RingCentral

This hosted offering provides very small businesses with an impressive range of PBX functionality—for a modest monthly fee.

By Jeff Goldman | Posted Oct 24, 2007
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RingCentral, which recently announced the addition of DigitalLine VoIP to its offering, provides its customers with a suite of call-routing/call-handling services designed to make a very small company look and sound like a very big one—at least in terms of its communications.

If the offering has a fault, it's that it gives you too many options: RingCentral provides its customers with such a broad range of functionality, controlled through a series of Web pages, that it can be difficult to get a grasp on the system as a whole at first. Still, the interfaces themselves are sufficiently user-friendly that the learning process is a manageable one.

Setup
Signing up for RingCentral is quite straightforward: You start by choosing one of four available service plans, which range in price from $10 to $80 per month depending on the number of free minutes and the number of virtual extensions included. You're then prompted to choose either a toll-free number, a local number, or a customized 'vanity' number (for an additional fee).

The next step in the signup process is relatively new. Now that DigitalLine VoIP has been added to RingCentral's offering, you need to decide whether you want to include DigitalLine for an additional $5 to $25 per month, and, if so, whether you'd like to use the free softphone, the $70 pre-configured ATA, or the $130 IP desk phone. Then it's a matter of providing contact and credit card info, and your number is instantly provisioned.

Once you've got a RingCentral phone number and account, the fun begins. When you log in at the RingCentral Web site, you're presented with the online interface, which consists of an Overview page and six other tabs: Messages, Call Log, Contacts, Extensions, Preferences, and Download.

The Overview page lists recent calls, recent messages, calling credit, and quick links including rules, greetings and notifications—and the other tabs are equally straightforward: you can access Messages (including faxes and voicemails), view a detailed Call Log, manage a Contact list, manage and add rules to individual Extensions, change account Preferences, and Download the Call Manager and softphone.

System capabilities
RingCentral's functionality is impressive, particularly for the company's target market of very small businesses with one to ten employees. You simply set up rules to route incoming calls to your desk phone, cell phone, or softphone—and then add granularity as you need or want it, from specific rules for specific times of day to individual forwarding rules for specific callers.

The layering of rules is extensive—and impressive. Within the Extensions tab, you can add and remove individual extensions, and by clicking on an extension, you can access that extension's complete set of rules. Want to add a rule so that if an important client calls after hours or on weekends, they're forwarded directly to your home phone? It takes about five clicks.

That kind of call control, along with the ability to create countless virtual extensions that simply ring a specified landline, cell phone, or softphone (or any combination thereof), makes RingCentral a no-brainer for a small company that needs to put across a substantial image to callers.

We found the new DigitalLine service to be extremely impressive: Placing and receiving calls is straightforward, and on a 15-minute test call, we didn't notice a single drop or interruption: the voice quality was excellent. There's also a Record button on the softphone interface that saves the call to a 'Recorded Calls' folder.

A few minor quibbles on the recording function: Once you've started recording a call, you can't stop it—the recording continues until you hang up—and the recorded calls stay on your PC; they can't be accessed via the RingCentral Web site or via any other Call Controller. At least, that's true as far we could tell—it's possible that we missed the tab or section of the site where the saved calls are stored.

Learning curve
To our mind, the larger challenge of RingCentral is this: There's simply so much functionality built into the offering that you're inevitably looking at a significant learning effort. Still, as long as you're willing to invest the time to get a grasp on the functionality, RingCentral has a lot to offer.

To get new customers up to speed, the firm has prepared a video overview and a 96-page user guide [PDF file], both crucial for new users—as well as a thorough online knowledgebase for any additional questions.

Sound overwhelming? You could always go with GrandCentral, Google's high-profile (and much simpler) offering. RingCentral CFO Dinesh Lathi says he's fine with that: GrandCentral specifically targets consumers, a market that RingCentral is not interested in courting. "We're focused on the very small business, people that value and are willing to pay for the features and functionality that we bring," he says. "So GrandCentral's really not in the competitive set for us."

And for the very small business—the market that RingCentral does want to reach—their functionality looks like a very good fit.

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