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The Essential Guide to Business Phone Service

Voice calls are still a core component of effective business communications.

While employees and customers may rely on multimedia channels to collaborate and research, the value of voice hasn’t diminished in the digital age. Phone calls are still among the most effective tools for relaying complex, high-value information.

A reliable, crystal-clear phone system is critical to your organization’s ability to support a productive workforce and happy customer relationships.

Running short on time? Download our free eBook 10 Questions To Ask Before You Buy Phone Service For Your Business and read it later.

The Essential Guide to Business Phone Service

In this guide, we've developed answers to common customer questions about:

  • Identifying the best business phone system
  • How to get the right type of business phone service
  • Finding reliable cloud phone service providers
  • Understanding the costs of business phone systems

To help you navigate your options for technology, vendors, and pricing, we’ve prepared unbiased insight into everything you know to optimize your investment.


Identifying the Best Business Phone System

While the value of voice communications may be clear, the path to simpler business phone system management can be significantly more complicated. 65% of modern companies have already made the switch to hosted VoIP systems, unlocking business benefits such as cost savings, productivity gains, and agility. However, organizations have more choice than ever when it comes to finding the best virtual phone system for small business.

Unlocking the advantages of hosted Voice over IP (VoIP) requires companies to optimize their selection of technology, features, and vendor. Shopping by price alone is unlikely to lead your company to the best PBX system. Instead, we recommend that you work to understand your technology options and the pros and cons of cloud-based phone systems to find the right choice for your needs.

Getting the Right Type of Business Phone Service

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for business class cloud-based phone service. As VoIP technology has evolved and matured, organizations have more options than ever when it comes to selecting flexible, cloud-based phone systems. The right system for your organization's needs will meet your requirements for costs, features, reliability, scalability, and ease-of-administration.

If you’re evaluating phone systems for your business, it’s common to encounter an endless number of acronyms such as PBX, SIP, PRI, and more. To understand your options and which type of service best fits your organization’s needs, read on for a definition, pros, and cons of the most common approaches to business voice communications.

Hosted vs. On-Premises IP Phones

The first decision your organization will need to make when switching to VoIP phone service is about hosted vs. on-premises solutions. Organizations can implement IP-based phone service using their equipment which is maintained on-premises, or partner with a vendor for hosted IP phone service.

What is an On-Premises PBX?

An on-premises deployment of a Private Branch Exchange (PBX) is an approach to business communications where the PBX equipment is owned, maintained, and operated by the organization. This approach offers maximum control over the hardware and configurations but requires more lifetime system maintenance than cloud-based alternatives. The upfront investment costs for an on-premises PBX system are also costlier than hosted options.

What is Hosted PBX?

hosted private branch exchange (PBX), also known as a virtual PBX, is an approach to hosted, cloud-based business phone systems delivered in partnership with a cloud vendor. This is an alternative to traditional PBX systems which are located on-premises and maintained by the organization’s IT team.

Within a hosted PBX delivery model, the vendor manages the technology and protocols required to support call switching and routing, while providing user-friendly administration tools for the client to scale phone lines and features.

Reasons to Opt for Hosted PBX Over On-Premises PBX

  • Hosted PBX does not require in-house telephony expertise for system upgrades or maintenance.
  • Hosted PBX offers predictable monthly costs based on users and features.
  • Cloud vendors are responsible for equipment and software upgrades with hosted solutions.
  • Cloud-based, hosted PBX has a significantly lower cost of implementation than premises-based alternatives.
  • Providers perform business continuity and redundancy planning with hosted solutions.
  • Costs are based on users and features and are both transparent and predictable.
  • Implementation costs can be 70% less than On-Premises PBX with the best cloud PBX providers.
  • Maintenance is outsourced, and the tools for administration are simple.
  • For more, check out 6 Ways Hosted PBX Takes the Headache Out of Business Phone Service.

Reasons to Opt for On-Premises PBX Over Hosted PBX

  • On-premises PBX systems offer maximum control over configurations for organizations with particularly complex, dynamic communications needs.
  • On-premises PBX systems typically provide maximum interoperability with existing software and systems.
  • Premises-based deployments can drive long-term cost savings for specific use cases, such as very large enterprises.

Is PBX hosting right for your business? As an alternative to on-premises PBX systems, a virtual PBX system can offer significant ease-of-use and flexibility for many use cases. Some organizations may choose to continue using existing technology to realize an investment in a premises-based PBX system fully. However, for many companies that are comparing hosted PBX to premises-PBX, virtual PBX is the right choice.

What is PRI?

Primary Rate Interface (PRI) is a term used to describe T-1 transmission technology which has been used to support residential and business voice communications for over 40 years. PRI is a standard used to define the delivery of voice and data through physical copper cabling in a business building’s telecommunications risers.

PRI lines are supported by a PRI circuit, which includes a total of 24 channels. Each PRI circuit can support 23 concurrent calls, with a final channel used for caller ID and other call-related functionality. PRI technology submits voice calls as electrical pulses and routes voice communications using traditional telecommunications carriers. Businesses who use PRI rely on traditional telecommunications providers for modifications to cabling infrastructure to add lines, perform maintenance, or upgrade equipment.

VoIP vs. PRI

PRI is an alternative to IP-based phone technologies, such as UCaaS, VoIP, or SIP trunking. When comparing to cloud-based options, it's important to look at the pros and cons of a PRI circuit:

Pros of PRI vs. VoIP

  • PRI does not require IP connectivity for voice calling.
  • The use of dedicated infrastructure protects voice call quality.
  • PRI can offer redundancy with the purchase of a second PRI circuit.

Cons of PRI vs. VoIP

  • PRI is costlier than VoIP to implement and maintain.
  • PRI requires monthly phone service via a traditional telephone carrier.
  • It is much more expensive than VoIP for long-distance and international calling.
  • Traditional telecommunications vendors may require long-term service contracts.
  • PRI circuits must be purchased and maintained in 23-line units, so scaling is not flexible. 

What is SIP Trunking?

Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking is a set of technological standards used to support VoIP calls. SIP protocols initiate and end calls between a VoIP line and another number, support voice data transmission, and provide support for multimedia communications. While SIP is a VoIP technology, it can be used for the transfer of video conferencing, SMS (text) messages and other data in a Unified Communications deployment.

The costs of SIP Trunking can vary depending on a company’s technology requirements and vendor, but these systems are generally 25-60% cheaper than alternatives such as PRI lines, T1 lines, and analog lines. SIP Trunk pricing is primarily determined by SIP setup fees, phone lines, number porting fees, handsets, features, and monthly service costs.

SIP Trunking vs. PRI

Organizations that opt for hosted, cloud-based business communications may receive SIP trunking service through a vendor who hosts and maintains SIP equipment. SIP is an alternative to PRI because it eliminates the need for circuits, cabling, and on-premises phone infrastructure.

Pros of SIP Trunking vs. PRI

  • Hosted SIP Trunking lines are sold by vendors on-demand, eliminating the need to pay for unused capacity.
  • SIP Trunking can be 30-40% cheaper than PRI line alternatives.
  • SIP offers mobile failover and mobility features.
  • SIP provides user-friendly cloud-based administration.
  • SIP supports Unified Communications and multi-media collaboration.
  • SIP provides mobile-first features and design and support for remote workforces.
  • SIP can be integrated with PRI and analog lines for hybrid phone system design.

Cons of SIP Trunking vs. PRI

  • SIP requires data connectivity for voice and multimedia communications.
  • A secure SIP implementation involves data encryption and firewalls to mitigate risks.
  • SIP vendors offer varying quality, features, and platforms.

VoIP vs. Landline

Traditional telephone lines can consist of PRI, T1, or analog phone line technology. They may be referred to by cloud communications providers as "POTS," an acronym for "plain old telephones." While many businesses decide to switch from traditional telephone technology to VoIP based on the potential for cost-savings and scalability, it can be confusing to navigate the abundance of options available for IP-based phone communications.

If you’re wondering if it’s time for a phone system upgrade, switching to VoIP can give your organization the benefits of flexible, cloud-based communications tools.




Which Type of Phone Technology is Best for You?

High-quality, reliable telephone service is critical to the success of your business. However, determining the right option can be an overwhelming task, especially considering the abundance of acronyms used by VoIP providers. To optimize your organization's investment, know whether you want to use hosted service or host your solution on-premises. Evaluate your need for multimedia communications to determine whether you will adopt VoIP with SIP or Unified-Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS).

Understanding your organization's requirements for managed services and feature sets is vital to obtain a future-proof investment which will deliver a lifetime of value. Grasping the distinction between common terms such as PRI, SIP, VoIP, and UCaaS can help you research solutions and vendors. However, the right fit for your organization's needs should be scalable, reliable, and backed by exceptional customer support.

Future Proofing Your Purchase

Over 90% of organizations of all sizes have made at least a partial switch to the cloud by deploying some cloud apps and services. However, not all organizations have made the switch to cloud-based phone systems or full UCaaS. Experts predict that by 2020, more than half of organizations will have adopted UCaaS.

The success of today’s organizations depends on digital agility in the enterprise, or the capacity to rapidly scale and adopt new technologies in response to evolving industries and customer needs. Unlocking long-term value from business phone systems requires future-proofing your investment. Approach the process with a mindset of business transformation.

1. Evaluate Platforms

Consider the technology used by vendors in addition to the service quality and pricing of providers. Not all platforms for business communications offer the same scalability and robust features. Consider if a platform can expand to meet your organization's future needs, is secure, and provides the right amount of customization. Other considerations include interoperability with your existing apps and services and features for team collaboration and contact center communications.

2. Use UCaaS for Process Improvements

With the right vendor and communications platform, your organization will gain the ability to quickly and cost-effectively test and deploy new features. Communications tools like Cisco WebEx Teams for project-based communications give teams access to keyword-searchable communications around documents, discussions, and other project information. Work with your vendor to adopt new features to:

  • Improve business continuity and risk management
  • Eliminate redundant software and streamline employee communications
  • Introduce automation and minimize manual work with smart integrations
  • Enable global collaboration

In today’s workplace, the idea of the traditional, office-based team is quickly being replaced by a global, mobile workforce focused on project-based collaboration. A future-proof UCaaS solution can support your team’s need to collaborate from any location, device, or time zone.

3. Adopt Secure Mobility

Nearly 7 in 10 American workers use their own smartphone, tablet, or laptop on the job. While today’s talent expects mobility and flexibility, a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy can present new security risks of data leakage and device management challenges for the technology team. The right UCaaS platform can offer a secure, centralized application for work-based communications on employee devices. While this doesn’t eliminate the need for a formal BYOD policy, it can encourage employees to behave in secure ways by providing a focused, productive portal for mobile work.

Fail-Proof Your Service

In today’s data-driven world, reliable business communications is a competitive advantage. 98% of organizations say a single hour of information technology downtime can cost $100,000 or more in lost productivity, lost revenue, and damage to brand reputation. Fail-proof enterprise communications are a necessity to support internal collaboration, customer communications, data sharing, and vendor relationships.

The right business phone system and provider can protect your organization from the costly risks of downtime with highly reliable enterprise-grade communications tools. To improve redundancy in your enterprise, concentrate on solutions which offer the following attributes:

1. Use Business-Class Connectivity

Secure a direct, private data connection through a business-class connectivity vendor to avoid the security and reliability risks of bring-your-own-bandwidth (BYOB).

2. Secure Sufficient Bandwidth

Eliminate waste and optimize costs by securing a professional bandwidth assessment to protect quality-of-service (QoS).

3. Adopt SIP Trunking

Employ enterprise-grade SIP trunking to simplify the flexible, scalable management of multiple phone lines across locations.

4. Streamline Administration

Prioritize cloud communications platforms with full-functionality to streamline administration.

5. Establish a Business Continuity Plan

Develop a comprehensive business continuity plan with redundant connectivity and mobile failover to support continuous service during outages.

6. Consolidate Vendor Relationships

Streamline vendor relationships by bundling voice, data, and other communications services with a single provider to save costs and improve network transparency.

Supporting Your Purchase

Simple billing and assistance understanding your business phone bill are critical to long-term satisfaction with your new cloud phone system. Domestic, local and expert customer support for first call resolution is another important criteria for a satisfactory experience.

Understanding Your Business Phone Bill

Business and residential phone service providers who offer cloud and traditional telephony services face fewer regulations in providing transparent, easy-to-understand billing than vendors in other industries. While switching to cloud-based phone systems can make managing your lines much more straightforward, it's not necessarily a guarantee that your monthly billing will be transparent. To understand the factors which influence your monthly phone system costs each month, develop a basic understanding of the essential sections:

1. Remittance Information

Your vendor's contact information, your businesses' contact information, and your account number. This section may be perforated for companies who choose to pay the bill via mailed check.

2. Statement Information

Your account number, the total amount due, past due amount (if applicable) and bill due date.

3. Summary of Account

A detailed overview of charges, which may be itemized. This can include:

  • Total Lines
  • Type of Service (PRI, Analog, or SIP)
  • Toll-Free Service Charges, including Caller ID, Call Waiting, Call Forwarding, and Three Way Calling
  • Local Calling
  • Long Distance Calling
  • Call Itemization, for all calls, long-distance, or international calling
  • Taxes

4. Customer Messages

Communications from the vendor about your account, billing, and other need-to-know information.

There can be significant variation in the way both cloud and traditional phone vendors itemize monthly service bills. If your monthly phone bill is a headache, switching to a vendor with transparent, easy-to-understand billing can simplify your payment and remittance process. Asking for a sample invoice during the vendor selection process can enable you to partner with a cloud phone system provider whose billing processes are easy-to-understand and flexible according to client needs.

Characteristics of Great Business Phone Customer Support

Regardless of your industry or company size, partnering with a VoIP vendor with a track record of exceptional customer support is key to long-term satisfaction with your investment. In addition to evaluating a provider’s technology and pricing, research their approach to customer service and client satisfaction.

The right business phone service provider has the technology and experience to scale to your current and future needs. They also take a better approach to customer support than cookie-cutter service offerings. While “great” is subjective, the following characteristics can point to a cloud communications vendor with a strong commitment to customer satisfaction:

  • Live, local, and knowledgeable customer support representatives
  • A willingness to go the extra mile to meet customer needs 24/7/365
  • Proactive network monitoring and management services
  • Dedicated account managers and other simplified account management services
  • A complete suite of best-of-breed cloud services
  • Enterprise-grade solutions for enhanced quality and reliability
  • Specialized, in-house expertise and industry experience

When you're evaluating providers, look beyond the features and benefits offered in business-class phone service packages. While the technology and pricing are essential aspects of your customer experience, exceptional customer support is an equally important consideration to keep in mind.


Finding Reliable Business Phone Service Providers

Switching to hosted voice services can provide your organization with crystal-clear, cost-effective business phone calls while achieving productivity and collaboration gains. However, the process of finding the best hosted VoIP solutions and providers isn't always straightforward. There's no shortage of VoIP vendors who offer different approaches to service, technology, and pricing.

Finding a reliable provider is key to a simple, satisfactory experience with your new phone system. The process of upgrading your business phone systems shouldn't be complicated or confusing, but the wrong vendor partnership can result in hidden costs, poor quality, or other hidden pitfalls. To fail-proof your collaboration, we recommend evaluating vendors based on the reliability of their service, track-record, and technology:

1. Service-Level Agreements

Business-class phone service providers have an exceptional record of reliability and availability, backed by service-level agreements. These customer contracts dictate what customers can expect for downtime, call quality, and more.

  • Reliability Infrastructure
  • Quality of Service (QoS)
  • Uptime Guarantees
  • Support Availability

2. Pre-Service Consultations

Leading hosted VoIP providers work closely with the information technology team to understand prospective client's requirements during the sales process. During this stage, they will carefully assess an organization's needs to ensure satisfaction with service and quality once the new system is live. These consultations will include an analysis of:

  • Traffic Patterns
  • Bandwidth Requirements
  • Local Area Network (LAN) Topology
  • Network Security and Risks
  • Total Number of Lines
  • Required Call Appearances

3. Hardware Support

While the technological requirements for cloud-based business phone systems are surprisingly minimal, your organization may need to invest in several pieces of hardware. The best VoIP providers can provide support in identifying your needs and acquiring the right equipment which may include:

  • A voice gateway to transmit data packets from your LAN to IP
  • Phone handsets for users and shared lines

4. Implementation Planning

With proper planning, a change to hosted business cloud phones can be surprisingly simple. With a trusted, experienced vendor, your organization can switch between systems in a single business day with no downtime or confusion. Implementation planning should address each of the following:

  • Full-service implementation, including potential fiber Internet installation
  • Staff training on the new phone system
  • Recommending a service end date to notify your current phone carrier
  • Support with number porting to a new VoIP phone system

A reliable vendor will commit to creating a unique, customized plan for each new client. While some organizations will be able to switch to the new phone system in a single business day, other businesses have more complex needs due to a high volume of employees or multiple work sites. Montgomery College successfully transitioned to a next-generation connected campus with a phased migration over several business days.

5. Fast Installation Times

Some phone service vendors and Internet service providers (ISPs) have long waits for installation times, which can range from 30-60 days. Work closely with your provider on expected delivery and implementation times before signing a contract.

6. Accessible Support

Reliable providers invest in expert customer service representatives with the knowledge and training needed to provide fast, friendly resolution to customer questions and requests. Check online reviews to ensure your provider has a track record of customer care, and opt for a provider with 24/7 technical support.

7. Timely Troubleshooting Response

If your organization reports a service issue which necessitates an on-site visit, how quickly can the business phone service provider send a field tech? If your organization has an unexpected telecommunications need on a Friday afternoon, can you expect immediate assistance? Evaluate policies to ensure your organization can expect a quick response to troubleshooting and service requests.

8. Vendor References

Reliable VoIP vendors are never hesitant to back up their marketing with client references, case studies, or testimonials. To ensure a provider has the experience to meet your needs, verify that they have successfully serviced clients who operate in similar industries. Verify any provided references with online research to evaluate customer reviews, and be wary of vendors who are hesitant to offer references.

9. Technological Transparency

Depending on your organization's requirements, real-time technological transparency into network performance and Internet usage may be necessary. Ask prospective carriers if they provide real-time statistical data to clients for active network monitoring. To further secure QoS, inquire about a vendor's codec. Leading VoIP providers use high-quality G.711 codecs to offer 80 Kbps for each phone call.

10. Avoid Bring-Your-Own Bandwidth

Many business phone system providers sell Bring Your Own Bandwidth (BYOB) solutions, which means the vendor does not offer dedicated Internet connectivity to clients. With these systems, voice packets have to travel across public Internet resources which can significantly increase the risk of service quality issues due to dropped packets. Vendors who offer direct connections can prioritize packets and provide a secure path between phone lines for high-quality, reliable business voice communications.

11. Direct Connection

With a direct connection, your hosted voice communications tools are on the same network as your Internet connectivity. To ensure the best quality and security, search for hosted voice services which offer direct connections for their customers. Combining your cloud-based phone system with business-class Internet connectivity can yield benefits such as:

  • Improved voice communications quality
  • Lower risks of downtime
  • Simplified billing and cost savings on bundling
  • Unified, knowledgeable customer support


The Best Business Phone Service Providers in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia

As one of the first companies to deliver business-class Internet and phone service in the Washington, D.C. area, we know the telecommunications landscape well. You have plenty of vendors to choose from, regardless of whether you’re searching for VoIP providers, UCaaS providers, or telecommunications companies in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

The Top Cloud, UCaaS and VoIP Providers in the Greater D.C. Metro Area

A search can reveal a wealth of options for vendors, ranging from large, internationally known telecommunications conglomerates to small, locally owned companies. Each of these organizations can have a unique approach to service options and pricing, which makes comparing options challenging. To help you narrow your search, we've compiled insight into some of the top vendors in the following posts.

Who is the Best Business Phone Vendor in the D.C. Metro Area?

The “best” business phone vendor in the greater D.C. Metro area is subjective. The right provider for one organization that needs a full UCaaS deployment may not be the same as the best provider for a small company that needs legacy phone system maintenance. The “best” depends on the vendor who can best meet your organization’s requirements for budget, technology, industry, and vision.

The best provider should make VoIP easy and support your organization's strategic goals. Evaluate prospective providers based on the following factors:

  • Cost
  • Quality
  • Redundant Infrastructure
  • Reliability
  • Service-Level Agreements
  • Client References
  • Industry Experience
  • Vendor Expertise
  • Compliance Requirements
  • Service and Support


Understanding Business Phone Service Costs

From a financial perspective, the decision to switch to cloud-based phone systems can be a simple choice. VoIP and UCaaS offer predictable and straightforward monthly costs, especially compared to the variable cost of a premises-based phone system or expensive service from a traditional telephone vendor.

Understanding the costs can be a bit complicated, especially when you're trying to interview several prospective vendors. Business phone service pricing in Maryland, Virginia, and DC area can vary significantly, and not every vendor upcharge is necessarily going to translate into value or customer satisfaction.

Make sure to download our Essential Guide to Phone System Pricing.

How Much Does a Phone System Cost for Small Business and the Enterprise?

Cloud phone system pricing should be transparent and based on your organization's usage and technological requirements. To optimize your communications budget, we recommend getting a quote from several vendors, and understanding the primary factors which impact cloud communication pricing:

Number of Users

A primary factor in your monthly business phone bill should be the total number of lines. While many users will need a dedicated phone line, other areas of your business such as reception or the mailroom can likely share a line. These lines and associated costs may be scaled up and down according to need each month, especially at organizations with seasonal staffing requirements.

Number of Sites

Installing a new phone system at multiple offices or sites can be costlier than a single-site installation.

Phone Model

The costs of phone handsets can vary drastically, depending on whether you select a generic model or a best-of-breed brand name option and phone handset features. Your vendor should help you select VoIP-compatible phone models according to user requirements for features such as intercom, call transfer, call hold, call waiting, and speed dial.

Layers of Redundancy

Your organization's redundancy needs are impacted by how critical phone service is to your operations. Highly redundant deployments may involve the hybrid implementation of VoIP and traditional phone lines to minimize interruptions in case of outages. Multiple layers of redundancy can be costlier than simpler implementations.

Required Training

Before your new phone system goes live, your employees will need training on how to operate new handsets and systems. Training costs can vary depending on your employees and the total number of business sites, but organizations can keep costs low by managing the bulk of training internally.


The number of premium features added to your business phone lines can also determine how much cloud phone service costs. Many features, such as call waiting, call forwarding, conference calling, and video calling may be bundled into transparent service packages for predictable monthly pricing.

To optimize the features based on your business needs, review service options carefully to ensure your organization gains access to the right enhanced service options which may include:

  • Conferencing
  • Mobility
  • Call Center
  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
  • Enhanced 911 Services
  • Integration with CRM, ERP or other internal systems


Installation costs can vary due to factors which are mostly outside of your organization's control. Your setup may cost more or less depending on your organization's proximity to fiber-optic Internet resources or the current wiring in your building's telecommunication risers.


Your organization's requirements for international long-distance calling can impact the monthly costs of your business phone system. While businesses with a high demand for domestic and international long distance calls typically experience the most significant savings switching to the cloud, international calls are charged by the minute based on the call destination.


Cloud-based phone system security is critical to protecting your organization from threats of service abuse, intentional service disruption, and call interception or modification. To diminish these risks, partnering with a cloud-based phone system provider who offers enhanced call security and encryption may increase costs.

Scale your security according to business needs and regulatory requirements. The right vendor can enable your organization to mitigate risks with active traffic monitoring, firewalls, encryption tools, the use of a segregated VPN, and other security actions.


Cloud-based phone systems rely on bandwidth to transmit phone communications as voice data packets over an Internet connection. If your organization has heavy bandwidth requirements, the ongoing costs of your phone system could be higher.

Other factors which can impact your bandwidth requirements include the numbers of devices in use, multimedia data transmissions, a high volume of uploads and downloads, and redundancy needs. To optimize cost and QoS, a professional bandwidth assessment can accurately estimate your businesses’ needs.

You can find Atlantech's cloud-based phone pricing listed online. Pricing starts as low as $12 per line.


Buying Business Phone Service

Your company has more choice than ever when it comes to finding the right kind of business phone service. Before making the switch, you'll need to evaluate the pros and cons of many types of services and features to decide which type of cloud-based phone system is right for your company.

Finding the right service provider is equally important to satisfaction. Regardless of which type of phone system you choose, partnering with a vendor that offers attentive, expert technical support and transparent pricing is critical.

To help you decide on phone service and provider, we've developed insight into the top questions to ask to ensure high-quality service at a price you can afford. Download your free copy of 10 Questions to Ask Before Buying Business Phone Service.

If you're in the D.C. metro area and would like to talk with a pro about your telecommunications needs, you can get a quote here.