There’s never been as large and diverse a selection of small business phone systems available as there is today for limited company owners, sole traders, and partnerships.
Part of this surge in the numbers of suppliers and options has been caused by deregulation but the really significant driver has been the developments and innovations created by rapidly advancing technology.
Until recently, standard office telephone systems relied on power-hungry, bulky, hard-wired PBXs which required a degree is astrophysics to operate and seemingly endless and expensive regular maintenance.
The business telephone systems of today are different and they’re about to undergo even more change.
PSTN and ISDN – the traditional backbones of the British telephone network – are being discontinued from 2025 as the country goes fully digital.
The last ten years have seen prices come down in the sector dramatically as well as the number of added-value phone system features growing exponentially.
Telecoms experts expect these two trends to continue at even greater pace in the coming years.
Are you currently in the process of choosing a business telephone system for your new start company?
Are you unhappy with your current supplier’s service and customer support and you feel that now is the time to switch to something better?
In this article, we hope to help you come to a decision by:
- sharing the tactics you need to make sure you choose the best option for your company,
- describing the wide array of phone system features now available on many networks – jargon-free information on some of the extras on offer with the new generation of phone systems,
- showing you the main details of the small business tariffs on offer from ten of the UK’s leading supplier so that you can compare for yourself.
We hope you find the information helpful but, if you do require more assistance, then get in touch with us by filling out the form at the top of the page.
BusinessCostSaver’s mission is to help company owners lower their overheads and make more money by providing them with up-to-date and actionable information on a range of business topics written by our team of in-house specialists.
If you’d prefer one of our deal-finding team to do the searching for you, please let us know.
We’re completely impartial and we’re not tied to any supplier.
This means that you can be certain that the small business phone systems we recommend to you are the ones which save you the most money and offer you the extra services you need.
Choosing the best option for your company from the telephone systems for small business available
When choosing a small business phone system for your business, we recommend you follow these five steps before making a decision.
1. How much internal, inbound, and outbound call traffic do you generate?
How important is the phone to your business?
Do you run a telemarketing team making high volumes of outbound calls to customers and to prospects?
Do you run a contact centre which receives significant volumes of inbound calls on a daily basis?
First, ask yourself how much voice traffic you need to manage on a daily basis.
Remember that internal calls and inbound calls cost you nothing so the cost of calling is not a consideration here.
Your general capacity to make and receive all types of calls is linked to your company’s productivity and profitability.
So, how big does your phone system need to be and how many users do you have to have connected?
2. What’s your budget?
When planning for the purchase of a new small business phone system, you need to be certain that:
- it does what you need it to do,
- it has the capacity to cope with periods of high demand, and
- you don’t spend any more money than you need to.
There are two types of cost with every small business phone system you purchase for your company:
- initial costs (deposits, set-up fees, cabling time, equipment costs, desktop phone costs, headset costs, and so on) and
- ongoing costs (the fees you pay each month for the services you use).
If you choose to invest in a traditional phone system, your initial costs may be much higher because of the costs involved in purchasing and installing a PBX.
A PBX is a private telephone network – it’s a large piece of electronic equipment which you’ll need for each premises you occupy.
PBXs are big, bulky pieces of electronic equipment which normally hang on a wall inside a cabinet.
Your PBX is an internal telephone exchange governing the behaviour of all of the handsets connected to your network and the features your staff can use like call waiting, call transfer, and so on.
PBX systems normally run from either PSTN or ISDN lines however they’re due to phased out completely by BT in 2025.
Given its limited lifespan, you may wish to obtain the same functionality as a PBX for your company by investing in a cloud-based VOIP system instead.
We cover VOIP later but it’s important to know that, compared with PSTN/ISDN and PBX installations, the initial costs for setting up a VOIP phone system are negligible.
With all types of new small business phone systems, there are ongoing costs made up of:
- line rental charges or user charges,
- call charges, and
- access to non-core features.
Many line rental or user tariffs now are bundled with either unlimited calls or a generous number of inclusive calls per month.
For companies relying heavily on making outbound calls for sales and marketing or for proactive customer service, how many minutes does each member of staff call out each day?
What types of call are they making? Are they local, national, or international calls? Do you have to call mobile phone numbers a lot?
Examine the types of calls likely to be made by each extension or member of staff and select a tariff for each staff member which either:
- includes the number of minutes they’re on the phone call and the types of calls they make or
- a pay as you go tariff which charges for calls but, because a particular colleague is on the phone so little, any call charges will be negligible.
Basic BT Featureline-type tariffs and VOIP phone systems normally often a selection of additional services as part of their tariff like three-way calling and caller-on-hold.
Which features will add greatest value to your business?
You may find that you have to pay extra for features which add extra value to your business and enable your staff to be more productive.
Try to make a list of those features which are essential and desirable before you start approaching supplies for quotes.
3. Consult with your staff
Your staff will be using the system every day so it’s sensible to ask them what they want from your new small business phone system.
Let them know which features are available and which they believe will help make their job easier and their results more valuable to the company.
How mobile or remote are your staff?
Many of your staff may be working from home at the moment. Many may not wish to be permanently based on your premises again preferring to blend working from the office and home.
For those staff who want to work from home some or all of the time, ask them which equipment they believe will be most suitable for their situation.
Once you have canvassed your staff, add what they tell you to your list of “essentials” and “desirables” as you get ready to approach potential suppliers.
4. Do you anticipate business growth in the coming years?
Older-style ISDN-based PBX telephone systems have a certain degree of flexibility in them to permit future growth but, whether you choose ISDN2 or ISDN30, there is an in-built technological ceiling to the amount of growth they will allow for.
VOIP systems, especially cloud-based VOIP small business phone systems, offer a much greater degree of scalability in both directions.
5. Approach suppliers
Now you have a clear idea on…
- the volume of call traffic you need to handle,
- the number of people who need to have a connection to your phone system,
- the additional features which will increase employee productivity, and
- the future of your business in the coming years…
…you should start approaching potential suppliers directly and telecoms brokers to provide you with advice, insight, and guidance on your new small business phone system.
19 important features and details to look out for when comparing small business phone systems
The auto-attendant feature on your small business phone system picks up calls made to your company when all lines are engaged, there’s no-one there to answer, or you’re closed.
Auto-attendants can also be programmed to pick up all incoming calls with a greeting and to present callers with options on which extension they wish to be transferred to or which department they want to reach.
2. Call Monitoring
Call monitoring gives your managers and trainers the opportunity to listen into colleagues’ live calls with the goal of improving both the effectiveness and success of your company’s customer service provision and its overall communication strategy.
Call monitoring, previously the preserve of larger companies with expensive physical PBXs, is now available on virtually all small business phone systems.
Managers and trainers listening in may also join the call with call whisper and call barge services which we explain later in this article.
3. Call Recording
Complimentary to the call monitoring function on a small business phone system is the call recording function.
Modern PBX and VOIP phone systems record your calls and your colleagues’ calls automatically.
Each call is indexed and easy to find – very useful for companies wanting to:
- train their staff by identifying gaps in knowledge or faults in process when on live calls,
- check that correct security protocols regarding confidential customer data are being followed, or
- have definitive evidence on what was said by colleagues during customer disputes.
4. CRM integration
Customer relationship management platforms allow your company to keep track of all interactions you have with your customers and your prospects.
Key to delivering the greatest insights and returns from a CRM is being able to understand fully what has happened to date throughout your customers’ or prospects’ journey with you.
While a colleague may summarise a client call with a short note on the CRM platform, sometimes that colleague or their manager really needs to hear what was said in the call during its entirety to understand exactly what happened.
Many small business systems now feature full CRM integration meaning that all calls to and from a particular client are attached to a client’s file and are immediately accessible.
Companies are better able to manage a customer or prospect to the point of purchase with the individual insights a CRM brings.
In addition, the information collected by a CRM gives managers and individual reps a clearly visible pipeline on potential future orders and their values.
CRMs also allow you to see which of your colleagues is performing better in reference to the KPIs you expect them to achieve.
5. HD voice
Spotify offers its customers a standard audio feed and a high definition audio feed.
The instrumentation and voices you hear in the high definition audio feed are noticeably clearer than the standard feed.
To achieve that higher quality, Spotify needs to use the appropriate “codec”. A codec is an algorithm which converts sound into binary code at one end and decodes it at the other.
HD voice services offered by VOIP services use wideband codecs which deliver a level of clarity for both people on a call far in excess of the clarity provided by traditional small business phone systems.
6. Inclusive minutes
Many tariffs offer unlimited calls or a very generous number of inclusive minutes every month.
Make sure that you’re signing up for the right type of unlimited calls though because unlimited calls to landlines will be of little value to you if you and your colleagues spend all day calling mobile phones.
International calls are rarely included in inclusive minutes deals although many small business system
7. Intelligent Call Routing
Intelligent call routing leads to better customer experiences and greater company efficiency by smarter allocation and distribution of incoming calls to your company.
A more sophisticated version of virtual receptionists (covered later in the article), intelligent call routing is particularly effective for growing small businesses as, through the presentation of menu questions and options, customers are more likely to get through to the right person first time.
Intelligent call routing reduces the length of time customers take to get through to the right person and reduces the chance of that customer being passed from department to department.
If the most suitable colleague is on the phone, intelligent call routing automatically queues the newer caller until the person they want to be connected to clears down their line.
8. Monthly price
A common feature of all small business phone system contracts is a monthly charge based upon either an actual telephone line or user.
For very simple phone systems and for ISDN-based PBX systems, the charge made is per line. For VOIP systems, the charge is made per user.
VOIP providers generally have much more flexibility in the monthly tariffs they offer per user than more traditional phone system set ups.
This means that, to get the best deal for your company, you can put colleagues on monthly tariffs:
- with a high number of inclusive minutes to save money on calls and
- which are pay as you go for members of staff who rarely make outbound and chargeable calls.
9. On-hold music and messaging
On-hold marketing is one of the most underappreciated forms of marketing.
On-hold marketing is the recording of messages and promotions you select played to people on hold in a queue waiting to speak to one of your representatives.
Instead of letting callers listen to music, why not use this as an opportunity to share important company, promotional, and customer service information with them?
This is not the paging that many of you over the age of 40 will be familiar with.
Paging allows you to send messages to connected devices including handsets with graphical displays from a VOIP-enabled mobile phone or a desk phone.
Multiple paging groups can be created for targeted messaging for example to certain offices, floors, or departments.
11. Phone rental options
Handsets rarely hold long term value and they’re difficult to resell.
If you don’t want to purchase the handsets for your new phone system, many telecoms companies allow you to rent them instead.
The length of the rental contracts matches the minimum term of your service contract in most cases. For suppliers with an easy-come, easy-go contract, a rental option may not be available.
The main benefit of choosing rental option is that, at the end of the rental term, you can swap them for the latest handsets.
12. Ring Groups
When you set up a ring group, then you can make a number of different extensions ring when an incoming call is received to a certain number.
For example, let’s say that one of your star sales staff is on holiday and you want her calls to be answered when she’s away.
You can set up a ring group so that all of her colleague’s and her manager’s phones ring when someone is trying to get in touch with her.
Ring groups mean that you never miss an important call and that, from the perspective of the customer, their call is important and they’re not kept waiting.
Many systems allow the creation of multiple ring groups at any one time.
13. Structured cabling
For more complex new small business phone systems, you may experience disruption to your office working routine for a day or two if your provider needs to lay structured cabling around your premises.
Structured cabling links all parts of your telephone and computer systems to each other and to the electricity circuit.
If your new small business phone system includes a PBX, your cabling engineer will connect it to each handset and each computer within your business so that voice and data are carried along the same cables.
14. Unified Communication
More complex ISDN-based systems and VOIP systems bring together video calling, voice calling, faxing, emailing, and instant messaging onto the same platform.
By using just one platform, your company’s internal and external communications can be much more efficiently managed.
In addition, colleagues logged into the system have “presence” – they’re findable and they can find all of their colleagues at any given time.
15. Video conferencing
You can hold productive video conference meetings with your colleagues and with potential customers using the in-built software included with most VOIP platforms
Video conferencing can also be used for webinars – a popular marketing tool to demonstrate to potential clients how your product or services works and you can answer attendees’ questions in real time.
ISDN and simple PSTN installations don’t include this service and you’ll need to select an independent supplier like Zoom to take advantage of video conferencing.
16. Virtual receptionist
Virtual receptionists pick up calls made to your company when all lines are engaged, there’s no-one there to answer, or you’re closed.
Virtual receptionists can also be programmed to pick up all incoming calls with a greeting and to present callers with options on which extension they wish to be transferred to or which department they want to reach.
Many telecoms providers’ virtual services also offer real receptionists who pick up your calls and take customer messages to retain the human touch with your clients for an extra fee.
All small business phones, whether Featureline-based, cloud based, or PBX-based, offers voicemail.
You can set each member of your staff up with their own voicemail so that, if a client calls out of hours or your colleague is engaged at the time, they can leave a message.
To alert you to a message, you will either hear a broken dial tone when you pick up the phone or there will be a message on the phone’s display panel.
As all voicemails are now recorded digitally, modern voicemail systems can store a near unlimited amount of messages across your company.
Inbound and outbound faxing is much more manageable with a small business phone system.
Faxes are received and sent digitally meaning that you save on paper usage. When your company receives a fax, it’ll be received as an image attachment on an email to a nominated person.
You may wish to investigate allocating each member of your staff their own fax number so that, when they receive a fax, it’s sent straight away to their email inbox.
When VOIP was developed, systems could not handle fax traffic.
However, with the T38 protocol enabled, they now can so, if that’s important to you, please make sure to ask potential phone system providers if their service is fax compatible.
19. Whisper and Barge
If your system permits call monitoring, call whisper and call barge are particularly useful add-on tools for both ongoing staff training and closing deals over the phone.
With call whisper, you can deliver live advice and guidance to a colleague on a call and only your colleague can hear the call.
With call barge, you can take over the call – it becomes a 3-way call between you, your colleague, and the customer your colleague is speaking to in which all participants can hear each other.
Call whisper is very useful for making sure that your colleague is not inadvertently giving incorrect information to someone over the phone.
Call barge is useful for companies using outbound telemarketing where there is the risk that a potential sale might fall through and a manager needs to take over to rescue the sale.
Top 10 business phone systems
Now, we’ll examine the current small office phone systems deals on offer from the following leading UK suppliers:
- 8×8 X Series
- RingCentral Office
- 4Com Business Phone Systems
- BT One Phone
- Berry Technologies Business Phone Systems
- Mitel MiCloud
- Lily Cloud
- Circleloop Starting Up
- XLN Business Phone
- Vonage Unified Communications
|Service name||X Series|
|Min price||£8 (local free calls only)|
|Max price||£37 (free calling to 47 countries plus analytics)|
|Inclusive minutes||Unlimited (depending on tariff)|
Founded in the late 1980s as a chip design company, 8×8 relaunched itself as a VoIP service provider in 2000.
Entirely cloud-based and controllable from an easy-to-use administrative platform, 8×8’s small business VoIP phone service integrates fully with the most popular business apps including Microsoft Teams, Gmail, Exchange, Office365, Outlook, Skype for Business, and all major CRM systems.
Business clients benefit from:
- sophisticated call handling features (including forwarding, transfer, 3-way calling, waiting, and parking),
- call management services (call queueing, ring group allocation, and all monitoring), and
- personal and usage analytics dashboards.
The unlimited calling will be of particular use to companies making heavy use of telemarketing and telesales – prices start from £20 per user per month.
|Inclusive minutes||up to 4,000|
RingCentral offers integrated phone, video conferencing, and messaging to clients from £7.99 per month per user.
Advertising itself as the ultimate scalable solution for growing businesses (“designed for teams of 10 and 10,000”), users benefit from the latest security technology, a reach to over 40 countries around the world, and a minimum service uptime of 99.999%.
It has one of the biggest app stores in the VOIP market meaning that business users can tailor the performance and the functionality of RingCentral’s intuitive administration suite to suit their commercial needs.
App categories including analytics, company automation, calendaring, collaboration tools, CRM, customer support, ERP, fax, financial service, marketing automation, productivity improvement tools, SMS, speech, and data storage.
Tariffs range from £7.99 per user month to £24.99 per user per month. The number of inclusive minutes per user rises on more expensive tariffs reaching 4,000 per month on its most expensive “Ultimate” offering.
4Com Business Phone Systems
|Service name||Business Phone Systems|
|Inclusive minutes||Yes (speak to advisor)|
Many of the small business phone system providers on our list don’t publish their rates online, Bournemouth-based 4com being one of them.
When speaking with companies like 4Com, their aim is to give you an individual quote bespoke to your business and its current communication requirements – their quote will cover your voice and data needs as well as any equipment you need to purchase for your system.
If you take out a long enough contract with them, they may offer to fund both the installation charges and the cost of your equipment in full. Their aim is to beat the prices you’re currently paying for your outbound calls, landline rental, mobile rental costs, mobile handset costs, and broadband costs.
They offer three systems – a Samsung PBX for single office businesses, a fibre-based HiHi option for SME’s requiring flexibility, and a leased line-based HiHi option for larger businesses and organisations.
BT One Phone
|Service name||On Premises Phone System|
BT’s on premises phone systems are designed for larger companies with 25 staff or more.
Prices start from £1,400 for installation of their Avaya IP Office Solutions (for growing companies) and their MiVoice Business Solution (for contact centres).
With either system, each member of staff has their own DDI (direct dial in) number and voicemail.
The systems are connected to the IT network in your office meaning that, when a known customer or supplier is calling in, their name and details will appear on staff members’ computer screens.
Optional extras with the BT On Premises Phone System include:
- audio visual ringing options – ideal for noisy locations
- call accountant
- DECT handset provision
- headsets provision
- on-hold music and messaging
- Secure Access Control – intercom-based access control system connecting to analogue lines, SIP extensions, BT-installed lock mechanisms, and internal camera displaying visitor images on PC screens
- structured cabling for VoIP systems, new builds, office refurbishments or reorganisations, and moving premises
- training – for all users of the system from standard users to admin staff
- unified communication
- voice recording
Berry Technologies Business Phone Systems
|Provider name||Berry Technologies|
|Service name||Business Phone Systems|
Berry Technologies provide connectivity via both VOIP and PSTN to over 8,000 UK businesses scoring a high 4.3 out of 5 on Trustpilot reviews.
The longer the contract you sign, the better deal you’ll benefit from on the cost of equipment, installation costs, and call charges. They don’t publish their standard tariffs online and we have read reviews from one happy customer well into his 7-year contract with them.
Berry Technologies’ service offering includes:
- your choice of high tech handsets
- call recording – allows you to access and manage your files
- call reporting
- call attendant
- call handling – you can check and monitor groups
- click to call – call from numbers on screen such as from a website
- wireless connectivity to the platform for mobile users
- on hold music and marketing
They have specialist packages available for contact centres, hotels, hospitality businesses, estate agents, manufacturers, construction companies, recruiters, the legal sector, financial sector firms, and the healthcare sector.
|Max price||£23.79 plus|
Mitel’s MiCloud Connect small business phone system offers clients a completely integrated collaboration and communications platform on the cloud.
Its key aims are to provide its commercial customers with the highest number of value-added productivity boosting business apps which improve communications between their staff and improve the overall experience of their clients’ customers.
There are over 50 apps currently available for MiCloud users including the Google productivity suite, MS Dynamics, Salesforce, Service Now, and Zendesk.
Compared with other companies which also publish their tariffs online, the Mitel solution is competitive but, as your company grows, so will the standing order fees.
At a certain point in the development of your company, it may be worth considering migrating to another provider but, until then, Mitel should suit the vast majority of your business communications needs through its intuitive and user-friendly platform.
One of the fastest growing UK providers of both standard phone systems and VOIP systems, Lily enjoys a great reputation for speed of service and innovation among its customers.
Like other providers on this list, they do ask you to commit to their services – five year contracts are not uncommon however these contracts generally protect you from upgrade costs and from the costs of moving your system to new premises.
Lily’s systems are intended to provide future-proofed voice and data infrastructure to your business, to give you the tool you need to improve customer service, make colleagues more efficient, make internal and external communication easier, and improve company profitability with lower ongoing costs.
Lily quotes an average saving for their customers of between 30% and 60% over what they used to pay their previous supplier.
Circleloop Starting Up
|Service name||Starting Up|
|Free trial||7 days|
Based in Lancashire, Circleloop aims to bring your entire voice, data, and internet systems together through a series of powerful yet easy-to-use desktop and mobile apps.
Built to interact with the web’s most popular business and productivity apps, Circleloop offers seamless integration with Capsule, Drift, FLG, Free Agent, Hubspot, Infusionsoft, Insightly, Intercom, Nimble, Pipedrive, Zapier, and Zoho.
The company charges no set-up or activation fees and its tariffs cost either £5 for the pay as you go service (outbound and international calls are charged) or £15 for its unlimited tariff (unlimited UK outbound calls but chargeable international calls).
Both the pay as you go and unlimited tariffs offer free voicemail to text, conference calling, and call recording. You can add additional inbound numbers from £2 a month (£3 for memorable “VIP” numbers) and international numbers from £5 a month.
XLN Business Phone
|Service name||Business Phone|
|Min price||£9.95 per month (including free handset)|
|Max price||£18.95 per month (£28.95 after twelve months)|
|Inclusive minutes||Unlimited calls on all three £18.95 packages|
XLN, based in London, have signed up and retained tens of thousands to their small business phone system and broadband packages in recent years.
While there does seem to have been issues with customer service and billing in the past, perhaps caused by the failure of their system to keep up with their exponential growth, customer review feedback online seems to suggest that this is now very much in the past.
Packages start from £9.95 per month and you can add unlimited international calling for £5 extra a month to 36 countries (£10 extra a month to 72 countries).
Free handsets are included with most tariffs. An XLN small business phone system is controllable via a web-based app but it offers quite limited functionality in comparison to many of the competitors listed on this article.
That said, XLN Business Phone seems to be a very cost effective option for microbusinesses with a few members of staff.
Vonage Unified Communications
|Service name||Unified Communications|
|Min price||£9.00 per user per month|
|Max price||£16.00 per user per month|
Vonage is one of the world’s largest suppliers of VOIP services to business and much of their growth can be attributed to:
- their easy-come, easy-go 30-day rolling contract and
- the quality of their services and customer care once a new company has signed up.
Starting at £9.00 per user per month (including Amazon Chime conferencing, a mobile app, a desktop app, call forwarding, and call transfer), you can add unlimited UK landline calls for an extra £3.00 a month per user or unlimited UK landline and mobile calls for an extra £7.00 per user per month.
100,000 businesses use Vonage’s services around the world taking advantage of their extensive app store containing integration tools with popular productivity tools like Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Office 365, Google Suite, Clio, and Zendesk.
In addition to smartphone based apps to access their small business phone system, Vonage also has an extensive online catalogue of high-spec business desktop phones for use in your premises.
Telephone systems for new businesses
We hope you’ve you found the information in this article useful and helpful as you consider choosing a new small business phone system for your company.
If you’d like our help in finding the right solution for your company, please fill in the form at the top of the page.
After we’ve found out more about your business and its current and future anticipated needs, we’ll then present you with one or more options on a system which is suitable for your business.
There’s no charge to our service, we’re not tied exclusively to any supplier, and there’s no obligation to accept any of the options we recommend to you.