Best virtual phone system for small business in 2023
From our in-depth testing and research, we found the following companies currently offer the best virtual phones systems to UK small business owners in 2023:
- Microsoft Teams
Comparison of top virtual phone system providers
In this section of our guide, our experts have reviewed the best small business phone services currently available to companies in the UK. It's important to point out that the best phone system for you may well be different to what we've detailed. Therefore it always pays to speak to an independent telecoms expert like ourselves to help you choose the right solution for your business.
What is a virtual phone system?
A virtual phone system is a business communications platform that enables you to make calls over the internet. Often referred to as a "VoIP phone system" or sometimes a "cloud-hosted telephone system", virtual phone systems allow you to accept incoming and place outgoing calls using various devices, such as a desk phone, computer or even a mobile phone via an app.
Unlike traditional business phone lines and systems, which are typically tied to a physical location, virtual business phone systems allow you to work from anywhere, as long as you have an internet connection.
As we'll explain later in this guide, one of the primary reasons businesses move to a virtual phone system is the massive range of features you get access to. You're effectively signing up to one enormous business phone system, which the provider has invested heavily into to make it as helpful as possible.
In addition to simple calls, virtual phone systems support a range of other types of communication, such as live chat, SMS, video conferencing and even fax. This ability to communicate in multiple ways using one system is called Unified Communications, which is a term you may well come across while you navigate the various provider's websites.
How do virtual phone systems work?
Using either an IP (internet) enabled desk phone, a computer or a mobile app, your voice is converted into digital bytes and transferred to your business phone system provider across the internet. From there, your call is routed across the internet to the ultimate destination. This, of course, is a reasonably big simplification of what's happening, as where your recipient is located, and the type of technology they use for calls, be that a traditional landline, mobile phone or even enough business phone system will play a massive role in what happens. But as we say, the most significant difference between virtual phone systems and ones that use ISDN or PSTN is that your calls are transferred over the internet.
With the recent pandemic still looming large over all of our lives, it's little wonder that remote working is becoming more normalised, and with it, a requirement for employers to be able to provide the technology employees need to work from home. A virtual phone system does exactly that, enabling you and your team to work from anywhere with you all the communications tools you need to continue to operate.
What's the difference between a virtual phone system and VoIP?
A virtual phone system is a communications platform, whereas VoIP is the underlying technology used to transmit calls over the internet. VoIP stands for voice over internet protocol (you can see why they abbreviate it) and is the de facto communications standard used by pretty much all of the virtual phone systems you see today.
You may well see systems referred to as VoIP phone systems, or hosted VoIP etc., but essentially, they are a hosted virtual business system in one shape or form that uses VoIP for calls.
What features can I expect with a virtual phone system?
The features you can expect from your virtual business phone system will vary depending on the supplier and system you opt for, but broadly speaking, all of the best systems will do the following:
Calls from desk phones, mobile apps and computers
All business phone systems will allow you to make and receive calls, with the best giving you the option to do this in several ways. As your phone calls are being transferred by internet protocol, it opens up a significant number of options when it comes to devices. Here are some of the ways you'll likely be able to have business calls:
- Using a traditional desk phone
- Using a wireless IP phone
- Using a mobile app
- Using a desktop or laptop computer with an associated softphone
- Using IP headsets
- Via a web browser
It'd be fair to say that barring the latest internet-connected fridges and alike, you can expect to be able to make and receive calls from any device. We're sure that as time progresses, integration with more devices will become the norm.
Instant messaging, video calls and more
As we've already mentioned, a significant benefit and feature of these business phone systems are that they unify your communications. Far from being merely a platform for telephone calls, the best virtual phone systems will let you send instant messages, host video calls, send text messages and more. The idea with these systems is that they are there to simplify your business communications by bringing it all under a single roof.
Advanced call management
The best virtual phone systems will give you the ability to manage your calls far more efficiently than you currently do. Even if you're a small business, you'll get access to features that were reserved for much larger companies until recently. Here are just some of the things you can do with a virtual phone system to better handle inbound and outbound calls:
- Use an auto-attendant, a bit like a virtual receptionist, to route calls to the correct person every time.
- Set up hunt groups so multiple users' phones ring when a call comes in.
- Use voicemail to email and listen to messages anytime, from anywhere.
- Use music-on-hold to deliver pre-recorded messages or marketing information to customers while they wait for their call to be taken.
- Transfer calls between your own devices, so you can seamlessly switch from your desk phone to your mobile if you need to make a move.
- Useful busy lamp indicators to know when your colleagues are and aren't free to take calls.
- Record calls for training and monitoring purposes.
Think of your new virtual phone system as a traditional phone system, one on steroids, maximising your existing internet connection and enabling all sorts of new functionality.
What are the benefits of a virtual phone system?
While one of the main reasons many UK small businesses will move to a virtual phone system is that BT is turning off their PSTN and ISDN networks soon, there are still many additional benefits that will likely persuade you to move sooner.
Reduce your business telephony costs
A virtual phone system (VoIP) will invariably reduce your telephony costs because your calls will go over the internet. Some sources state that this can be by as much as 50%, but in our experience, actual savings typically are around the 30% mark. Still, that's a significant saving and bearing in mind you'll get the rest of the benefits listed in this section, too, it's somewhat of a no-brainer.
Virtual phone systems are future-proofed
Moving to a virtual phone system ensures that your small businesses' telecoms are future-proofed, as VoIP systems are undeniably the future of telephony. With so many VoIP service providers in the market, you can also be sure that your chosen platform will be developed and improved over time. As you're paying for a service rather than for a physical product that you own, in most cases, you'll be able to access new features and functionality as they come online.
Unify your communications
We've all become accustomed to having numerous devices, tons of apps and an ever-increasing number of ways that people can contact us. From a business perspective, the trouble with that is that it can become challenging to provide a consistent customer service level when your communications channels are disconnected. By unifying your communications and using a single virtual phone system for everything from calls to business texting, you simplify your and your employees' lives and make it less likely that customers will slip through the net.
A core part of any virtual phone system is the extensive range of features aimed at improving efficiency. All the features like IVR (interactive voice response), hunt groups, call routing, caller id, and more are designed to turn your humble office phone into a brilliant communication tool that helps you and your customer service representatives provide the best experience for your callers.
Give employees flexibility
Employees today are demanding greater flexibility in where and how they work, and with work-life balance at the forefront of most people's minds, it's therefore imperative that managers and business owners implement the tech they need to do that. A virtual phone system allows your team to work from anywhere, as long as they have an internet connection. Using a desktop app, mobile app or business phone, they can make and receive calls exactly as they would in the office.
Improved reliability and call quality
A virtual phone system will give you both improved reliability and improved called quality. Seeing that the business phone service is located in the cloud (i.e. multiple datacentres), it's near impossible for the whole platform to go down. Unlike traditional phone systems, which are vulnerable to office powercuts or even equipment failure, a business VoIP provider, will have invested a vast amount into creating a resilient environment with no single point of failure. It's the type of reliability that small businesses couldn't afford to implement themselves, but it comes as standard as you're subscribing to a service. The great thing with virtual phone systems is that if you get a local outage or issue affecting your office or home, you and your users can go somewhere else with an internet connection and keep taking calls. Better yet, you could start picking your calls upon your via a mobile app instead. Added to this supreme reliability is excellent call quality, although it should be noted that you do need a pretty good internet connection to get the best experience. At T2k, we tend always to recommend installing a separate broadband line for your phones, assuming you're office-based. This keeps your voice and data separate, so it won't affect your telephone calls if someone decides to start streaming something from YouTube.
A virtual phone system will grow as your business does
The final significant benefit of a virtual phone system, or VoIP phone service, is that they are highly scalable, and therefore adding or even removing users is as simple as a few clicks of a mouse. With most of the best business VoIP providers system's supporting thousands of users, it's doubtful that you'll outgrow it. Best of all, you only pay for what you need, so while you can scale up, you can also scale down quickly if you need to, reducing your monthly costs.
How do I set up a virtual phone system?
Setting up a virtual phone system is relatively easy, but the exact process will vary between providers. This is what usually happens:
- Review virtual phone systems and choose the one that fits your business best.
- Place an order with the provider and let them know which features you need.
- Choose new telephone numbers and arrange for existing ones to be ported.
- Receive your new handsets and logins for mobile apps etc.
- Plug handsets into an existing internet connection.
- Start using your new virtual phone service.
Learn more about how to switch to VoIP in another of our recent posts.
With over 25 years of experience in telecoms, we provide expert advice, installation and support of the best business phone systems. With the capability to deploy and support any number of those mentioned in this article, you get both a market-leading business telephone system backed up with a personal level of support and customer care that's hard to beat. We pride ourselves on providing honest, expert advice, and our team are always on the lookout for the latest telecoms tech that can help our customers. If you need help configuring or building the perfect system for your business, please get in touch; we can help you navigate the sometimes complex world of advanced features and ensure that your business phone service is set up in the best way. We always like to speak to other businesses, so please request a bespoke quote or call us on 01202 854111, and one of our team will be happy to help.
T2k partners with a range of leading global technology providers enabling us to deliver comprehensive business telephony services to companies in the UK.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I move my phone number to a virtual system?
Once you've signed up for a new business VoIP service, you will need to arrange to "port" your telephone numbers over with your provider. Phone number porting can take a bit of time, and the process for each business phone service provider will vary. One thing to be aware of is that providers need to have "porting agreements" with each other for the process to be possible. Suppose your new provider doesn't have a porting agreement with your new provider. In that case, it could be problematic, and therefore speaking to your chosen business phone service provider about this before you sign up is vital.
How much does a virtual phone system cost?
Here are some example prices based on various service levels:
- Basic service with limited features - £9.50 per user per month
- Standard service with most core features - £19.50 per user per month
- Advanced service with all features - £27.50 per user per month
- Enterprise service with additional integrations - £35 per user per month
These prices are merely a guide; what you pay will depend on the provider and package you choose.
Which virtual phone systems provide call recording?
Of the best business phone systems we've mentioned in this article, the following provide call recording:
- Gamma Horizon
- Ring Central
- Microsoft Teams
How do you know if a number is virtual?
You usually won't know that a phone number is virtual as it'll still be a geographic or non-geographic landline number. It, therefore, looks just like a standard business phone number to customers.
How do I answer a virtual phone call?
Assuming you have an internet connection, you can answer virtual phone calls in many ways:
- Using a traditional desk phone
- Using a mobile app
- Using a desktop app
- Via a web browser