When considering the acquisition of a VoIP phone service it is worth first doing a detailed study of your business requirements. This research should include the scale – No of extensions – features required, and any likely future requirements the business might need in order to grow. The reason for this is that the virtual telephone market follows a few common business models. The most popular is the model where a service provider supplies all the features supported across all their price plans, only differentiating on the number of free minutes. This can be great for the customers that don’t really know their own requirements or how they might change in the short-term, as they will have all the features they require already installed.
The drawback being is that the customers are almost certainly paying over the odds for features and services they do not use. An alternative model is one that both Phone.com and Nextiva base their services on and that is to break down the feature list into basic features and apply these to all price plans – again based on free minutes – however additional features are available at extra costs. With this philosophy, you get all the basic features that any small business requires and any specialist features that you require later can be purchased as extras or by shifting to a more extensive and expensive service plan.
When comparing the two service providers it is probably a good place to start with their entry level services. As a result, Phone.com and Nextiva both start-off with a virtual phone service that manages incoming calls via an auto-attendant and redirects calls to the customer’s own mobile phone or home phone lines. With Phone.com, this was named the Virtual Business Service, but that now appears to have merged into the Base Plan and Nextiva calls their entry service for small business Nextiva Connect.
Therefore, Nextiva Connect is the only option for entrepreneur, or SoHo businesses that require a simply virtual business telephone service.
The way that Nextiva Connect works is that they act as an inbound call answering service and redirect inbound calls to preconfigured extensions or phones. The way this works in practice is that Nextiva supply the business with a local, toll-free, vanity number, or you can port over an existing number to use as a main incoming business number. Nextiva will support and answer this number 24/7 and guarantee that a call will never be busy, or go unanswered. This for small business people continually away from their desk is a tremendous boon and it also gives clients calling the business a favorable impression. However, Nextiva do not provide a physical line so you will require having your own mobile or landline both for receiving redirected calls and for making outbound calls as Nextiva simply transfer calls. This is why Nextiva Connect is called a virtual telephone service as it operates as cloud based receptionist, which will auto-answer incoming calls using an auto-attendant/call receptionist and greet the caller whilst providing them a menu of options. From the callers perspective they are greeted with a custom pre-recorded message and offered a menu of options, such as “Press one for Sales, Press two for Billing…” although the business can record any greeting or menu that you require. Depending on the callers choice the call is duly forwarded to the corresponding extension – mobile phone, landline, etc – and the caller is placed on hold – custom hold-music is played – so the caller is not aware of the call forwarding process in the background.
One important feature for any virtual telephone answering service is the ability to make custom greetings and IVR menus. Unfortunately, this is not as easy as you would hope, on many vendor services. For instance trying to create and record custom greetings over the telephone with most service providers is an exercise in frustration, and it isn’t much better with Nextiva. It is easier and more efficient to record your messages on a PC application and then upload them via the online admin portal.
The virtual telephone service is the most basic service that service providers offer small businesses as it only deals with incoming calls and is purely about call forwarding. However, Phone.com now seems to have withdrawn their service leaving only Nextiva Connect as an option at this level.
Building upon Nextiva Connect is Nextiva’ flag ship business service called Nextiva Office, and this is where we finally will come head to head with Phone.com’s IP/PBX service for SMBs.
Phone.com has three main service plans, which are the Base Plan, Plus Plan and the Pro Plan which are only differentiated by the number of so called free minutes included each month. Nextiva on the other hand has also three tiers of service plans – Office Pro, Office Pro-Plus and Office Enterprise. As their names suggest these service offerings are unlike Connect aimed at larger businesses that require full IP/PBX services both incoming and outgoing.
It is important to differentiate between the virtual telephone services such as Connect and a fully cloud-hosted IP/PBX services as the former are inbound services only and sometimes have a facility to make outbound calls using the business number but more often than not it is a cumbersome task. IP/PBX services on the other hand are fully features enterprise class telephone systems that handle inbound and outbound calls via a myriad of functions and features. Indeed Nextiva’s Office and Phone.com’s IP/PBX Plans are no exception as they are both bristling with the latest features.
Both Phone.com and Nextiva have online portals for configuration, billing, features and individual extension settings. With Phone.com, you can also add premium features to your account. This is not really the case with Nextiva as premium features are actually part of the upgrade to Nextiva Office IP/PBX service plan.
Phone.com has over forty standard features that cover just about every inbound call function a small or medium sized business would ever require. For instance, it has call blocking, call forwarding, call routing, call logs and notifications as well as call screening and call transfer. In addition there is E911/911 dialing, do not disturb, dial-by-name, follow me and fax (both incoming/outgoing). These are only a few of the list of features that Phone.com provides as standard. Additionally they have premium features that include call recording, call analytics, voice mail transcription and the communicator Softphone. This though is something of a mixed bag, they keep the costs down by making these features premium and they are charged at a monthly premium. However, the communicator Softphone being a premium is a bit strange as they supply a mobile app as standard, but you have to pay extra for a PC app. What’s more, because they are charging extra for the PC app they prevent the customer from downloading and operating an open source or third party Softphone by hiding the SIP details. This is really is a bit naughty, as is charging for call analytics. However, the options are there, should you want and be willing to pay for them.
Nextiva on the other hand, take a different approach to Phone.com in so much as they do not supply the same feature set across all plans. This is a good and a bad thing, which seems to divide many vendors approach, some like Phone.com prefer to bundle everything together so there is a common service which makes maintenance and upgrades much easier across a common platform. Others like Nextiva prefer to differentiate on features and keep back some desirable ones for the more expensive plans. Whatever Nextiva provides a base set of around 40 standard and advanced IP/PBX functions that more than matches Phone.com’s offering. They have for example, Free Number Porting, Free Number Porting, Advanced Call Management, Advanced Call Management, Unlimited Calling, Free Local Number, Free Toll Free Number, Voicemail to Email Voicemail to Email, Unlimited Virtual Faxing, Shared Call Appearance, Shared Call Appearance, HD Music on Hold, Voicemail to Text, and even contact center features such as Barge In-Managers that can monitor Phone Calls. Further that is only their base offering, for the Pro-Plus and Enterprise plans there are additional goodies such as Professionally Recorded Greeting, Call Me Now, Conference Bridge, Nextiva Mobile App, Team Presence, Call Recording, and Nextiva Anywhere.
Therefore it is very difficult to separate either of these two IP/PBX services on features and functionality alone.
Pricing & Plans
Phone.com has 24/7 support and you can call them on a toll-free number, email, SMS or have a live-chat session online. Nextiva on the other hand has toll-free number, live-chat and you can open a trouble ticket online. One nice feature about Nextiva is there is a system status indicator on their website so you can see immediately if there are any system problems without having to contact support directly.
Here is where the limitations of Phone.com become apparent as you really have all the features and functionality available to you. With Nextiva though, there is a wide scope of possible upgrade paths, through either:
- Nextiva App – a fully featured mobile application
- Nextiva Drive – Backup, Collaboration and Sync tool for data
- Nextiva fax – virtual fax service
- Nextiva Office – fully functional enterprise class IP/PBX
- Nextiva Call Centre – feature rich professional contact center suite of IP/PBX features
Both Phone.com and Nextiva provide value for money virtual telephone services for the small to medium business. Nextiva Connect is probably the cheapest around and provides basic but sufficient features for the small business. Phone.com on the other hand is more expensive but is great for small to medium businesses that require many extensions and extended feature sets not commonly available at this price point. This is where Phone.com excels is that it provides over forty standard and some premium features that provide large business capabilities but that are conducive to SMB budgets. Nextiva Connect on the other hand has limited features albeit at a low price point but has an upgrade path to large and even enterprise class IP/PBX features and functions.