Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) provider Zoom launched Zoom Phone in South Africa last year, having launched it in 2019 in limited markets. Following on from the launch of Skype for Business in 2015, and Microsoft Teams Calling in 2018, this is the latest in a series of forays by video conferencing and messaging service providers into the business telephony space.

Should companies be ditching their specialist business telephone solutions for UCaaS providers? There are a number of things businesses should consider before making a purchasing decision.

Price check

An important aspect for any business to consider (especially in the COVID economy) is cost. While pricing varies, companies can expect to pay around R796 per user for Zoom Phone plus Zoom, with calls billed per minute (as opposed to the more cost-effective per second model).

Phone functionality is included with the Office 365 E5 product bundle at a cost of R1 044.80 per user per month. This means you get all of the Office 365 suite, One Drive, the phone, and a bunch of other features, which could overlap with your current solutions.

Additionally, with Microsoft you dial out of their environment using a feature called Direct Routing to make a call via a service provider, as this is not a function Microsoft offers natively. Basically, you’re going via Microsoft to make a call via a telephony provider like the one you are likely using right now. This means you’re going to be using your same provider (and paying them) as well as using Microsoft – so you’re doubling up.

Contracts

UCaaS providers tend to prefer to sign their customers up for annual subscriptions, which means even if their solutions don’t provide what you need, you’re locked in for the full contract period. Local VoIP business telephone solution providers often cater for more flexible month-to-month contracts, which makes it easier to scale your services up and down – particularly useful in times of uncertainty.

Functionality

Business telephone solution providers are specialists that offer a range of features beyond basic calling and voicemail. These are designed to help businesses to operate efficiently and effectively and manage their costs and resources. UCaaS providers provide a different range of tailored services that may not be as niched or focussed as those offered by business telephone solution providers. If you need detailed analytics, reporting and real-time control over your call environment, for example, then you will need to look to a business telephone solution provider.

Support

Local providers offer local support, often free if it’s remote, and billed in Rands if it’s onsite, depending on their business model. UCaaS providers may not offer local support at all, unless they have certified partners on the ground that offer these services. In the case of Microsoft Teams and Zoom, you would be using a third party service provider, and support would be provided by them.

Best of both

Cloud-based business telephone solutions are a critical tool for navigating the challenges of remote work in recent times. Video conferencing solutions are equally important, and have offered a lifeline to many organisations empowering them to keep running both meetings and larger conferences during lockdown.

Finding the combination of solutions that suit the specific needs of your business needs is invaluable and will help you to manage or cut excess expenses in the current financial landscape. The trick is to do your homework, and not be afraid to ask the hard questions – particularly about costs, contracts, functionality and support.

Nic Laschinger, CTO, Euphoria Telecom