RingCentral Floats a PBX in the Cloud

RingCentral has rolled out a new Internet-based business phone system aimed at small businesses that need a multi-line, multi-location setup but that want to avoid the hassle and expense of a traditional hardware PBX solution. Not just another VoIP (voice over IP) offering, the RingCentral Office solution lets buyers purchase, customize, activate and manage their phone system completely online, making it an SaaS (software-as-a-service) “cloud” offering much like today’s Web 2.0 CRM, collaboration, ERP and storage applications.

“Legacy phone systems have two fundamental problems,” said Praful Shah, vice president of strategy at RingCentral. “They have a non-scalable PBX that is expensive to buy and maintain, and a traditional phone system that’s not flexible. It isn’t designed for remote workers and mobile phones.”

RingCentral Office aims to address those shortcomings by offering VoIP service coupled with an online interface for provisioning and managing the phone system. The solution delivers a hosted phone and fax system able to support multiple extensions, multiple voicemail boxes, call management and call routing.

Customers also get unlimited long distance and a toll-free number good for calls from anywhere within the U.S. and Canada. RingCentral provides VoIP handsets made by Linksys, which are delivered completely configured and ready to dial.

The company touts its simple pricing model as an all-inclusive flat-rate that avoids unpleasant surprises when the monthly bill arrives. “There are no setup costs, and no nickel-and-diming with other fees,” noted Shah. The $99.99 monthly fee for RingCentral Office includes four phone lines with local phone numbers, an automated receptionist and dial-by-name directory and Internet fax with a local fax number. You can purchase additional phone lines for $24.99 per month.

To get started, a business owner logs on, sets up an account and selects an 800-number. The online interface also lets customers configure call forwarding and other features, so they can route incoming calls to a certain extension over to a mobile phone or to a remote worker’s site automatically. This lets main and satellite offices share one phone number, making it easier for clients to contact everyone in a business.

You can forward after-hours and weekend calls to a home or mobile number, ensuring that you don’t miss vital calls. And by using the unlimited number of virtual extensions available, business owners can track which marketing campaigns produce the most calls, helping ensure that ad dollars are spent efficiently.

“The online interface makes the system completely configurable,” said Shah. “If you’re traveling you could have calls forwarded to your cell phone, and the next day you can have them forwarded to your hotel room.” Shah also noted that RingCentral Office is ideal for distributed workforces that don’t have a central office location. “If your company is made up of several people working from home with no physical office space, you can still have an integrated phone system.”

“The fact that RingCentral offers a unique self-service capability with an all-inclusive pricing model and no contracts is frankly quite revolutionary in the business phone systems market,” said David Lemelin, senior analyst at market research firm In-Stat. “This system delivers more business-class telecommunication services and functions than many office phone systems designed for small businesses, yet remains affordable.”

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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