A few days ago, Aliza provided some excellent planning advice on how to pick a company phone system. I’ve written in the past about three options for incoming service: Google Voice (which now lets you use some of its features with your existing number), 3jam, and Grasshopper (which is now reportedly profitable.)
This time, let’s look at a business phone system that provides both incoming and outgoing service, plus actual phones. The folks at RingCentral have kindly set me up with one of their packages, the RingCentral Office. They also offer RingCentral Online, an inbound service similar to those listed above, but we’ll focus on the Office package for simplicity.
RingCentral Office has three pricing levels, ranging from a one-line, 10-extension plan for $49.99 per month to an 8-line, unlimited extension plan for $179.99 per month. Each plan comes with various combinations of toll-free and local numbers, as well as toll-free or local dedicated fax numbers. You can also port your existing local or toll-free numbers to RingCentral.
All plans are advertised as having “unlimited minutes,” but (as is apparently the norm among VoIP providers) “unlimited” actually means 5,000 minutes per month; if you go over that, you’ll be charged 3.9 cents/minute. That works out to roughly 2.5 hours of talking per day. Are you and your colleagues on the phone that much? At my company, we aren’t, but some folks might need to be aware of this limit.
What You Get
RingCentral Office includes all of the features that have become standard for Internet phone services. They offer numbers in the U.S., Canada and the UK.
RingCentral offers two types of phones. The phone RingCentral provided to me is a Linksys (now owned by Cisco) SPA942. At first glance, it looks much like a modern business phone. But instead of plugging it into a phone jack, one connects it to the Internet using a standard RJ-45 network cable. If you only have one Internet connection, you can plug the phone into your internet connection, and then plug other devices into the phone. I was pleased with the phone. It’s relatively easy to operate, but strangely, it doesn’t support a headset, something I’ve gotten quite used to.
If you would prefer to use your existing phone equipment, RingCentral also offers an ATA adapter which connects the Internet to regular phones. Since most people aren’t technically-minded enough to want to fiddle with ATAs or configuration of phones, RingCentral ships their equipment pre-configured. All I had to do was plug in the power and the ethernet cable, and the phone was online and ready to use. RingCentral tells me that they provide their phones at or below wholesale cost; a little research confirmed that their equipment prices are quite low.
When you or your colleagues are out of the office, you can use the web site and Windows- or Mac-based softphone application to send, receive and manage calls and messages. One of the unusual features of the softphone app is the ability to view incoming calls and reply with a short message like “I’ll call you back in 10 minutes” without actually answering the phone call. There’s also integration with Outlook’s contact list.
For iPhone users, there’s a native application that provides easy access to voicemail (separate from the iPhone’s built-in voicemail) and faxes. You can also use the iPhone app to make calls showing the Caller ID from your business line — without displaying your iPhone’s telephone number. Similar native applications are being developed for other platforms; I gather that the BlackBerry is next on RingCentral’s list. I didn’t test RingCentral’s software, but I’ve gotten positive feedback from others who’ve used it.
When ordering, you’ll be asked to specify the plan you want, the number of lines needed, as well as the number of local and toll-free numbers. You can create a plan that meets your specific needs, and you can change plans at will, since you don’t need to sign a contract. If you return the phones, the return will be subject to a restocking fee.
RingCentral boasts that its services can be priced and purchased directly from its web site without needing to call (although it does offer ordering by phone). While web ordering is certainly possible, I found the website to be less than clear in explaining the differences between the various plans and options. RingCentral tells me that a redesigned site is on the way.
Of course, in a business environment, call quality is key. In my tests, I (and the people I talked to) agreed that our conversations were clear, loud, and with none of the delay that sometimes plagues services like Google Voice. RingCentral tells me that the service is SIP-based, but that they’ve done significant signal processing so that anyone with a DSL, cable or faster Internet connection should hear excellent sound quality. Dialup connections aren’t recommended, for obvious reasons.
RingCentral has been around for several years, but only started offering the Office product in early 2009. According to the company, it is now providing its Office service to over 3,000 organizations of various sizes, including some of over 50 users, with the four-line option is the most popular. They have multiple levels of redundancy and backups, but of course, if your local Internet connection or power goes out, you’ll be unable to use RingCentral, or any other Internet-based phone system.
If you are in the market for a virtual PBX system that provides phone hardware with incoming and outgoing service, you’ll want to look at a number of options, including Accessline Digital Business Phone System, FreedomIQ Hosted PBX, and Phone.com Business Phone, Whatever you choose, RingCentral Office is certainly a strong competitor.
Do you use RingCentral?