Navigating Communication Technologies: The Difference Between VoIP and PBX

difference between voip and pbx

If you run a business that relies on phone communication, whether it’s between departments or managing incoming calls in an effective way, you’ve likely come across the terms VoIP and PBX. In fact, you may already be using a PBX system, and are wondering what benefits VoIP might hold for your business. In this article, we’re going to delve into the difference between VoIP and PBX platforms, and which your business should be using.

What is PBX and VoIP?

The difference between VoIP and PBX is a hot topic in the business communications realm. PBX, or Private Branch Exchange, is a telephone network used within a company or organisation. It allows internal telephones to communicate with each other and connect to a public telephone network like Telkom.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), a technology allowing voice calls and multimedia sessions over the Internet. It’s become the go-to for many businesses due to its versatility, especially with the increased adoption of cloud services.

How does PBX work?

Businesses have been making use of PBX systems since the early 1990s. They operate by managing incoming and outgoing phone calls, usually though a phone network like Telkom. External calls are routed through a series of lines connected to the telephone company, and internal calls are managed within the organisation.

The essence of PBX is its ability to share phone lines amongst a plethora of users, allowing them to have a dedicated line without the need for individual physical connections. One of the most popular features is the option to have incoming calls choose which department they need to speak to, and redirecting the calls accordingly, with hold music tiding them over until they reach their destination.

Features of PBX and VoIP

The features of PBX and VoIP technologies play pivotal roles in discerning their capacities. PBX systems are renowned for their robustness, offering features like call transferring, voicemail, call recording, and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems.

Meanwhile, but while PBX features are extensive, VoIP offers even more capabilities, including video conferencing, instant messaging, and presence information. All of these work together to offer both customers and the humans working for your business enriching communication experiences. The integration of cloud VoIP heightens the user experience even further, introducing enhanced mobility, scalability, and flexibility. The essence of VoIP lies in its versatility and ability to amalgamate various communication forms effortlessly.

Main differences between PBX and VoIP

When exploring the difference between VoIP and PBX, it’s like comparing a seasoned warrior to a multifaceted artist. Here’s a rundown of their key differences:

• Communication Channels:

Where PBX leverages traditional landlines, VoIP uses the internet, making it dynamic and diverse. In South Africa in particular, more businesses are shying away from traditional phonelines due, in part, to failures on Telkom’s part, and a desire to do away with the frustration of dealing with the communication conglomerate. Because VoIP relies in internet rather than Telkom, it can be easier to implement and more reliable.

• Initial Setup Costs

When putting a PBX system in place, a company often has to pay a small fortune in terms of buying handheld devices and getting the system installed. It requires extensive hardware and infrastructure, making for an expensive setup. VoIP systems, on the other hand, are streamlined and minimalistic, and can work from any number of devices including cellphones and laptops. This reduces the setup fee significantly, making it easier for companies to adopt

• General Cost Structure:

Because PBX systems largely rely on connections to public phone networks like Telkom, they incur call fees which, if you’re running a busy call centre, can amount to thousands of Rands per month. VoIP phone systems on the other hand are data-reliant and usually subscription based depending on your needs.

• Call Quality

In the past, PBX systems have been the most reliable when it comes to call quality, since the sound quality is based on the handsets that you are buying. This has, however, not always been the case where Telkom is involved, particularly for areas with poor coverage. VoIP connections may have experienced reliability issues due to poor network coverage as well, since the quality of the call is reliant on good Internet connectivity, but this has largely been overcome over the past decade, with Internet connectivity often proving to be more reliable than the local phone coverage. This being said, because VoIP systems can run from any device, the number of factors that can impact your call quality are increased – you need to make sure that your teams have access to good quality headphones and microphones on top of a good Internet connection. The combination can result in a better call quality than PBX is able to provide, but if any one factor is of lower quality, the result can be a less smooth communication experience overall.

• Flexibility and Mobility:

A PBX system is usually best suited to an office environment where you can control the setup and interconnectedness of handsets. While there are options like call forwarding to cellphones with a PBX system, they are not designed to work across different locations smoothly. VoIP solutions offer more flexibility and mobility, allowing users to connect from anywhere with an internet connection, but your subscription model is also more easily scalable, allowing you to upgrade and downgrade as your business needs grow and change.

Which should you choose?

Now that you have a better understanding of the difference between VoIP and PBX, you are likely asking yourself which one is better to implement. The answer is not so simple. No two businesses are the same, and each company will have their own unique needs, making it difficult to say that VoIP is the right solution for everyone. Your business may, for example, be based in an area with low Internet availability, or rely on expensive forms of connectivity which make VoIP a less feasible option. There are benefits to both platforms, and we would suggest opting for a PBX system if:

  • Your business is large with a substantial budget for upfront costs.
  • You desire a stable, reliable communication system with essential features.
  • You’re located in an area with limited internet reliability.
  • You are operating from a single office environment.

Lean towards VoIP if:

  • You’re looking for a cost-effective, scalable solution.
  • You are looking for more advanced features from your communication system and want it to integrate with other cloud services.
  • You don’t want to invest in hardware like handheld phones, and would prefer your teams to operate from their own devices like mobile phones, PCs or laptops.
  • You are embracing a remote or hybrid working model, and need your teams to have access to your phone systems from wherever they are in the world.

How Can Solid Systems Help?

If you are looking into adopting a Cloud VoIP system into your business, you are going to need a reliable technology partner by your side. At Solid Systems, we have been helping businesses to embrace cloud solutions for the past two decades, and understand the ins and outs of setting up the technology for your business, and making sure that it’s meeting your unique needs.

Talk to our experts today – schedule a free consultation to learn more about cloud solutions like VoIP and the impact that they can have on your business.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better – PBX or VoIP?

Both phone systems come with their own advantages, but VoIP does have the capacity to be both more flexible and more cost effective. Which is right for your business will depend on a number of different factors, including internet connectivity, whether your humans are based in-office or remote, and your preferences in terms of the devices your teams are using to connect with each other and your clients.

Do I need a PBX for VoIP?

No, you don’t. VoIP systems can be set up without an existing PBX system, and many new businesses and start ups are turning to Cloud VoIP setups from the outset, since they can be more cost effective both to implement and to maintain in the long run.

Michael Claxton

Michael Claxton

Co-Founder and CEO of Solid Systems | I am a father of two, and a mentor of many. My calm focus makes me a natural leader, both in and out the office, and I have a unique skill in nurturing leadership qualities in others as well. But most of all, I understand the true value of time and the ways that technology can optimise efficiency within a business and see humans making the most of the time available to them, both in terms of productivity, and in terms of personal growth. 

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