Best virtual phone system for small business in 2022

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 2022:

  • Horizon
  • 3CX
  • Phoneline+
  • RingCentral
  • 8x8
  • Aircall
  • bOnline
  • 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.

Best all-round virtual phone system
9.7/10 Our Rating

At the top of our list, we found that Gamma Horizon is the best virtual phone system currently available to small businesses in the UK. Unlike some of the other entries on this list, Gamma provides its Horizon platform through a network of smaller telephony companies. That means that you get a brilliant cloud-hosted virtual phone system, but with the added benefit of getting support from a smaller telecoms company. Another huge plus that Horizon has is that it comes with a generous 4,000 free calling minutes per user per month, meaning unless your team are heavy users, your actual phone bills will be minimal. We think that the mix of powerful features, affordability with first-class support, stand Gamma's Horizon platform and its partners head and shoulders above others in the market.

Core features

  • Unlimited virtual phone numbers
  • 4000 free minutes per user per month (basically unlimited calling)
  • Hunt Groups
  • Auto Attendant (virtual receptionist)
  • Call Waiting
  • Call Transfer
  • Conference calling
  • Unlimited Numbers
  • Call Recording
  • Call Forwarding
  • Voicemail to Email
  • Music-On-Hold (can be used for playing pre-recorded messages too)
  • Out of hours routing
  • Work Anywhere
  • PC and Mac Soft Clients
  • Android and iOS App

Optional extras

  • Microsoft Teams Integration
  • Call Centre Functionality 
  • Receptionist Console
  • Call Queuing
  • CRM and Outlook Integration
Most flexible virtual phone system for small business owners
9.5/10 Our Rating

Coming in only just in second is the brilliant 3CX virtual phone system. Where 3CX stands out is its flexibility, as it can be deployed in various settings and be extensively configured to your requirements. What that means is the 3CX phone system software can be installed onto almost any platform. It may be that you already have a server in your office, or perhaps even some storage in the cloud somewhere; either way and regardless, you have complete control over where your phone system is installed. Have it hosted by 3CX, Google, Azure, Amazon and more, or install it on-premise on Linux and Windows machines. You can even install it on a Raspberry Pi!

Standard Features

  • Choice of virtual phone number
  • Choice over SIP trunk provider
  • Intercom, Paging and PA Announcements
  • Call Parking
  • Call forwarding
  • Voicemail to Email
  • Easy backup and restore
  • Auto Attendant (virtual receptionist)
  • Supports Any IP Phones
  • Windows, Web, iOS and Android Apps
  • Unlimited extensions
  • Phone Directory
  • Headset Integration
  • Video Conferencing with Screen Sharing (25 participants)
  • Live Chat
  • Facebook Messaging
  • Call Logging

Pro Features

  • Voicemail transcription
  • Custom SMTP Server
  • Office 365 Integration
  • CRM Integration
  • Hotel PBX (private branch exchange)
  • Video Conferencing with Screen Sharing (100 participants)
  • SMS
  • Call Queues
  • Unlimited extensions
  • Chat & Call Recording
  • Switchboard
  • Wallboard
  • Callback
  • Barge In / Listen In / Whisper

Enterprise Features

  • Video Conferencing with Screen Sharing (250 participants)
    Microsoft Teams integration
Best virtual phone system for micro-businesses
9.3/10 Our Rating

Phoneline+ is being marketed as a business line replacement service, but in truth, we think it has a whole lot more to offer very small businesses. Yes, BT will indeed be turning off their PSTN service in 2025, and therefore all companies and consumers that want to keep a landline will need to move to something like Phoneline+ before then. But, there's a lot of additional benefits of having a virtual phone number and associated phone system. For many micro-businesses who are used to being tethered to a physical line, perhaps the most significant benefit is the ability to take business calls anywhere. With Phoneline+, you can make and receive calls using a traditional handset, with your mobile device, using a computer or even through a web browser. This gives an incredible amount of flexibility and ensures that you can pick up important business phone calls wherever you are. Another plus (excuse the pun) is that you can have multiple users, so more than one person can have the app or a desk phone! You can also have various virtual business phone numbers, so if you're running multiple businesses or need separate landline numbers for whatever reason, you can. It's the perfect virtual phone system for small businesses looking to ditch the traditional landline and start using a proper phone system. 

Core features

  • Virtual phone number
  • Unlimited* Calling Minutes
  • Voicemail to Email
  • Multiple numbers per user
  • Out of Hours Divert Rules
  • Call Divert
  • Call Hold
  • Contact Directory
  • Call Transfer
  • Call Forwarding
  • Number withholding
  • Built-in reporting and analytics
  • Simple to use interface and admin controlst
The best phone system for your small business will depend on your requirements
The best phone system for your business will depend on your requirements.

Great for larger companies or call centres
8.4/10 Our Rating

RingCentral is an international communications company based in America and is the first global company we've included in our round-up. While smaller businesses can use their offering, we tend not to suggest it, as you won't usually get a dedicated contact at RingCentral who you can speak to when something goes wrong, or indeed during the initial migration to them. Despite being a brilliant platform overall, RingCentral is a global company. It is inevitably tricky to speak to what holds them back from being a top choice for UK small businesses. RingCentral's phone service performs best in larger firms or call centres, as that's the sort of environment it's been designed for. Not only that, but if you're a larger company, you're also more likely to get access to better direct support from RingCentral.

Essential features:

  • Virtual phone number
  • 100 inclusive minutes per user per month
  • Mobile app and desktop apps
  • Team messaging
  • Document sharing
  • Call Logs

Standard features:

  • 750 inclusive minutes per user per month
  • Video meetings with up to 100 participants
  • Internet face
  • Audio conference calling
  • Multi-Level IVR (Auto attendant)
  • Various 3rd party integrations

Premium features:

  • 2000 inclusive minutes per user per month
  • Automatic Call Recording
  • Video meetings with up to 200 participants
  • Call forwarding
  • Multi-site admin and management
  • Hot desking
  • Advanced call handling
  • Popular 3rd party integrations
  • Developer platform

Ultimate features:

  • 4000 inclusive minutes per user per month
  • Device status reports
  • Unlimited storage

Great for video and conference calling
8.3/10 Our Rating

8x8 is similar to RingCentral in that it is a US-based company offering VoIP services in the UK. The great thing about 8x8's Unified Communications platform is that it's highly customisable, meaning you can tailor your plan specifically to your requirements, adding in advanced features as you need them. According to their website, 8x8 is currently used by over 2 million businesses users, but far from being just being a phone system, it can do a whole lot more. Features include video meetings, team chat, contact centre and more. Much the same as other small business VoIP phone service providers in this list, with 8x8, you can use various devices to make and receive calls, including your mobile device. Perhaps where 8x8 falls is again customer support, with numerous online reviews citing that speaking to someone is near impossible. The virtual phone system is excellent, but getting help can be difficult if you get any issues.

Express features:

  • Virtual phone number
  • Unlimited domestic calling
  • Auto-attendant
  • Visual voicemail
  • Advanced call management
  • Unlimited video conferencing
  • Content Sharing
  • Team Messaging
  • 1:1 Instant Messaging
  • Personalised menu prompts

All-in-one voice, video and chat

  • Unlimited voice calling to 14 countries
  • Single admin interface
  • Mix and match user types
  • 99.999% Platform-wide uptime SLA
  • 35+ cloud regions
  • 24/7 support
     
One of Europe's top providers
8.4/10 Our Rating

Aircall
With headquarters in France, Aircall is one of the UK's up and coming virtual phone system providers. Where Aircall is strongest is its vast range of features, all packaged in a user-friendly interface. Perfect for growing small businesses that require a bit of extra oomph from their business phone system. Where Aircall's phone service differs from RingCentral and 8x8 is the large number of positive reviews they've received online. Look at TrustPilot (bar a few recent negative reviews), and you'll see that they are pretty consistently providing excellent service to their customers.

Essential features:

  • Virtual phone number
  • One local or national telephone number
  • £5 per each additional number (this is free with other options in this list)
  • 1000 outbound calling minutes per user per month
  • Mobile app
  • Custom music and messages
  • Business hours routing
  • Call queueing
  • IVR (Vocal server)
  • Call forwarding
  • Hunt Groups
  • Extensions
  • Call recording
  • Email reporting
  • Conference calls
  • Basic analytics
  • Forward-to-mobile phones
  • Voicemail by email
  • Hold with music
  • Desktop notifications
  • Warm transfers
  • Integration with a range of other tools
  • Email and phone support


Professional features:

  • Unlimited outbound calls
  • Queue callback
  • Business line call monitoring
  • Call whispering
  • Advanced analytics
  • PowerDialer
  • Further 3rd party integrations
Feature-rich virtual phone system
8.2/10 Our Rating

bOnline has received countless telephony awards in recent years, which is why they perhaps understandably believe they have the best business phone system. Boasting some 50+ features and having an enviable review base on TrustPilot, maybe it's easy to see why they are highly rated as having an excellent virtual business phone system. bOnline stands out in particular for smaller businesses; it's easy to use and integrate into various other applications.

bOnline phone system highlights:

  • Option for pay as you go pricing
  • Range of calling packages
  • Mobile apps for iOS and Android
  • HD voice call quality
  • Desk phone compatible
  • Video conferencing
  • Call recording
  • Call reporting
  • Call queues
  • Call forwarding
  • Out of hours management
  • Music on hold
  • Call flows
  • Multi-site support
  • Integration with 3rd party apps
  • Highly rated and reviewed
Part of Office 365
8.1/10 Our Rating

The final small business phone system on our list didn't start life providing phone service. Microsoft Teams began life as an instant messaging platform for those using Microsoft Office 365. Since then, and building on Microsoft's Skype platform, Teams has been expanded to provide a professional business phone service. It's a unique platform that continues to see improvements all the time, but it isn't without its issues. The biggest problem we have found in the past is moving phone numbers to Microsoft (porting). The trouble we had was that they only had porting agreements with a small number of other UK business VoIP providers, which meant that to get our business phone number to them, we needed to move them to another provider first. It all became a bit complicated, and we felt the number of questions was at risk the whole time. That aside, and if you don't currently have a small business phone system, Microsoft Teams is an excellent choice.

Features include:

  • Audio and video conferencing
  • Do not disturb, reverse number lookup, voicemail and delegation
  • Direct routing so you can use your telephony provider for the actual calls
  • Unified Communications provider
  • Call queues with music on hold
  • Shared voicemail and customised greetings
  • Contact Centre Integration
  • Auto-attendant
  • Instant messaging 

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.

Small business owner using virtual phone system
Virtual phone systems are brilliant for small businesses

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.

Diagram showing how a virtual phone system works
Virtual phone systems work by transmitting your calls over the internet, rather than traditional phone lines.

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.

Graphic showing VoIP definition: Voice over Internet protocol
VoIP is the signalling technology used to transmit phone calls over the internet.

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.

Virtual phone system features image
Virtual phone systems are packed full of features for small businesses.

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.

Improve efficiency

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.

You can work from anywhere with a virtual VoIP telephone system
Work from anywhere with a virtual phone system

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:

  1. Review virtual phone systems and choose the one that fits your business best.
  2. Place an order with the provider and let them know which features you need.
  3. Choose new telephone numbers and arrange for existing ones to be ported.
  4. Receive your new handsets and logins for mobile apps etc.
  5. Plug handsets into an existing internet connection.
  6. Start using your new virtual phone service.

Learn more about how to switch to VoIP in another of our recent posts.

About T2k

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.

Our partners

T2k partners with a range of leading global technology providers enabling us to deliver comprehensive business telephony services to companies in the UK.

Business phone system FAQs

In this section, we answer some of the most commonly asked questions about business VoIP services. If you have another question and would like free advice, please call us on 01202 854111.

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
  • 3CX
  • Ring Central
  • 8x8
  • Aircall
  • 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