Virtual PBX is one of the pioneers with regards hosted IP PBX and they have been in business since 1997 so they have plenty of experience in the business. However, Virtual PBX have found tough opposition in recent years due to companies such as Nextiva entering the already highly competitive IP PBX market space.
Virtual PBX and Nextiva both target the small to medium businesses as their key customers though Nextiva can certainly claim with some justification to be able to scale to meet the more stringent demands of even large and enterprise customers. However, as a head-to-head comparison we will look at the products with the small to medium business in mind (SMB). Therefore, we will consider in depth the products, features and the prices for the middle market.
Nextiva’s flagship product is Office and it comes in three basic editions,
- Office Pro
- Office Pro Plus
- Office Enterprise
Don’t let the names mislead you these are all SMB products differing only in the availability and capabilities of certain features. Office Pro Plus is the most popular as it is the midrange product that probably best covers most SMB’s requirements for a business telephone solution. For example, Office Pro Plus has all the standard features available with Office Pro – unlimited voice and fax calls both local and long distance, an auto-attendant, find me/follow me, call parking, unlimited hunt groups, as well as voice-mail to email. Furthermore, there are advanced call management, call transfer, call waiting and queuing features.
However, Office Pro Plus differs from its sibling Office Pro in that it has professional recorded greetings, a mobile app and a conference bridge that can support up to nine participants. With regards Nextiva’s conference calling ability, it is also able to instantly connect two existing calls together which is a handy feature.
The Nextiva mobile app provides mobility to the solution as Nextiva can transfer calls seamlessly to a mobile phone or other voice capable devices. Furthermore calls can be initiated from the mobile device using the business number as the caller ID which is an important feature that many of Nextiva’s competitors lack. In addition to making calls, there is also the ability to use chat and instant messaging to communicate with colleagues, which you can control via the presence indicators that show your status and willingness to accept messages. The mobile app also provides a platform for both voice and video collaboration through HD call conferencing whilst you are away from the office.
The Virtual PBX service that is comparable to Nextiva’s Office is their Virtual Office plan, which offers hosted PBX functionality for SMBs. Virtual PBX offer this service not by feature bundles like Nextiva’s Pro, Pro-Plus and Enterprise editions, but by providing all the features to everyone and charging per number of lines. Therefore the more lines ordered per business the cheaper the rates per line. This can make planning and provisioning the business telephone solution much simpler as you don’t have to worry about what features come with what package. Furthermore, Virtual PBX also provides unlimited free call minutes just like Nextiva, although they do charge for toll-free, conference calls and outgoing fax after using more than 1,000 free minutes per service per month. This is approximately 16-17 hours per month of free conference, fax and toll free calls, so it is quite generous.
With regards Virtual PBX’s feature set; these are the basic features and functions provided inclusive of the monthly charge with every line purchased. The basic feature set consists of all the features required by a professional business telephone system. These basic PBX features provide call answering and handling functions such as, an auto-attendant, customizable call greetings, call transfer, call queuing, conference calling, directory services, day and night mode as well as the very handy find me/follow me feature. Virtual PBX also has routing functions for multi-stage dialing, trueACD queues and supervised call transfers.
Virtual PBX provides an important element to their PBX by providing mobility to SMBs via its find me/follow me capabilities. The customer via the admin portal configures Virtual PBX to ring, when receiving a call to a specific extension, a list of telephones in the order they are listed. If the customer then enters their home telephone, mobile phone, or other devices in this list, Virtual PBX will work through the list until the customer is reached. If a call still goes unanswered, Virtual PBX will eventually redirect it to voicemail. Message handling is provided via never full mailboxes, and voicemail can be delivered direct to email as an MP3 or if using the premium feature it can be transcript to text.
Virtual PBX is compatible with mobile smartphones as all the admin features are though a web portal; however, there is also a Softphone app. The Virtual PBX Softphone application for Android and iOS turns the smartphone into a fully featured VoIP PBX enabled Softphone. Similar to Nextiva, Virtual PBX can transfer customer calls to their mobile and calls made from the mobile phone application use the business number and not the customer’s personal mobile number.
So far, we have seen that with regards features and functions there is not much difference between the two services, so how do they compare with pricing?
The immediate problem we face when trying to compare the pricing plans for Nextiva and Virtual PBX is that although both follow a similar business model – unlimited free calls and a monthly fee – it is not always clear what you are getting free and what will be charged as a premium feature. For example if we consider Virtual PBX, they have no feature bundles as such, but they do have several premium features such as, true toll free numbers (800), vanity numbers and number porting all come at an additional cost as does unlimited call recording and call conferencing. Nextiva on the other hand doesn’t even support call recording in the Office Pro package, you will need either to upgrade to Enterprise addition or purchase it as an extra. The same goes with many of the call centre features such as call barging and call supervisor functions, though few SMBs will be requiring this level of functionality.
However, once you are sure that Office Pro or Virtual Office meets your feature requirements, or you have added the additional cost of any required feature into the calculation, it is quite a straightforward price comparison. Nextiva charge per extension per month and Virtual PBX per line, which are the same thing as you will need one per employee.
Nextiva charges at time of writing (March 2015) $22.95 per month with no setup fees.
Virtual PBX charges at time of writing (March 2015) $24.99 per line per month for orders of 2 to 19 lines, orders over 20 lines are charged at $22.99 per month.
As we can see there is nothing really between the two with regards pricing, so what can we use to differentiate the services?
One very important feature of any hosted PBX provider is with reliability and availability. Nextiva guarantees 99.999% uptime on its NextOS platform as well as failover redundancy across several data centers and ISP providers. Virtual PBX also has comprehensive network redundancy and failover and even provides a disaster recovery and business continuity service called parachute, so they are well provisioned for any data centre failure. Consequently, Nextiva and Virtual PBX both score highly with regards service reliability and business continuity.
However not all service outages are catastrophic, sometimes it’s simply just a node failure or a miss-configured feature, so how do they fare with technical support?
Nextiva has in addition to traditional 24/7 USA based telephone support, email, web chat, and an online ticket system where you can open your own trouble-tickets. They also have online system status indicators so that you can check any system problems very quickly without having to contact support. Moreover, Nextiva has extensive online troubleshooting and feature support. Having online documents that can show you how do configure features or troubleshoot problems is a really valuable service as it allow you to fix many of the niggling problems yourself and in your own time. Many problems can be fixed using these online tools without having to open a trouble ticket or wait of technical support coming back to you.
Virtual PBX Support
Virtual PBX’s telephone support is only available Monday to Friday between 7 am and 5 pm Pacific time. This is unusual and it might be something you will have to consider as loss of service over a weekend could be potentially very damaging. Virtual PBX however provides many self-help documents and how to articles as their emphasis seems to be on providing the means for customers to resolve their own issues. This is great for technically inclined customers, because there is a wealth of information and easy to follow troubleshooting maps and learning tools. However if you are not comfortable trying to fix your own issues then perhaps Nextiva’s extensive support strategy is the better approach.
With regards performance and functionality there is little to differentiate between Nextiva and Virtual PBX. Both services are packed with features and functionality you would expect or need in a SMB hosted IP PBX service. The only real distinction is the potential for growth as Nextiva bundles features into packages so there is always a clear upgrade path or the option to buy premium options and features such as their call center management functions. Virtual PBX on the other hand provide all their features – or rather the vast majority of them – included in the monthly fee. Therefore, if there is a feature you need that is not included you are pretty much stuck. However, due to the wide scope of features, this is an unlikely scenario but you should certainly check that all your requirements are met before signing up.
The only other area of differentiation between the services concerns their technical support philosophies. Nextiva provides a multi-channel support service – 24/7 phone, email, chat, online ticket service, online document library etc – whereas Virtual PBX takes a more self-help approach by supplying the customer with extensive self help and how to troubleshooting and configuration tools and documentation. There are pros, cons to this approach depending on how technically inclined, and confident you are to troubleshoot and fix your own issues. Generally speaking, for most issues the self-help and FAQ tools will resolve issues quicker than going through the support desk. However, you should be aware though you may well be required to do this under the most pressurized situation!
Moreover, this is probably the key point when choosing between the two vendors, Nextiva and Virtual PBX. Nextiva is better if you want a solution with a feature set that meets your requirements out-of-the-box and can grow with your company without locking you in. Virtual PBX on the other hand is suited for small businesses that have some technical ability and confidence. It is not difficult to configure or support it is just that the support philosophy places the onus more on to the customer. Technically inclined customers will love this, as the tools and documentation that allow you to accomplish these tasks are comprehensive. For those less inclined to self-help there is the telephone support, but only during pacific office hours.
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