(Pocket-lint) - The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into stark relief that having reliable, crisis-proof, and flexible channels of business communication is essential.

Legacy PBX (Private Branch Exchange) systems just don’t cut it anymore. Cumbersome, difficult to maintain, and rooted in offices, they no longer meet the needs of most businesses.

Cloud PBX systems provide a modern, scalable, and supremely adaptable alternative. But what is cloud PBX? And which providers are best?

What is a Cloud PBX?

A traditional PBX split up a single phone line into several extensions for an entire office or call center. Office technicians ran lines from the PBX hardware to every single desk phone, then programmed it accordingly.

Today, PBX systems route calls using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. Unwieldy, maintenance-intensive hardware has been replaced by an easy-to-manage cloud PBX service.

While desk phones can still be used, mobile and desktop softphone apps allow access from the office or anywhere else. The only requirement is a suitable internet connection.

Cloud PBX providers also offer a wealth of additional functionalities and integrations with their services. These features can vary considerably between providers. To help you get an overview, here are five of the best Cloud PBX providers out there.

1. Nextiva

Recently voted the best business phone service of 2020 by U.S. News, Nextiva provides both a solid communication basis and outstanding additional features.

Core services encompass voice and video calling, messaging, and email. The company boasts an uptime of 99.999%, guaranteed by a number of data centers scattered across North America.

Nextiva throws a comprehensive set of additional tools into the package - from voicemail-to-email functionalities, over advanced call management, to conversational AI. Proprietary software such as NextOS (providing analytics and customer relationship management tools) and Cospace (a team collaboration platform) round off the company’s offer.

Nextiva also garners plus points with its award-winning customer support, which is available 24/7.

Pricing starts at $19.95 per user and month for the Essential plan. For more conference participants, integrations, and team collaboration features, take a look at the $20.95 Professional and $27.95 Enterprise plans.

2. Aircall

Aircall offers voice and video calls, along with web, desktop and mobile messaging channels. It’s particularly geared towards making the setup and maintenance of call centers a breeze.

The company offers a broad set of additional features to facilitate the operation of call centers. These features range from helpdesk functionalities to customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities and analytics tools.

Aircall also integrates with CRM systems, as well as team collaboration platforms, including Salesforce, HubSpot, and Slack. Aircall’s App Marketplace offers further extensions for tasks such as designing surveys, sales automation, and call transcription.

Complete call center solutions have a certain price tag: $30 per user and month for the Essentials plan. For large call centers, a $50 Professional plan and custom pricing are available.

3. Vonage

Flexible and scalable, Vonage is another solid Cloud PBX choice. It offers voice and video calling, messaging, live chat, and video conferencing for up to 300 users.

Additional tools range from social media integrations to virtual receptionists. Integrations are available for various third-party platforms, such as Office 365 and G Suite, Salesforce and HubSpot.

Vonage’s pricing starts at $19.99 per user and month. More functionalities are included in the Premium and Advanced tiers, $29.99 and $39.99 respectively. Note that some features and integrations are billed separately.

4. 8x8

With an offer comprising voice and video calling, HD video conferencing, screen sharing, and team messaging, 8x8 is keeping up with the other options on this list.

What makes this provider stand out is its international flexibility, as it offers toll-free numbers in 110 countries and local ones in 75. It further offers local number porting.

Like Vonage, 8x8 also integrates smoothly with third-party platforms like Salesforce and Zendesk.

8x8’s Express plan, limited to basic features and a single line, starts at $12 per user and month. Higher-tier plans range from $25 to $45 and include more lines, features, and international options.

5. Mitel

Finally, Mitel offers another Cloud PBX option to be considered. Its service includes voice and video calling, conferencing, messaging, and file sharing.

What’s more, Mitel offers a wide range of additional features, ranging from advanced call management to interactive voice response (IVR). Integrations include third-party platforms such as Zendesk, Salesforce, G Suite, and Outlook.

Mitel runs on Google Cloud using data centers across the world, and guarantees an uptime of 99.995%. Customer support is available 24/7.

Plans start at $20.99 per user and month for the basic plan. The full range of features is available at higher-tier plans ranging from $26.59 to $38.49. Call center services carry an extra charge.

The Bottom Line

The market for cloud PBX providers is large and competitive. Individual offers vary considerably in terms of pricing and features.

Finding the right service to match your needs will take some time and further research. But it’s worth it.

With the list above as a starting point, and a bit of tenacity, you’re bound to find the perfect communications solution for your business.