Virtual PBX now a one-stop VoIP shop.

Yes, small and mid-size businesses want their phone systems affordable. Just as important, though, is their need for simplicity. For SMBs with no technical staff and little interest in the nitty-gritty details of telephony, ease-of-use has to be a top priority.

Up to now, San Jose, Calif.-based Virtual PBX has gotten them half way there, with Internet-based inbound calling that offered many of the basic business tools including, voicemail, fax and call forwarding. The solution wasn’t as simple as it could have been, though, as users still had to line up secondary vendors to provide the dial tone.

Now the company is closing the loop with Virtual PBX Complete. As the name suggests, the new offering provides for both inbound and outbound calling, a complete phone system under a single banner.

“Customers love our features, but they also want to get that underlying phone service from us,” said COO Greg Brashier. “They want to have a single phone service.”

Founded in 1997, Virtual PBX claims tens of thousands of customers for its hosted PBX services. While it is advertising its new product as “cloud based,” the company has effectively been working the cloud model for years, hosting not through copper wire but through the Internet.

Most customers won’t be concerned with the engineering subtleties, though: They just want something that it easy to use.

The driving force behind Virtual PBX Complete is simplicity, freeing up users from having to work with multiple providers. That same ease-of-use sensibility is incorporated into the system itself, with engineers working to smooth the path to implementation, a path that has sometimes proved problematic.

“For most companies, trying to get a VoIP phone is an exercise in difficulty,” Brashier said. “It isn’t quite as bad as hooking up a PBX phone switch, but you still need to know a lot to get there. Our customers are small businesses, and they don’t have IT people on staff to think about these things.”

Virtual PBX instead offers plug and play installation, designed to get people up and running with minimal fuss. “When somebody orders a phone from us, they set up the system online, and we’ll ship the phones already registered to an extension. All they need to do is plug the receiver into the base unit and plug the thing into an Internet port,” Brashier said. From there the phone self-configures and the whole thing is up and running.

The system comes with two pricing programs. For $20 per month per user, a customer gets unlimited calling and a full suite of PBX features. For SMBs who expect less intensive calling time, a reduced plan goes for $10 per user per month.

That two-tiered system is intended to redress a long-standing inequity in the way phone systems are priced, Brashier said. By charging everyone a single fee, “what the world has been doing at $40 a month is to subsidize their heavy users by charging light users same $40 a month,” Brashier said. Smaller users pay too much, to keep the price down for bigger users. A two-tier plan is inherently fairer, Brashier said.

Even keeping all of this in mind, Virtual PBX executives recognized that not everyone will be tempted by the new all-in-one system. They therefore are allowing existing customers to keep their present service, with the option of adding on the fuller feature set at their discretion. Alternately, they may choose to migrate their existing setups entirely to the new system.

“Our philosophy is to give everybody the power to do what they want to do,” Brashier said.

While simplicity may be the watchword here, this notion of flexibility also has its place. Even though customers may find a package deal appealing, many still want the ability to shop around among best-of-breed solutions from alternate vendors. They don’t want to be tied to a single proprietary technology.

Virtual PBX treads that line with care. On the one hand, it is pushing the all-in-one proposition. At the same time it leaves some wiggle room through the use of open SIP peering, which enables customers to integrate products and services from different vendors.

“It allows us to sell to a varied customer base,” Brashier said. “We have a large number of users who want a single low-cost solution from a single vendor, but the world has proven again and again that it likes open systems.”

In the end, he predicted, “the packaged solutions will be the winner, because there is a larger audience that just does not want to think about all the moving parts.”

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