Most companies today have one sort of PBX or another. It no longer makes sense to buy a phone line from the telecom for each employee. This over time has made PBX a very attractive solution from a cost perspective and companies have rushed to adapt it. Unfortunately, it does not take long after a traditional PBX solution is installed for the business to notice the amount of required specialized equipment and skills they need to maintain it. Actually after a few years, most PBX systems seem to get out of hand with how many wires are running loose with no one figuring out which user it belongs to. Further, simple features like voicemail, call forwarding, and call conferencing might require you to change your full PBX system or require additional expensive systems.
When VOIP PBX systems came out, they seemed like the knights in shining armour who will be saving the day for business owners. It sounded like a very appealing alternative, as it uses the same network infrastructure the company has already invested in, and provides tons of features that were never possible with a traditional PBX. Further, large VOIP PBX players made it look very easy to setup and maintain. It sounded like there is nothing to dislike about VOIP PBX provided by the industry major players until you call them and ask about pricing and installation cost.
Unfortunately, while there is a good amount of VOIP PBX vendors out there that cater for the large enterprise with deep pockets who can afford racks of specialized equipment and an army of CCIEs to install/configure it, there are not many who cater for SMB. Even enterprise customers have been lately complaining of the lack of features and complexity of these large VOIP PBX systems. For example one of the large PBX VOIP vendors out there, after charging you an arm and a leg for their VOIP PBX system, you discover it is lacking basic features like voicemail and you are required to carry out an integration with a different system and another set of equipment and a different kind of professional skills to add this small feature. In a crunching economy like today, where most companies have to do more with less, traditional VOIP PBX from such vendors might not be the right solution even for the enterprise.
Some innovative software/networking solution development companies have noticed this gap, and started offering compelling VOIP PBX Systems. This new generation of VOIP PBX Systems are not just more cost effective and easier to install/manage, but offer a richer feature set than traditional VOIP PBX Systems. One example of these solutions is 3CX Phone System which was built to scale for the enterprise need, while being simple and cost effective enough for the SMB. They are even offering a cloud based VOIP PBX system, where you don’t have to buy any equipment or maintain it at all. I was really impressed by the amount of features they are packing in this very easy to install and cost effective solution.
I wanted to test how 3CX Phone System stands up to their claims of being very cost effective and dead simple, and I was not disappointed. Here are a few things that I liked during my personal testing of the product within my lab.
- I was able to setup and configure the system with 6 extensions and voicemail and make it ready for phone connections in about 20 minutes without even reading the manual or having any knowledge close to CCIE in the networking/VOIP field.
- I was able to add 5 systems (4 Android phones & an iPhone using the 3CX softphone) with less than 5 minutes to install and configure each.
- I was able to setup software trunking with my VOIP provider (I am using vBuzzer, not sure if it was even on the 3CX tested list) within 30 minutes. This has allowed me to use my IP phones to dial anywhere in Canada and around the globe.
- I was able to use just a single Windows 2008 R2 virtual machine to install the system and nothing else. Everything worked great for me with up to 4 simultaneous calls that I was able to test in my lab (sorry but that was a limit in the amount of devices I had at home and nothing related to a system limitation). Heck I even found out later that you can even use a Windows desktop to host your system if you want to save on OS license for that small branch office as long you have less than 250 users, where beyond that you will need a Windows OS.
- The specs requirements of the system is very minimal, the VM I did my test with did just great and had 2 vCPU & 4GB of RAM, where most of the resources were utilized by Windows rather than the system. The minimum system requirements on their website were much lower than this, but I just decided to give some extra resources to satisfy my Windows VM.
- Being fully supported to run on any desktop system or virtual machine without limitation on the hardware vendor is just a great freedom, and can help with the cost saving.
– I loved the amount of features and the cleanliness of their software phones on my Android Phone, my wife’s Old iPhone and my Windows PC. The interface was very consistent across these three platfroms. Here is a screenshot of the Android interface on my Samsung Galaxy S5 & Windows PC, where the iPhone one looked very similar (but on a much smaller screen).
While the system is full of features, below are the features I was able to test within the few hours I have spent on the systems:
- Calling between Internal Extensions
- SIP trunking to a VOIP Provider using vBuzzer
- Calling my cellphone and other local phones through the VOIP Provider
- Making international call through the VOIP Provider
- Caller ID
- Call Forwarding
- Three way calling
- Scheduling a conference call that dial each participant
- Voice mail (to my surprise this required zero configuration and was working right out of the box with my small single VM setup)
- Using my IP Phone from the internet.
Below are couple of features, I am interested to try but did not get time to:
– Bridging my 3CX system with another system preferably across the internet in a different country. If you have a 3CX setup somewhere and interested in testing this across then leave me a comment.
– Testing the 3CX Phone System Cloud offering, where the system will be totally hosted by a service provider and all you have to have on premise is the IP Phones being a soft IP phone or an IP Phone handset. I think this one will be great for many SMBs and branch offices where you have close to zero IT and where you don’t want to run the system locally.
At last, the only glitch I had during testing was to switch my Windows 3CX IP Phone from CTI mode to a 3CXPhone mode. Unlike the Android & iPhone 3CX IP Phones software the Windows 3CXPhone start in CTI mode as it assumes that you will have an IP Phone handset and you are using the software just to control it or utilize it to use an advanced feature. You will have to switch the 3CX Phone for Windows from CTI mode to 3CXPhone mode if you want to use it as a full IP Phone and make and receive calls through the software without a handset. I kinda guessed that when I first saw it showing the CTI mode, but what confused me was that I was expecting to just press the phone icon and when it turned blue, I thought it would switch it to the 3CXPhone mode. What I ended up actually needing to do is to actually hit the link that shows when highlighting the phone icon rather than just clicking the phone icon. I had to fuss with this for a good 15 minutes, then decided to search it to find the instruction on 3CX site at the following link: http://www.3cx.com/user-manual/installation-windows/ . Look at the below image to understand where the confusion has started:
As you can see as soon you click on the phone icon, it turn in blue and make you feel as it was chosen and it switched into 3CXPhone mode, but in reality I had to click on the dropdown link where it say 3CXPhone highlighted in red in the above screenshot. This could confuse some users who did not read the instruction like me, but it is fair to mention it was clearly marked in the instructions.
Hope this helps, and I am hoping to be able to review the other features that I did not get to this time into a later post. In case you are interested to try it out yourself, you can download a trail from: 3CXPhone System download link