The Best Switchboard Phone Systems

best switchboard phone systems

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Switchboard phone systems used to be such large and unwieldy contraptions. Nowadays, they’re much easier to own and manage. If you opt for a hosted solution, you don’t even have to own anything.

But with such a dizzying array of options to choose from, where do you even start? We're glad you asked.

Let’s get straight into it. Here are our favorite switchboard phone solutions.

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What Even is a Switchboard Phone System?

Old fashioned switchboard
What you're picturing
Sangoma PBX switchboard

You’d be forgiven for asking the question, since the term ‘switchboard phone system’ is a bit misleading.

Today’s ‘switchboard’ is actually a set of automated algorithms that direct call traffic without a human operator. The only places you’ll ever see an actual board covered in switches are in a museum or in an episode of Mad Men.

Modern switchboards are also called PBXs (Private Branch Exchange) or virtual PBX switchboards. They allow you to greet callers, give them options, route calls to the correct extension and manage
call queues, with or without the assistance of an operator.

In short, they do exactly the same job as the analogue affairs of old, and a whole lot more on top…

Why Use a Switchboard Phone System?

“You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression”

While it’s true that record numbers of us are shopping online, phone calls still give plenty of potential customers their introduction to your brand.

In fact, people actively distrust companies that don’t have a phone number, according to research carried out by Google:

Did You Know?

  • Seven in ten mobile searchers prefer to connect over the phone before parting with their money online.
  • 47% of mobile searchers say that if a business doesn’t have a phone number linked in their search results, they will be more likely to explore other brands.
  • Adding a phone number to mobile search ads results in an average click through rate increase of 8%.

That’s why having a multi-line phone system is as important as ever.

What’s So Special About Modern Switchboard Phones?

The magic of modern switchboard phones is that they let you connect with anyone, anywhere in the world, via the Internet. In terms of pure disruptive potential, the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology that powers them is as exciting as it gets. But it’s in the business context where VoIP switchboard phones really come into their own.

Here are four ways businesses of any size can benefit from using VoIP switchboard phones:

Full Call Freedom

The most important advantage of VoIP switchboard phones is that they’re Internet-based. That means they can transfer calls to any location or device with an Internet connection. If you have employees who work from home, freelance contractors or sales
representatives and service engineers in the field, no problem. It doesn’t matter if they use home phones, desk phones or mobile devices – they’re just a call away.

Keep Liabilities Light

Unless you opt for an on-premise solution, you won’t have to house expensive infrastructure on your own premises. Instead, you can subscribe to a hosted switchboard provider and let them worry about security. You won’t even need to bring technicians when
things go wrong. Your monthly fee covers management, maintenance and upgrades.

Scale to your Heart’s Content

Modern switchboard solutions have unparallelled scalability. If your business grows, or call volumes stagnate, you can change your capacity accordingly. There’s no need to install new lines or keep customers waiting in lengthy queues. Hosted switchboards
are designed to let you adjust on the go.

Features You Can’t Manage Without

Modern IP-based and Unified Communications-enabled (UC) PBXs boast more features than ever.

One of the most useful is presence. This lets the system or operator know if an employee is available to take calls. If they’re not available, or don’t wish to be disturbed, the PBX can forward calls to another extension.

These systems also let employees set their own call forwarding preferences. If they’re not around to answer their office phone, the PBX can forward calls to their mobile or other device. That helps ensure callers get a response, rather
than a dialling tone.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) automates call responses, so you don’t need a switchboard operator. Callers receive a recorded greeting and a series of options, such as ‘press 1 for sales’ or ‘press 2 for customer service’. The system
then forwards them to the correct team. IVR is ideal for businesses that need to route calls to specific departments.

Similarly, Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) routes incoming calls to agents based on predefined rules. These rules help to ensure a call is answered by an agent with the right skills or product knowledge. This feature is best for call
centres or big businesses with sales and customer service teams.

Modern switchboard phone systems support multiple communication channels too. Your callers can contact you by their preferred methods, including email, voice, text or IM.

Choose The Right Type of Switchboard Phone

There are so many benefits to switchboard phones, but it’s still important to pick one that will help you achieve your business goals.

You’ve got a choice of three types:

  1. On-premise systems
  2. Hosted/cloud-based systems
  3. Virtual PBX

We’ll skim over the technical details of each, but knowing a little about the big differences goes a long way when you’re asking suppliers for quotes.

1. On-premise PBX Switchboard Phone Systems

On-premise solutions consist of hardware and software managed in-house by your IT staff. On the hardware side of things, there’s an IP-PBX box that’s about the same size and shape as a DVR machine. All your incoming and outgoing call traffic gets routed
through this hub device, while the software runs on your handsets. Together, these components enable the full range of functions for which VoIP phones are known and loved.


  • Relatively low recurring costs
  • No additional fees for adding line extensions
  • You have control over customizing the system’s features
  • You only pay for the features you need
  • Can be simple to manage, depending on your in-house expertise


  • High upfront capital costs (hardware, installation)
  • Hardware value depreciates over time
  • Implementation requires dedicated in-house tech support
  • System maintenance is your responsibility

2. Hosted/Cloud PBX Switchboard Phone Systems

Unlike on-premise switchboard phones, hosted/cloud-based solutions don’t require you to purchase anything. They instead work on a subscription model – you pay a supplier a monthly fee to use their infrastructure and software. In return, your supplier
is obligated to maintain good service and make sure everything runs smoothly.


  • Little to no upfront capital costs
  • Hardware depreciation doesn’t affect you (you don’t own it)
  • Full technical support is included
  • Supplier runs the service so you don’t have to
  • Simple tiered ‘per user’ pricing


  • Adding line extensions/users increases costs
  • Fixed feature bundles lack flexibility
  • Service quality is out of your control…
  • …as is call security

3. Virtual PBX

A virtual PBX is a stripped back variant of the hosted PBX. It’s cloud-based, which eliminates infrastructure and maintenance costs. Virtual PBXs pair this affordability with basic features such as call routing, queuing, putting callers on hold and sending
alerts to employees when calls are waiting.

This is a great option for small businesses that need the equivalent of an automated answering system.


  • More affordable than full hosted solutions
  • Conveys professionalism


  • Limited features

Next Steps

Hopefully, you’re now in a better position to distinguish between the multitude of switchboard systems out there. Your first consideration should be whether a hosted solution or an on-premise system would be best for your business – and your budget. You’ll
also need a clear idea of the features you need, as well as the number of lines. Finally, make sure you choose a system that can scale with you as your business grows.

Be sure to take time to discuss your needs in detail with each supplier you contact. Use our quick quotes-finding tool to get in touch with top suppliers today.

Written by:
Aimee profile image
Aimee is Expert Market’s resident telephone systems and point of sale go-to. If she’s not writing about business products, you’ll find her daydreaming about dog walking on Dorset beaches.
Reviewed by:
James thinks all businesses can improve if they use the right technology. At Expert Market, he utilises his 4+ years experience as a researcher to offer specialised advice on a wide range of categories from CRM to Fleet Management.