The Good, the Bad, and the Buggy: Buying an IP Phone System in 2013

Buying a commercial phone system used to be incredibly complex… now it’s even harder. Part 1: A look back at the landscape of the last twenty years.


The smartest computer service manager I’ve known — I’m talking uber brilliant — bought a big business phone system from me about 20 years ago. He seemed fairly satisfied with it: he bought two other systems through the years, so it must have been all good.

It absolutely floored me when, months after that first sale and out of the blue, he said to me, “choosing a phone system was the hardest business decision I ever made.”

Major epiphany…and it’s stayed with me…Here’s a guy, I KNOW he’s as sharp as a tack; he lives, breathes, eats and sleeps the latest computer tech every day, and yet he struggled to make a decision on telecom gear.

Turns out it’s pretty much the same for everybody. Don’t kick yourself for not understanding everything the first, second or even the third time… even the smallest commercial phone system can be incredibly complex.

Twenty years ago, 90% or more of the SMB market bought EKT (Electronic Key Telephone) systems.  In the eighties, pretty much every sizable BC real estate office had a TIE ULTRACOM 2260. In the nineties, and still today, in every second or third general office you’ll see a Nortel 616 OR 824… The numbers represented lines and phones… 616 – 6 lines, 16 phones.

DIAL TONE was an easy choice… BC TEL!  They merged with Telus in 1998, of course.

Back then, the choices for EXT systems in British Columbia included other big names: Panasonic, Toshiba, AT&T which became AVAYA, Nitsuko was very popular; they later merged with NEC.  Mitel was the big name in PBX’s.

Telecom gear by the established hardware makers above are (now) typically referred to as legacy systems.

But WAIT! There’s MORE! Not only today do you have ALL the choices offered by the “legacy” outfits, there’s the huge range of new IP hardware and new vendors, and let’s not forget the multiple service providers for DIAL TONE.

Recapping with my friend the Uber Tech Manager, he at least easily narrowed his initial choices down to 3 or 4 systems, with BC Tel as only option for DIAL TONE.  Yet it still was, “The hardest decision…”

Today, even attempting to narrow the field may cause a panic attack or similar trauma. Warning signs may include trying to book a root canal with your dentist the same day scheduled for a phone presentation.

Next post, I’ll cover how the three general categories (Centex, EKT and PBX) of commercial SMB telephone systems have evolved into a dozen different architectures.

Robert McNulty

Director, Channel Sales, Skyway West


Personal Twitter: @SkywayWest_VoIP


1 thought on “The Good, the Bad, and the Buggy: Buying an IP Phone System in 2013”

  • 1
    Jack D'Arcy on October 17, 2013

    In your next issue don’t forget to mention buying a Panasonic system from Jack D’Arcy (phone guy) will relieve all discomfort just like an alka seltzer.

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