Phonepower have been operational in the USA and Canada since 2005 and in that time have grown to be one of the leading residential VoIP telephone service providers. Although Phonepower do not release their actual customer numbers, independent reviewers usually place them in the top three VoIP service providers. Phonepower are also moving into the small business market space and even into enterprise and contact center hosted PBXs. However, there is a big difference between residential and business VoIP requirements, in particular with regards, quality, reliability, features and pricing options, customer support, and scalability – the ability for the service to grow with the business.
Residential Vs Business
There are different service requirements when supporting residential or business telephone requirements:
Quality & Reliability
Quality of calls and reliability are important performance indicators for residential however in business there are more stringent quality and service levels that must be met. Loss of service or poor voice quality in a residential scenario is bad in a business it is unacceptable. Reliability for business should demonstrate and provide service level agreements that match 99.999% availability of service.
Similarly, business requires increased customer support and feature sets, which go hand in hand, the more features supported necessitates a proportional increase in customer service in order to meet demand. Therefore a service provider must meet that increased demand through various support channels, it does not necessarily mean an increase in the number of live agents, providing online tools such as FAQ, How to videos and blogs, and technical articles may well suffice, but there will be a requirement to up the customer support levels.
Scalability, Costs and Efficiency
Furthermore, businesses grow or shrink over time so a service must be scalable by supporting flexible service plans that are configurable to meet individual employee requirements. This is important because a residential VoIP service plan is chosen to match the aggregated requirements of the household. In business however, individuals will need their own extensions or phone lines and their requirements may well differ from one another. Therefore, there is a requirement for service plans that can match the requirements of an employee who makes few outgoing calls but receives many incoming calls, a technical support agent for example. Similarly, there will be service plans required to meet the demand of employees who make many domestic, long distance and international outgoing calls. The ability to be able to mix and match service plans per extension and line is an important business requirement as it facilitates growth and efficiency whilst curbing unnecessary expense.
How does phonepower meet these higher business standards?
Phonepower does handle the step up from residential to small business very well as it simply uses the tried and tested residential model to support the small business service plan. In order to understand how phonepower can support a small office or home run business we need to look at the inherent capabilities within the residential VoIP system. For example, the residential model had support for large homes and families, which required support for multiple phone extensions. Phonepower met that requirement by providing a free second cloned line, which operated off the same telephone number. What this meant was that if one line was busy, you could use another extension in the house to make or receive another call. However, the interesting part was you could assign an extension number to each phone in the house and that extension can be direct dialed externally. Additionally, residential also allows adding up to four virtual numbers per residential plan. What this means is that you can apply either local, toll free, numbers from other regions in addition to the standard telephone number. This is handy for business as you can configure either toll free or local numbers for customers in other parts of the country.
Phonepower has one big advantage when scaling up to accommodate small businesses and that is it already supported over fifty VoIP features for its residential plan. This feature-rich platform then has probably all the features that any small business would require. Business orientated features such as conference calling and fax support. Additionally there is a free mobile app and Softphone for use on a PC or tablet. This means that you are not tied to the office but free to roam using your mobile phone or use a laptop and Softphone from anywhere using VoIP rather than the mobile carrier’s higher priced tariffs. Mobility is also enhanced by the service having find me/follow me already built in so the system can ring all your phones either simultaneously or sequentially in the order you configure on the web admin portal. That of course is another handy web based tool for configuring the many options and features that phonepower supports.
Small Business Service Plans
There are for small business sufficient features and options already present in the residential/small business plans and packages to operate a VoIP business-class service. Phonepower offers service plans at the following rates:
1 year pre-pay – $162.17 (average $8.33 per month)
2 year pre-pay – $486.79
Non contract Plan
All these service have the full feature set, a second line, unlimited domestic calling and 60 min free international calling. Additionally there are included a mobile app, fax service, a free cloned second line and a 30 day money back guarantee.
Phonepower is therefore a very cheap and cost effective service for a small business. The fact that each plan has unlimited domestic calls means that there is no real cost benefit or penalty that differentiate the plans other than the monthly terms and duration of the contract. Furthermore, as the plan applies to the business line and not individual extensions there is no need to mix and match individual plans to employee roles. For a small business, operating off just a few extensions this can be a very attractive way to deploy a VoIP telephone service.
Customer support is available 6:00 am – 7:00 pm PST (Monday – Friday) and 6:00 am – 4:00 pm PST (Weekends) by telephone or email. There are however extensive online tools and documentation on their website which facilitates out of hours support. Additionally there is a searchable knowledge database, online support tools such as FAQ, extensive ‘How to’ articles, and videos, as well as ‘Getting Started’ installation videos, which provides a welcome level of focus on customer support, which is a vital component in any business service.
Reliability & Quality
The major issue with VoIP has always been about call quality and reliability. As VoIP, telephony naturally relies on the internet for other than calls to local extensions over the LAN; it is somewhat out of anyone’s direct control. Lease lines and dedicated broadband internet connections can go some way to alleviate the problems but long distance calls, especially international will invariably at the mercy of conditions on the Internet. Phonepower though is an established VoIP service provider and has links and routes to all the main international VoIP providers and exchanges which makes them a more robust and reliable service. However, a common aspect with large scale residential providers is that they don’t typically consider reliability to be of major importance. An example of this is that phonepower does not provide service level agreements based on availability of service but provides customers credits for service outages – but only if it is proved to be phonepower’s fault. This model however creates a conflict of interest between the customer and the support technician.
When dealing with business customers this is not an acceptable position, as the goal should be to remediate any faults as soon as possible and not waste time trying to attribute blame and responsibility.
Phonepower does support an online network-monitoring tool that updates customers on any potential network disruption, upcoming work and potential service outages. That is all very well and good but there should be no service outages in a fully redundant, high-availability service provider network! Phonepower does let you configure an emergency number where all your calls should be directed in the case of internet or loss of service. Unfortunately, this means you will have to have another telephone service, probably a PSTN landline for business use or a mobile phone account for residential use.
Phonepower Small Business Constraints
The only constraints are the limit of two lines per business number, which can be worked around using extensions, so that isn’t so much a problem. However, there will always be the constraint of only two concurrent calls, which could well be a business issue. The real constrain, that differentiates it from most other business VoIP services is that there is no auto-attendant/auto-receptionist feature, which is a call answering, greeting and call forwarding service, which is a big drawback in most business scenarios.
Cloud hosted PBX
Phonepower in addition to its small business plan has a cloud based hosted PBX service, which removes the previous constraints on the small business service.
Phonepower’s hosted PBX service is targeted at the small medium business (SMB) that has their own premises and internet connections. This service is a major shift away from their residential and SoHo (small office home office) product and that is reflected in the range of business level functions and features as well as the price plans but more of that later. For now let us consider the good news, which is the addition functionality that is available for running a small business office.
Phonepower’s hosted PBX boasts over 50 features which enable SMBs to have the same level of PBX telephone service as a major enterprise. Indeed one of the key benefits with a hosted PBX service is that added credibility that the service provides as potential customers who call will have a far more professional experience and undoubtedly come away with an enhanced image of the business. Hence phonepower like so many of the other hosted telephone service providers place a lot of emphasis on inbound call handling and management. To that end Phonepower’s hosted PBX differs from the residential/small business plans due primarily to an auto receptionist and a capability to support more than 2 lines. The auto-receptionist will ensure that no call ever goes unanswered and the advanced call forwarding that is associated with the IVR, which offers the caller a menu of options of extensions – for example ‘Press 1 for Sales, 2 for Billing, 3 for Support, – means that calls can be passed to any landline or mobile phone. This technique means that small business employees can be away from the office yet still receive calls on the business phone system which provided true mobility and freedom.
Some of the other notable features that differentiate the hosted PBX service from the residential/small business plans are the administration and business management features such as inbound call managers, call dashboards and online call-management. There is also the added convenience of Fax to email rather than to voicemail and importantly for SMB’s voicemail-to-email and remote voicemail access from any device.
In addition to a choice of any amount of extensions and lines you may want there are multi-group support and hunt groups as well as advanced call distribution and the now obligatory soft phone and mobile apps for Apple and Android.
However, the hosted PBX business solution does come at a price and if you really do not need the additional lines and the auto-receptionist – and remember this does not affect the number of extensions you can have – then you might be better off with the cheaper residential/small business plans. If though you do need 24/7 business answering call service and many SMBs do nowadays then the additional costs per month are certainly not excessive and Phonepower is one of the cheapest around.
Currently the prices for the hosted PBX business plans are based on a complicated mixture of number of lines, telephone numbers, extensions and length of contract. The cheapest contract prices are offered for contracts of 3 years with the most expensive for the minimum one year period. However all calls local and long distance – but not International – are free as are intra-network calls to other Phonepower subscribers.
Phonepower’s SMB hosted PBX service raises the bar where features and business class functions are concerned and with that elevation in quality services so we shouldn’t be surprised that it comes with a corresponding price rise.
The pricing plans for the Cloud PBX service is dependent on the length of contract ranging from 1 year to 3 years:
- 3 year contract – $22.95 (average per extension per month)
- 2 year contract – $24.95 (average per extension per month)
- 1 year contract – $27.95 (average per extension per month)
All plans have unlimited incoming and outgoing calls as well as free mobile app and softphone.
Phonepower cloud PBX business service comes with all the features you would expect from an IP/PBX hosted service such as an auto attendant, incoming call manager, advanced call handling, forwarding and queuing, direct international dialing, call blocking and anonymous call rejection, caller ID and name support, in addition to 911, 411 and operator services.
Phonepower’s cloud based PBX service does not have the same cost efficiency as its small business service plan as its rates are more in line with other vendors in the marketplace. However, it has all the required business features and options that most SMBs will require.
The third type of business orientated services that phonepower provides is through their SIP trunking service. SIP trunking is used to connect businesses with their own on-premises IP/PBX to the phonepower VoIP service provider network in order for them to benefit from phonepower’s international calling rates. SIP trunking supports Asterisk, Fonality, Trixbox and many other IP/PBX systems. SIP trunking allows users to connect their VoIP on-premises PBX’s to external phone networks all over the world in order to make calls, including PSTN (public switched telephone network) phones as well as mobile/cellular phones.
The terms SIP termination, refers to outbound calling, SIP origination refers to inbound calling and it is a service that allows users to receive incoming calls to VoIP devices from PSTN or mobile networks. Depending on requirements Phonepower can provide an SMB SIP trunk with 5 ports for $55 and domestic termination for $0.02 per minute, and enterprise class SIP trunk for $240 for 23 ports and domestic termination at $0.015 per minute or a contact center SIP trunk at $400 that can support 48 ports and have domestic termination for $0.008 per minute in all plans call origination is free. If you are considering a contact or call centre then this is a good way to do it as most other PBX service providers will not support Call Centres on their unlimited plans due to the massive call rates so a SIP trunk at these rates may be a very desirable alternative to standard per minute pricing.
SIP Trunking is charged at the following rates:
Phonepower is a market leader in residential VoIP services that is moving into the small business and enterprise market space. Their excellent residential service model is leveraged to provide the mechanisms to provision a small business service plan. This strategy works extremely well for small businesses that work from home or small offices and with only a few employee extensions. This model is attractively priced and feature rich – over 50 features – with even free mobile apps to support mobility and online fax services. The small business service support two lines but can have an addition four virtual numbers configured. These can be local, toll free or numbers in any US city or region. The only constraint to this small business service is the restrictions of only two lines and the lack of an auto-attendant call answering service.
The other business service that phonepower provides is through a cloud based hosted PBX service. This is a standard model of hosted IP/PBX priced at a competitive price-point for the market. It is also feature rich and ordered per extension. All calls, unlimited, both incoming and outgoing are free as are 60 minutes worth of international calls.
Customer support scales easily to bridge the burden-gap that comes with provisioning and maintaining business services. Phonepower have created and they maintain, in addition to the customer support helpline, a very impressive array of self-help tools and information on their website.
The only issue with phonepower, which is common to all VoIP service providers, is with reliability and availability. There is no problem with their line quality under good Internet conditions but I would have liked to see them issue SLA to guarantee availability of service to show they have trust in their own infrastructure’s reliability. Instead, phonepower offers credits for loss of service and that is okay in a residential model but not in business.