Phone system choices for small church (one location)

Hi all,

We are planning for various tech upgrades for our smaller church (one location, couple of hundred members, ~175 ppl attending on our “typical” Sunday morning service), and one of those things would be to look at upgrading our EOL ~10y.o. on-prem phone system. The vendor (“Vodavi”) is no longer in business (was bought out by another vendor) and our VAR (a local co. that has been working with us for >10 years) said that they can no longer get parts for the system we have, and in fact don’t sell that vendor’s systems any longer. They have pitched us a quote for a “cloud PBX” system (Intermedia Unite) that would add an approx $250/mo subscription fee to our monthly expenses, as well as the one-time conversion fees. This is based on a 7-seat (user/phone) system.

We currently get our phone line service thru Comcast Business, and they too have a “cloud PBX” offering, Business VoiceEdge, that I’m getting pricing on. I recently found out (I’m a new IT volunteer at my church, still figuring out the “lay of the land”, but have been doing IT Ops for over 30 years) that they already have the lowest level of Comcast Business voice service, “Voice Mobility”, with four lines, that we only use to feed into our on-prem phone system (i.e., not using any of the “Mobility” services.) It seems to me that going to a hosted solution would be better than getting into another on-prem hardware system, and wondered who else I should be looking at, if anyone. I’m mainly a networking/sysadmin guy, and even though I’ve managed corporate phone systems in the past, I’m certainly no voice expert.

Thanks for any helpful suggestions you all could provide!

Peace,
Will

If you’re using office 365 already, I’d highly recommend you consider using MS Teams for your PBX replacement. You’d be looking at $20/user/month on the high side. This assume you just use the mobile Teams app on smartphones. You can also purchase desktop phones if you’d prefer.
If you’re not using office 365, then a separately hosted cloud PBX sounds like a great solution but $250/month seems a bit steep for your size (unless that includes physical phone rentals as well)

Firstly as a networking guy, you will know that cloud voice systems all use VoIP. This means that you need to give VoIP traffic the highest packet switching/routing priority on all your network devices. It also means your ISP connection must also provide the same prioritisation service. Whilst your voice traffic might be small, if it relies on Internet ISP connection, you can run into service quality issues if packet priority is not set to the highest level on the entire end-to-end call as otherwise any congestion will lead to packet drop and poor voice quality (similar to a Zoom call that drops out when you have an unstable Internet connection).

Internally, you will need to run your phone lines over >Cat5e infrastructure and on a dedicated VLAN set to the highest packet priority, or event better a separate switch for voice. It is absolutely critical that whoever your Cloud VoIP provider is that they give you absolute guarantees regarding voice quality and VoIP packet priority across their entire network. If they cannot do that, don’t even consider VoIP on your premises and stick to a traditional digital hybrid PBX such as small Avaya IP Office system or its equivalent from any of the other major manufacturers.

Russ has some great information there but in my experience and opinion, for a staff size of 7, you really shouldn’t need to worry about all of those things. Voip calls use roughly 64k of data. As long as your internet connection and internal network have headroom (not bare minimum sized), you really shouldn’t need to worry about any separate vlans or qos just for voip. Just my 2 cents.

For a small deployment, I do kind of like the full-fledged Hosted
VoiceEdge, as it comes in on a dedicated connection and you don’t really
have to worry about your firewalls, QoS or anything like that and I don’t
think the price difference to another solution warrants the effort required
to get a cable modem to play well with VoIP and whatnot. If you were going
to go third party, I’d go with Teams as it doesn’t rely on the legacy SIP +
G7.22 codecs so you shouldn’t need to do anything too special on your
network for it to work reliably.

Hi Travis,

I need to correct you on that. Standard Digital consumes 64kbit/s, but VoIP needs double that as you are taking the 64k packet and wrapping each one in an Ethernet frame, which more than doubles its actual bandwidth usage. Therefore you should allocate at last 128kbit/s of bandwidth per simulataneous call.

The prioritisation is necessary not becuase of bandwidth constraint, but because of contention at any point in the network leads to high amounts of latency and jitter, to which voice (and video for that matter) is highly intolerant. As soon as there is any network congestion or packet rerouting in the network path, the jitter and/or latency can go through the ceiling, leading to packets being dropped by the receiver as it cannot reassemble them in the right order.

With even small VoIP networks I have built in the UK, you need a minimum of 1Mbit/s guaranteed unused SPARE capacity on your general Internet WAN for every simultaneous VoIP channel you anticipate using across it.

Alex Conner has it right in that a dedicated connection for a hosted VoIP is the way to go, which generally means they supply a suitable VoIP dedicated router, DSL and an Internet connection optimised for voice. If in doubt, keep it separate from your Internet and internal LAN. However, if you do that, you may find that a standard hybrid digital/VoIP PBX system will work out about the same or less cost allowing you to interface with the analogue line of your DSL connection and keeping your 3rd party network connection costs down. You also then don’t have to worry about any changes to your VLANs, routers or other kit.

Hey Will - if you are already using Teams, it would be your best bet as many have suggested. If you don’t use Teams, I’d recommend MBS Hosted Voice (@MBSnick). We used them prior to moving to Teams and they were great and they saved us a lot of money over what we had before. If you want to discuss if offline, let me know!

Yup, know all that :slight_smile:

Comcast BVE does provide a different router that what we currently have for them, so assuming it’s optimized for VoIP. The internal network is 1GbE, but we’ll have to share the LAN connection at each desk with the phone set and PC, since there’s only one ethernet jack at each location. Trying to figure out if the Ubiquiti UniFi USW line supports DSCP or not (guessing not b/c it’s targeted at SME environments, but who knows…) Budget of course is an issue, can’t go Meraki or the like at least at this point in time :smile:

No O365/Teams in place, and I don’t see that happening, at least in the forseeable future - the church has Google GSuite in place now for some years (set up by prior IT volunteers.) The staff is not especially tech-savvy, and don’t want to introduce too much change, at least with what all else we’ve got going on… Thanks for the suggestion tho!

Ah, having limited Cat5e+ cabling is an issue. If you pick the right VoIP handset such as Cisco SPA504, which is designed to work in pass-through, you may be okay. Otherwise you may need to use VDSL Ethernet extenders over the existing POTS internal cabling.

If Comcast BVE provides you a different router, it will expect a different VLAN to your normal internal network or completely physically separate data cable system from your PC network, so using the pass-through method on the phones is likely a no go. By the time you add in the cost of running new Cat5e+ cabling to each desk or VDSL converters to use your existing POTS connections, a hybrid digital/VoIP system will come in way under the cost of any normal cabled Hosted VoIP solution.

However, it appears the Comcast BVE Select offering is based on the Panasonic KXTPA DECT PBX, which will handle up to 8 cordless extensions and will probably fit your requirement. The desktop variety handset is indistinguishable from a wired unit, provided your building is okay for RF applications , then DECT should work. E.g. if your internal WiFi operates okay, then copy the WiFi coverage area with a DECT overlay including any repeater units. Thus if you have 3 WiFi APs, you need the one KXT PBX DECT base plus 2 DECT repeaters sited in the same locations as your APs. DECT operates at the top of the 1.8GHz range so no interference issues with WiFi or any other kit.

Hi Will, we are a slightly larger church, ~600 attendance with 20 paid staff. We moved to VoIP 4 years ago when the old Nortel PBX needed an expensive repair. After researching, I found that I was able to actually save us a significant amount of money by going with a hosted freePBX server. We pay $40/month for the cloud server (cyberlynk), and $100/month for 3 SIP trunks (sipstation) and if we need more than 3 concurrent calls, we can pay per minute. FreePBX has a significant learning curve and will require a time commitment to get it set up, but it has been extremely reliable and the only upkeep has been logging in and running the updates. Like you, we have one ethernet port in our older offices and computers piggyback off the phone. That meant we couldn’t put them on their own vlan, but we made sure the phones we bought have gigabit pass-through, and we have had no issues with call quality being on the same network. Best of luck

Will,

You might also check out Verizon OneTallk. We switched from Nortel PBX to that over a year ago and it has worked well for us. $25/mo per phone line. Wifi and ethernet models (plug and play from anywhere). It has worked great for us and includes 3 phone calls simultaneously per line. You also get the OneTalk app that you can use from your mobile to make calls like you are making it from the church so you don’t give out your personal number (pastors like that).

Hello Will.

You can still setup O365 for them since it is free and use it just for PSTN VOIP. I use both GSuite and O365 and use the latter for VOIP, OneDrive (1TB of space each) and sharepoint. Pretty clear calls.