Written by Aimee Bradshaw Reviewed by James Macey Updated on March 20, 2023 On this page The Best On-Premise Switchboard Suppliers The Best Hosted Switchboard Suppliers What is a Switchboard Phone System? Why Use a Switchboard Phone System? What's So Special About Modern Switchboard Phones? Choose the Right Type of Switchboard Phone Next Steps Expand Our site is reader-supported – by clicking our links, we can match you with a potential supplier, and we may earn a small commission for this referral. 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.Top Five On-premise Switchboard SuppliersAsterisk★★★★★Digium★★★★★Sangoma★★★★★Grandstream★★★★★Xorcom★★★★★ Get personalized quotes from the best switchboard suppliers for your business Get free quotes Top Five Hosted VoIP Switchboard Suppliers8×8★★★★★RingCentral★★★★★Vonage★★★★★Cisco★★★★★Mitel★★★★★ ▶ Read more: Learn more about hosted VoIP What Even is a Switchboard Phone System?What you're picturingRealityYou’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 managecall 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 FreedomThe 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 salesrepresentatives 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 LightUnless 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 whenthings go wrong. Your monthly fee covers management, maintenance and upgrades.Scale to your Heart’s ContentModern 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 switchboardsare designed to let you adjust on the go.Features You Can’t Manage WithoutModern 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, ratherthan 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 systemthen 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 callcentres 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 PhoneThere 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:On-premise systemsHosted/cloud-based systemsVirtual PBXWe’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 SystemsOn-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 routedthrough 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. Pros 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 Cons 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 SystemsUnlike 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 supplieris obligated to maintain good service and make sure everything runs smoothly. Pros 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 Cons Adding line extensions/users increases costs Fixed feature bundles lack flexibility Service quality is out of your control… …as is call security 3. Virtual PBXA 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 sendingalerts to employees when calls are waiting.This is a great option for small businesses that need the equivalent of an automated answering system. Pros More affordable than full hosted solutions Conveys professionalism Cons Limited features Next StepsHopefully, 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’llalso 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 Bradshaw Writer and researcher 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 Macey Senior Business Software Researcher 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.