Best phone systems for small businesses in 2018

Think you can do without an office phone? Think again. Phone systems are a must for any small business. Read our top picks to find the right one for you

Most people today message more than they call, so you’d be forgiven for thinking small businesses can do without a phone system. But when the stakes are high, queries complex, or quick action needed, there’s nothing quite like picking up the phone to drive results.

Of course, this doesn’t mean a full return to the phone age. Today, most office phone systems work together with the mobile technologies you are already using and will help you join the dots between wireless and desk-side communications.

In this article you will learn:

What small business telephone systems are on offer?

In the business world, understanding your phone needs is sometimes not easy. You may have seen PBX and VoIP talked about. But what do they mean and, more importantly, what do you need?

Here, we break it all down for you and clue you in on everything you need to know to make sure you get the right phone system for your small business.

In a nutshell, there are three main types of phone systems:

  1. KSU (Key System Unit)
  2. PBX (Private Branch Exchange)
  3. VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol)

Each of these systems comes with a hosted (cloud-based) and non-hosted version. Now, let’s have a closer look.

What is KSU?

KSU (or the Key System Unit) is the most basic type of telephone system. It works just like a home phone and is completely wireless. But it has some limitations that may not work for your small business.

It has a restricted number of phone lines that can be incorporated into it (usually between 10 and 40) and lacks the portability and flexibility of other options. That means it’s not that suitable if your business is looking to grow.

What about PBX?

PBX stands for Private Branch Exchange. This means you can use outside lines for making external calls, and your internal telephone numbers can also be connected to a public telephone network or VoIP provider.

But today, PBX phone systems are increasingly similar to VoIP phones. They often have IP points added, so you can host your phone system within the cloud.

And VoIP?

Before we had mobile phones and wireless technology, all our phone calls travelled over the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). This network used circuit switches to connect calls, and all you needed was a telephone and a copper line in your building.

But then the internet came and changed everything, even how we use phones. So, VoIP was born. VoIP (or Voice over Internet Protocol) really just means phone systems that work via the internet, rather than relying on wires.

Today, most people opt for a VoIP phone system. They tend to be the most cost-effective and flexible option – which is ideal for small businesses.

Read more about: VoIP phones and providers

Are VoIP and SIP the same thing?

You may also have heard of SIP trunking. Although VoIP and SIP both support IP (or Internet-based) calls, they are not the same thing. VoIP simply means making calls over the internet. SIP, on the other hand, has a much larger scope. It is a specific protocol that is used to enable a range of multimedia sessions, which include VoIP calls.

Read more about: SIP trunking

5 tips when choosing a phone system for your small business

We know it can seem like a minefield. To make deciding easier, here are the key questions to ask yourself:

  • What features will work for you? – Most small businesses don’t have the luxury of IT departments to help with their technological woes. Maybe you have complicated needs, or perhaps it makes sense to keep things simple.
  • What is your current setup? – Because VoIP requires less equipment and installation, it often helps businesses cut costs. But of course, this can depend on the current infrastructure of where you work. You could already be set up with PBX.
  • Are you growing? – Traditionally, PBX systems come with specific telephones. This could mean that to change the phone system, you would need to buy all new equipment too. But not always – be sure to check with the provider.
  • How is your internet quality? – Since VoIP systems run over the internet, even distance calls can be crystal clear. But if you live in an area where the signal is poor or unreliable, PBX may offer the most peace of mind.
  • How mobile are you? – If you or your staff spend a lot of time working remotely, hosted (or cloud) phone providers will help to keep you connected.

What features should I look for?

That all depends on your unique business needs. But the top ones to consider will be:

  • Call management
  • Speed-dialling
  • Answering machine
  • Conference calling
  • Video calls

The most basic telephone systems will tend to focus on the most common needs (like speed-dialling and an easy-to-use dashboard), whilst more sophisticated models may be able to do everything on the list.

What does your small business or startup need? And what makes sense for you to spend here?

Find out more about the features available on our business telephone providers page.

Our reviews explained

We’ve tracked down what we have found to be the five best options for small business today.

You should find one to fit any budget and company size, and they all score top marks for the things that matter most:

  • Price – And most importantly, does it offer value for money?
  • Features – Are they everything I need, or will they overcomplicate things?
  • Quality – Will it let me down? How will it feel to use?
  • User experience – How easy will it make my life? Will I enjoy using it?

Which are the top phone providers out there today?

Here are the results. You can click on the supplier or model names to jump straight to their sections below.

Supplier Model Great for Price
BT Converse 2300 Practical small businesses £59.99
Panasonic KX-TGF320E Busy small businesses £83.99
Gigaset DE410 Pro IP Intuitive small businesses £96.00
Unify IP 55G Efficient small businesses £185.00
Cisco SPA 525G2 Smart small businesses £239.99

Below, we dig a little deeper.

The best buys

BT Converse 2300 Telephone

BT Converse 2300 Phone Great for: Practical small businesses wanting easy communication and low costs
Pros: Features-packed for such a small price, easy-to-use, quality sound, large buttons, clear display
Cons: No answering machine, no backlight on display, quiet ringtone

Is it for me?

BT is a market leader in corded telephones, and the Converse series is one of their most popular options for small businesses. The BT Converse 2300 is the latest and most impressive model in this series and comes in black or white.

Most customers enjoy how easy this phone is to use. It has a crystal clear LCD display which can double up as your clock, along with user-friendly navigation buttons just under the display.

Startups who are home-based will be especially pleased with this phone, as it’s still suitable for domestic use. Overall, this is a great option for small businesses looking for a cost-effective phone system, without compromising on quality.

The BT Converse 2300 is compatible with PBX and ready to use with a headset.

Features Quality User Experience Price
★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★★

What can it do?

This phone has all the features most small businesses need (like caller ID and one-touch memory), without overcomplicating things with options you may never use (like Bluetooth).

The main ones are:

  • Caller ID – See the name or number of the person calling
  • One-touch memory – Quickly dial your favourite numbers (up to 10)
  • Hands free – Complete other tasks while you talk, with the option of connecting a headset
  • On-hook dialing – Only pick up when they do
  • Mute – Stay professional, and have two conversations at once
  • Number directory – Store up to 100 numbers
  • Call log – Retrace the last 50 numbers who called you
  • Redial – Easily call back the last 10 numbers who tried to reach you
  • Mountable – Create space by mounting the device on your wall or desk
  • Energy Efficient Mode – Send the parts you are not using to sleep
  • Induction coupler – Compatible for those with hearing aids

These are fewer features than more expensive providers. But the BT Converse 2300 remains one of the most popular models for startups, and is a great find if it ticks your boxes.

What will it cost me?

You will be hard pressed to find these specs for less. You can pick up the BT Converse 2300 for just £59.99.

Panasonic KX-TGF320E

BT Converse 2300 Phone Great for: Busy small businesses wanting easy call management and flexibility (especially those working from home)
Pros: Pain-free set-up, easy-to-read display, customisable features, call blocking
Cons: Base station only has one ring tone, short cord

Is it for me?

The Panasonic KX-TGF320E combination phone is one for the flexible business owner. It has a corded desk phone and cordless handset, so you no longer need to stay chained to your desk. Both phones also have large-text LCD screens, allowing you to search and view call information at ease.

Some office phones at this price range come without answering machines. But the Panasonic KX-TGF320E comes with a whopping 40 minutes. This lets you share your professional image with a personalised message, and give your customers more options.

The built-in nuisance call blocker is another shiny feature that will allow you more control over your calls, and additional features like the built-in baby monitor will make working from home easier than ever.

Like most Panasonic phone systems, this one will let you make quality VoIP calls.

Features Quality User Experience Price
★★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★★

What can it do?

The KX-TGF320E is a list-topper for user experience. The features are not too basic (for example, you can personalise caller groups with their own ringtones), but they are also not too complicated (again, there is no bluetooth). The main ones include:

  • One-touch dialing – Dial with ease using 3 personalised buttons
  • Nuisance call blocker – Block and register unwanted calls to the call block list
  • LCD display – Easily read the interface with the large-text, monochrome display
  • Phonebook memory – Store up to 100 callers
  • Cordless handset – Take calls up to 100m indoors and up to 300m outdoors

What will it cost me?

This RRP is one of the most competitive for a phone system with these specs, at just £83.99.

Gigaset DE410 Pro IP Phone

Gigaset DE410 Pro IP Phone Great for: Small and medium businesses looking for a professional, affordable and hassle-free option
Pros: Intuitive user interface, easy setup with step-by-step wizards, HD sound quality
Cons: No answering machine, not compatible with Macs

Is it for me?

Gigaset’s DE410 Pro is a surprisingly cheap option, and one of the most affordable VoIP handsets on the market. In addition to its top-of-the-range features, this phone is stylish and durable, so you can feel secure that your business is in good hands.

Customers love this Gigaset handset for its user-friendliness. The five-line illuminated display lets you easily manage your calls, and the screen is also adjustable, giving you a more intuitive user experience.

This device was clearly designed with its users in mind, and its step-by-step wizards will talk you through the complete installation and configuration process, making everything as hassle-free as possible.

The Gigaset DE140 offers up to 6 SIP lines, and VoIP calls.

Features Quality User Experience Price
★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★★

What can it do?

This office phone has everything the BT Converse 2300 has, plus:

  • Adjustable display – Have a comfortable view, even as you move
  • Easy navigation – The five-way navigation key and real-time browsing speed makes managing your phonebook more convenient than ever
  • Pain-free setup – Step-by-step wizards ensure a hassle-free setup process
  • HD sound – Make your calls sound like face-to-face meetings

What will it cost me?

Gigaset’s DE410 Pro can be yours from as little as £96.

Unify Openspace Desk Phone IP55G

Unify Openscape Desk Phone IP35G Great for: Small and enterprise-level businesses that value efficiency
Pros: Intuitive touch controls, HD audio, the lowest carbon footprint, ergonomic design, feature-rich, cost effective
Cons: More limited user support compared with other brands

Is it for me?

You may not have heard of Unify. Unify specifically design phone systems for small and enterprise-level businesses, and as a German manufacturer, you know you are in good hands.

The Openscape IP35G desk phone offers a solid range of features that will make your staff as efficient as this eco-friendly phone is. With fast access to your priority features and an intuitive screen, this phone is big on productivity.

The design is everything you would expect from a German company: modern, space-saving and ergonomic. Of course, you can pay more and get even more features, but we find this office phone excellent value for money, offering everything most small businesses need.

The Openscape IP35G is available as a SIP phone.

Features Quality User Experience Price
★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★★

What can it do?

Some of the best features include:

  • Adjustable screen – Find the angle that works for you
  • Clear display – Keep things simple with the monochrome graphic display
  • Space efficient – Modern, ergonomic design
  • Open listening – Go handsfree, and get more done
  • Fixed function keys – Add 10 (or 6 with LEDs)
  • Multi-line – Connect up to 3 lines
  • Wall mountable – With no extra bits needed
  • Energy efficient – The only phone to win of Europe’s coveted “Blue Angel” eco-friendly recognition

What will it cost me?

Unify’s Openspace Desk Phone IP35G is an undiscovered gem. You can discover it from £185.

Cisco SPA 525G2

Gigaset DE410 Pro IP Phone Great for: Anyone looking for a business phone system that’s as smart as their smartphone
Pros: Will scale with your business, features galore, integrates well with your current technology systems
Cons: Can be tricky for the less tech savvy to get to grips with, random reboots can be a pain

Is it for me?

Cisco is widely regarded as one of the top phone providers, not only for small business, but for when your company grows too. The SPA 525G2 is an excellent addition to that legacy, and its all-you-can-eat features make it the perfect office phone for smart businesses.

This is the industry’s first integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth IP phone, so you can use it like a hands-free device linked to your mobile. The 3.2-inch colour LCD screen offers a user experience that is hard to beat, and you can opt for a PBX or VoIP service.

For any business owners who work from multiple locations, you will be able to use a single number from wherever you are, and the phone will store and automatically reconnect to different Wi-Fi accounts. You will even be able to scale this one with your business.

The Cisco SPA 525G2 supports both SIP and leading third-party control platforms, and uses industry-leading VoIP technology from Cisco.

Features Quality User Experience Price
★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★

What can it do?

As well as the main office phone features (like voicemail, caller ID and Wi-Fi), this office phone stands out for its:

  • Colour display – Play videos or surveillance footage from your phone
  • Bluetooth – Pair with your personal mobile phone
  • 5-line IP – Get enhanced connectivity
  • Wideband audio – Have calls with HD clarity
  • Dedicated buttons – Make shortcuts for your most commonly used features
  • Network compatibility – Make adding or removing phones a walk in the park

What will it cost me?

The features-heavy Cisco Spa 525G2 offers value for money, starting at just £239.99.

Which small business phone providers have the best reputation?

Some of these small business phone providers have been around nearly as long as telephones themselves, and know the ins and outs of the business. But even some fresher faces have already made a name for themselves with their top-notch products and service.

The list of providers is endless, but we’ve picked the top three names for user experience, quality products and customer service.

Here they are:

Supplier Established Known for
Panasonic 1918 Long established with a reputation for technology
BT 1969 One of the UK’s leading telecommunications company
Cisco 1984 An expert in telecommunications
Ringcentral 1999 A telephone specialise


Panasonic Small Business Telephone Systems
You probably know Panasonic as a Japanese, multinational tech giant. But did you know their office phones happen to be some of the best on the market?

Panasonic has brought their century-long technology expertise to create small business telephone systems of the highest standard. And because of their global reach, they are able to offer their quality products and services (including repairs and replacements) at some of the most competitive prices.


BT Phone Systems For Small Business
BT is often a favourite office phone provider amongst the UK’s small business owners. Its roots in this field go deep, as they started out as a telecommunications company.

Not only have they invested extensively in their phone hardware and software packages, but they are also able to offer some of the most cutting-edge telephone technology, since the rise of VoIP.

BT remains one of the most trusted brands for phones, both in the UK and worldwide.


Cisco Phone Systems For Small Business
Many people see the US as a breeding ground for quality tech firms, and Cisco is a prime example. Their extensive range not just of telecommunication systems but also of a variety of tech services can cater to the needs of businesses of all sizes.

Cisco tend to focus on the user experience, and their phone systems often get top marks for look and feel. But rest assured, as one of the world’s largest tech companies, their software too is hard to beat.

With Cisco on board, your small business will be in the best of hands.


RingCentral Small Business Phone Systems
RingCentral is a US based cloud-based phone systems company, that is focussed solely on the development, production and distribution of high-quality telephone hardware and software.

RingCentral small business phone systems are among the most sought-after option in the world for many reasons, but the most important one is quality. Though the other companies included on this list create and sell excellent products, RingCentral is an absolute specialist in the industry and can promise a wealth of knowledge that only comes with experience.

For any small business that needs a phone system, RingCentral is an excellent choice. With years of experience and teams dedicated to the design and production of excellent equipment, they are sure to provide your teams with the very best telecommunication support possible.

Read next: Top business telephone providers

Break it down for me

Here are the main areas where you’ll see results with a small business phone system:

  1. Provide top customer service – Be there when your customers need you. Did you know calls are also the most effective method for closing sales? And for unique queries or complaints, nothing works wonders more than speaking to a real person.
  2. Have HD calls that feel like you’re there – If your calls feel like you’re talking face-to-face, could you save time and money on travelling to your clients?
  3. Get more things done now – Getting hold of people in the present will help you cross more off your list. And with headsets or Bluetooth functions that connect to your mobile, you can get better at multitasking.

Compare small business phones

The information on this page should help you to understand what your small business may require. The best way to compare small business phones though is to speak to suppliers – we can help here.

To get quotes from top UK telephone suppliers, simply complete the quick and easy form at the top of the page. This process is free, and it could help your company to save both time and money.

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