Home Phone??? Part 1

by Dave Michels

I’ve been in telecom most of my life now, and always assumed someday I would have a phone system in my home. Though there wasn’t a particular need for anything other than intercom, I knew from experience that if you offer the features, they will use them.

10 years ago, I bought 8 Panasonic phones that mimicked a key system. The phones were pretty close to a phone system – they were named “kitchen”, “family room”, “master” etc. it had intercom, 2 lines, and 20 speed dials. Not a bad system, the phones were sold separately, required no special wiring, and could create a system up to 8 phones. It worked pretty well, but the need for cordless won out over time.
The next phone system was the first generation of the Bang and Olufsen cordless phones. I bought these phones about 10 years ago, now they are called the Beocom line (but now they are really expensive). The feature that sold me on these phones is still amazingly rare – a shared phonebook. These were also my first phones with caller-id (and a shared log). These phones had the ability to intercom too, but no speaker phone, no headset jack, and could not play well with wired phones (this has changed). Despite the limitation, these phones have been great.

But the day has come, the remodel done, and time for a phone system. I have plenty of access to phone systems, we get them in used all the time, and as a dealer I have access to demo pricing. My decision was to go with the Switchvox SMB system and Polycom phones. Under normal pricing however, this would be a difficult “sell” for a residential system. The primary phones I selected – the IP550, have a normal retail price of around $369 each. The retail value of my home system is somewhere around $10k – about triple the price someone might pay for a comparable key system for a home.

Let me say first that the Switchvox SMB is an impressive system. The SOHO system is a far better value for a home or small office, but the SMB system is probably one of the most feature rich packaged solutions on the market.
I am sad to report that these feature rich systems and phones miss the bulls-eye. Now to be fair, they aren’t particularly aiming for the residential market. My assumption was that this system, which I know to be among the most powerful and most friendly, would fit all my needs. Wrong.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the lack of a shared phone book. Most phone systems have a limited (near useless) phone book or directory of extensions. The Switchvox doesn’t even offer that. For example, I want to call the den, but can’t remember the extension. As far as I can tell, I need to post a directory next to each of my “top of the line” phones so I can see the number. Now granted, there are enough speed dials so I can program them all. But here is why that doesn’t work. I have x109 in the den. I set some dialing rules to make x309 the intercom. If I want to call 109, no problem with the on-phone directory – just press “Den”. But if I want to intercom, there is no way to look up the number. I would be happy with the ability to look up the number as 109 or select “intercom” and press “den”, but neither of those options exist on the Switchvox.

The shared phone book is something just out right missing in most phone systems. This just boggles my mind. The manufacturers can’t fathom why you might want to look up a number for someone that has an external number. They offer a corporate directory, typically made up of extensions and they offer some speed dials – just like they did in 1970. I want a centrally managed phone book available to all extensions(this is different than individual user directories).

This is the number one reason (unscientific personal research) why people use their cell phones while at their PBX equipped desk – for the directory. For residential users, I would program the doctors, the baby sitters, the schools, relatives and friends, key cell phone numbers, etc. I had this 10 years ago on my B&O; phones and most cordless phone systems (Panasonic, Uniden, etc.) offer it too. From a corporate perspective, I would program it with employee cell phones, key suppliers, branch offices, usual lunch providers, etc. The speed dial route isn’t bad, but somewhat esoteric to have to post and update a speed dial list at each phone – particularly when the phones have large LCD displays. Manual systems relying on post-it notes don’t automatically update. Large LCD displays could. All phone systems should have a centrally managed and distributed phone book that support multiple numbers per name (like some cell phones) and external numbers. This is quite simply missing in the vast majority (all?) phone systems.

My takes on Switchvox and my experience with it at home are too much for one post. I will be adding some additional thoughts on features, phones, and carriers shorty. Also, I would be remiss not to mention some of the things they absolutely got right.