New Phone System Recommendations

Hi. We have a Nortel phone system with an answering system add on, CallPilot, that was installed by one of church members in 2004. I believe that all of the hardware was hand me downs at the time and it did save a lot of money and has seen a lot of use. The member who installed the system has since retired and moved away. The phones still work, but Hurricane Harvey seems to have killed the CallPilot portion of the installation.

Big question - What comes next? We will be taking this opportunity to update our system, but should we stick with multiple incoming lines or move to an Voip system. We currently have 6 incoming lines and our DSL/Fax line. (Note: The DSL worked through the storm!)

We upgraded our current network/wifi infrustructure in 2014 with new wiring and Ubiquiti products. Looking for recommendations and thoughts.

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We setup VoIP systems for churches that are powerful, capable, and reasonable in cost. Can be hosted on your site or in our datacenter. Please email me ( if you’d like to connect and talk through the details,

Nick B. Nicholaou
MBS President

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I’m a huge fan of Switchvox personally. We had BEMA Services install and configure it and I would absolutely do that again if needed. We have about 100 phones deployed and a very complex setup including 2 radio stations, but Switchvox would be just as ideal if we only had 20 phones and no radio stations.

If I didn’t have the phone server in-house, I would look really hard at MBS’s hosted phone service.

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We had a Nortel. We replaced it with a UCX50 by eMetrotel 2 years ago. We were able to reuse all our old nortel phones which saved us a huge chunk of change. It’s a hybrid system so we use IP phones where we need, VOIP where we need and the old Nortel phones where we need. We brought together 2 remote location so now everyone has 3-digit dialing.

Best of all, there was no training because the features are all the same with new stuff added in. The voicemail system was more advanced than call pilot which aggravated my older users but the younger set loves the follow-me feature which sends calls to there cell.

All the old Nortel programmers built the system so it’s familiar AND updated.


My church’s office has been using VOIP systems for a couple years. Unfortunately I know little else beyond that, but they do cater to small/medium businesses.

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If you’re a small environment, then it probably makes sense to get VoIP from a service provider/hosted VoIP. The total cost should come out better than what you’re currently paying, it tends to cross somewhere between 25-50+ users. That being said, 3CX is an easy one that will allow 4 simultaneous calls on the free plan. Similarly, FreePBX is probably one of the better Asterisk-based PBX distributions but it can be a tad more daunting to setup (by no means insurmountable though).

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I looked at cloud based, but monthly was going to be more than outright purchase when averaged over 4-5 years (min. I was expecting new PBX to last me). We went with Digium Switchvox and have been happy with it. I mostly have users (other than admins) using the mobile softphone app and not using desktop phones to cut down on costs.


Definitely true of a comparison of cloud/SaaS vs. on-site when you have the in-house expertise to manage and secure it, otherwise she should still come out saving with cloud/SaaS compared to what they are currently paying for 7 analog lines (her previous post mentioned 10 staff so even with growth I’d expect she would pay 1/4 to 1/2 per month what she is spending on analog). I would also point out the risk of not properly securing a PBX distribution: we’ve all heard the stories about people not realizing their PBX was unsecured and it allowed hackers to rack up massive phone bills! :tired_face: The nice thing about the service route is that you get the expertise to secure and manage the system when you don’t have it in-house.

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Thanks for all of the input. I’m more educated now and know how to start. At present we have less then 15 phones. However, over the next 5 years we will be adding at least one if not two new buildings on our present campus.

So from your very helpful replies, I’m thinking a hosted service is the way to go.

Andrew - How would you say the user adoption of 8x8 was? How do you like 8x8’s management side? Do you use/have a operator/switchboard user?

Patricia, we also have a Nortel System of about the same vintage. VoIP is the way to go. You obviously will need to have a reliable internet connection and wiring. We’re looking at hosted solutions and have security systems that depend on phone lines too. For those, we’re probably going to go with a cellular connection to the monitoring companies.

Definately as part of this process we are going to have to look at our service providers.

Ok - Securtiy system, internet provider, phone system: do you all use the same data/internet line or do you keep them on separate.

Internet & VoIP are shared at all sites, but the churches I support don’t have very heavy usage of either and have very good cheap fiber internet available. Security systems I believe have a dedicated line provided by the security company, but I don’t touch anything related to alarm systems and leave that up to facilities people so I’m not 100% sure, I just know they aren’t connected to the network and aren’t using VoIP.

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We jumped to Microsoft Cloud PBX and love it. Migrated about 6 months ago. Still working out analogue lines and public phones, but all of our direct dials have been migrated. With the recent addition of call queues and auto attendants, you really don’t miss a beat. Everyone is loving the voicemail in their email and the ability to just use the Skype for business app on their phones to make calls. A lot of staff with macs just answer the call right on their computer now. Has made managing new hires and office switches so easy. Not more having to go punch down a phone. Just assign the the license, the number, and they’re on their way.


We use 8x8 as well, and have been impressed by the features they offer for the cost. You have the option of having your extension go to a hard-wired office phone or to a cell phone via the 8x8 app, which has been especially helpful for staff who travel between different campuses. Being able to have voicemails emailed to you has been nice to have as well.

I’m sure there are other companies that offer these services, but 8x8 has worked well with our smaller budget.

We are getting ready to implement our VOIP solution after extensive testing to be sure it was set up right. We decided on FreePBX mainly due to cost. There was a little bit of a learning curve from me (mainly on the terminology and how SIP really works). Once I understood that all works great. They support multiple phone vendors many of which are popular. if you’re going to host your own…you may want to take a look at this system. The biggest cost was the phones themselves. We’re looking ar roughly a $5K implementation cost and our monthly for 3 sites is less than $300 (gonna save roughly $600 a month).



What was your previous phone system?

With FreePBX what desksets are you going with?

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Our previous phone system is a VERY OLD Toshiba analog system that was installed about 14 years ago. The handsets are dying as well as the extensions. In fact…my main incoming extension died about a month ago so we have to listen for the other extensions in the ring group to answer incoming calls. We really need this ‘upgrade’.

We went with Aastra phones. For the manned desks we got the 6755i units and for the unmanned extensions (we have a daycare in the building so all those classrooms) we use the 6731i units. We got them refurbished at The FreePBX server is our decommissioned file server that we swapped out. It wasn’t adequate for the file server anymore but works just great with the Linux-based system. I don’t have to restart unless I make system changes that require a restart (like timezone and such). It just works.

Edit: We also have alarm systems that have to stay on analog phone lines. We will keep these. We no longer have to keep analog fax lines though since the SIP provider supports IP faxing with a $190 box that we plug the MFP machine into. Since we don’t do that much faxing we are going from a $40 analog line to a $10 IP fax ‘line’. We also keep all our numbers as they are simply ported to this system like you would port a cell number to another provider.

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Thanks for responding. What licensing do you use for the Microsoft Cloud PBX. We are already participating in the Non-profit pricing for Microsoft through TechSoup, thanks to this forum!