!

How does a multi-line phone system work?

 

multi-linephonesystems_howtheywork

Multi-line phone systems are not as complex as they sound, or as difficult to use. They actually work in the same way that a normal phone operates, except they allow you to enjoy the benefits that come hand-in-hand with having multiple lines and enhanced functionality.

This means your business will not only be able to accept multiple calls at once, but you will also be able to successfully screen calls before passing them onto another team member.

Whether you would like to assign each member of your team with their own number that can be dialled directly to their handset, or you want all of your team members to be able to dial out to external numbers, multi-line phone systems are great communication systems that can be integrated into many different business environments.


Are multi-line phones a good investment?

As a small business owner, you might not think your business big enough to warrant investing in a multi-line phone system. But there are many reasons why even small start-ups would benefit massively from having one.

The ability to communicate efficiently with clients is essential to getting the customer to trust your business. This will help your business to grow, as greater customer satisfaction leads to better customer retention.

As Alan Andrews – marketing manager of KIS Finance – points out:

Even the very smallest of businesses can benefit from having two phone lines rather than one. New enquiries won’t come in on their own and are usually quickly followed by another caller.

In a nutshell, one caller can become callers very quickly, so it is vital that your business is prepared for multiple calls at any given time.


Which type of phone system is right for your small business?

Offering improved communication and enhanced productivity, today’s systems include a range of functions that allow you to connect and engage with customers and team members, in a way that works for you.

There is a wide range of simple and more complex phone systems available, and the model that is right for you will depend on your individual business needs and expectations.

Basically, the available functions of the model you choose will determine how it works.

There are two main types of multi-line phone systems used in office environments – multi-line and private branch exchange (PBX).

What is the difference?

The key difference between these two types is that multi-line needs manual human interaction, whereas the PBX receives calls electronically.

You should consider which of these options suits your business best.

Benefits of a multi-line phone system

Multi-line phones work differently depending on the option you go for, however, they all allow you to receive multiple calls at the same time. For example, if you have three incoming calls at once, they will go through to different lines.

Other universal features that you can expect to enjoy include a convenient voicemail system and call transfer, as well as a speaker system that allows receptionists or customer-facing staff to alert team members of any incoming calls.

On the other hand, a PBX system performs all of the same tasks but without human interaction. Instead, all incoming calls are received through an electronic receiving area.

We've compared the features of both systems below:

FeatureMulti-linePBX
Receive multiple calls simultaneouslyYesYes
VoicemailYesYes
Call transferYesYes
Speaker systemYesYes
Human interactionYesNo
Electronic receiving areaNoYes

More about how PBX phone systems work

Incoming customer calls go to a central receiving area, where customers are presented with a set of options for which area of the business they wish to contact. For example: “Press one for sales, two for customer services, three for invoices.”

However, should the caller dial one of the extension lines directly, they can bypass this automated central system completely and connect to the extension. For example, if a central number is 020-7180, direct extension numbers can be numbers such as 020-7181 and 020-7182.

Should employees wish to contact other departments or employees internally, they can then can just dial the extension number (e.g 182) without using the outside line.

What about VoIP phone systems?

Multi-line and PBX systems are not the only options available to small businesses.

Lots of companies are installing VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) office phone systems to fulfill their business needs.

VoIP office telephones are the most modern, and popular office phone systems on the market.

Using your business’s internet connection to host calls rather than through traditional analog signals, VoIP allows for both video and voice chat. As a result, VoIP systems require very little hardware, with a desktop VoIP phone being able to connect to the internet via an ethernet cable.

Your VoIP office telephone system will be managed via an app from your provider, so you will simply need a VoIP desktop phone for each user.

A big benefit for your business: calls are essentially free, even international ones, once your broadband or mobile data plans are paid for.

Want to know more about VoIP? Visit our review of the best VoIP providers in the UK.

Next steps: comparing the best multi-line phone systems

It’s important you select a multi-line phone system that not only optimises productivity and efficiency, but will also allow you to expand your reach and grow your business. You should always weigh up the pros and cons of each model, and think about the needs and bespoke requirements of your business.

For us at Startups, the best multi-line phone system for small businesses is the VTech CM18245. It’s abundant in features, including auto attendant, customisable hold music, and DECT 6.0 technology to wirelessly connect all of your handsets seamlessly. You can route calls to specific departments, and the main console digitally records up to 180 minutes of incoming messages. It does everything you need a multi-line phone system to do, and all for an affordable, fair price compared to other systems like BT Versatility.

Don’t get us wrong – the other providers on this list do offer great benefits, like Polycom VVX 250’s amazing sound quality and echo cancellation, and the AT&T TL88102’s four-party conferencing and long handset to deck range. The BT Versatility is perfect for scalability, with an expansion capability of up to four lines, but the cost is a real negative. And the AT&T 1070 is great for businesses requiring flexibility, with 16 expandable handsets and programming of up to 32-number speed dial options, but it still lacks enough features to be as good as the VTech CM18245.

Regardless of our opinion, you should always compare multi-line phone system providers before signing on the dotted line. The last thing you want is to be stuck in a contract with a service that doesn’t fulfil the needs of your business, even if it is, generally speaking, a great product.

This is where our custom-built comparison tool comes in. We've partnered with some of the best multi-line phone system suppliers to help you get the best service for your business. Simply provide us with a few basic details, and providers will be in touch with bespoke personalised quotes for you to compare, along with further details about why the service they offer would best suit the needs of your business.


Multiline phone system FAQs

Are multiline and PBX phone systems the same thing?

In short, no. Although both systems perform similar tasks, a PBX system receives calls through a centralised receiving area. This centralised receiving area is electronic and automated, and presents callers with a set of options for which area of the business they wish to contact. Multi-line phone systems condense multiple phone lines into a single device, which is answered by an operator who transfers calls to the right employee or department.

Essentially multiline phone systems involve centralised human interaction, whilst PBX phone systems don’t.

What is a multiline phone system called?

Multiline phone systems often get confused with over phone systems, including PBX and VoIP. However, each system operates differently so always research the meaning behind the jargon, before purchasing a product. An easy way to break down multiline phone systems is – imagine a reception area at an office, that has a phone which receives all incoming calls. These calls are answered by a receptionist, who transfers them to the appropriate department. The reception phone can receive multiple calls at once, so customers are put on hold instead of cut off when they try and contact your business.

How many phone lines do I need for my business?

This depends entirely on the needs of your business. For example, if you are a small business with only two employees, but you receive a large volume of incoming customer calls, you’ll definitely be looking to set up a multiline phone system with either four or five+ lines. This is so when customers are calling, they aren’t immediately cut off when trying to contact you if both employees are on the phone. The great thing about multiline systems is that you can increase capacity by adding extra lines as your business grows. For further guidance, BusinessTechWeekly uses a great formula to help you determine the number of lines you need.

Ross has been writing for Startups since May 2021, specialising in sustainable business and telephone systems. He also runs the successful entrepreneur's section of the website.

He's previously written for Conde Nast Traveller and the NME and is passionate about music, sustainability, and travelling. Follow him on his Twitter - @startupsross for helpful business tips.

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