Easy setup. Simple administration. Flexible and feature-rich. Excellent integration between Cloud PBX and Intermedia's other business cloud services.
Slightly higher-than-average price tag. Apple iOS client only works with iPhones, so iPads must use a generic softphone client.
- Bottom Line
Intermedia Cloud PBX is an excellent Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service with a deep feature set. Though it's not the cheapest, its features and their implementation and delivery are worth the extra cost when you factor in access to excellent support, cross-service integration, and a host of additional business cloud services.
Today's workers are used to feature-rich smartphones that can deliver sophisticated capabilities based on installed software, geo-location, time of day, and more. Businesses with traditional, internal Private Branch Exchanges (PBXes) may not be able to match those features. However, there's a host of business Voice-over-IP (VoIP) providers that deliver software PBX solutions via the cloud. Intermedia Cloud PBX (which begins at $30.99 per user per month) is one such offering that's using Session Initiated Protocol (SIP) to deliver modern phone services to virtually any type of SIP phone or mobile device, including phones, tablets, laptops and PCs. While Intermedia Cloud PBX may not be as well-known as Editors' Choice winner RingCentral Office, the service impressed us with its very complete feature set, good selection of hardware SIP phone options, and polished softphone and mobile clients. While its price tag is slightly higher than average for this product set, its delivery is excellent and certainly good enough to earn it an Editors' Choice award as a business-class, cloud VoIP provider.
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An important factor to consider is that Intermedia the company is more than just a VoIP provider. In addition to Cloud PBX, Intermedia offers a lot of other cloud and hosting services, too, including hosted email, email and data archiving, web faxing, managed Microsoft Office 365, and a business cloud storage and backup service for files, email, and virtual infrastructure. The company also offers various integration options of these products so, for example, if you buy email, Microsoft Office 365, and the phone service, then you'll automatically be able to initiate calls through Microsoft Outlook or Microsoft Skype, get voicemail messages as emails, and so forth. Should you opt for Intermedia, be sure to run through all of these integrations with your sales and implementation representative during deployment.
Also, as a full-service integrator, Intermedia can sell you pre-provisioned SIP phones for your business. SIP phones are just various models of standard desktop phones that are pre-configured to work with a particular VoIP provider's service. Currently, Intermedia resells pre-provisioned phones from Cisco, Polycom, and Yealink but those options may change as Intermedia makes new deals with other hardware makers. Additionally, the phones listed on Intermedia's website are just the ones the company resells pre-provisioned to work with its service. If your IT staff is comfortable with VoIP, then you can have them work with Intermedia to use SIP phones from other manufacturers if you prefer a particular model. However, check with Intermedia's technical staff before purchasing another phone in order to ensure the phone will work with the service.
In addition to hardware phones, Intermedia also offers a softphone option, which means your employees can download a software application that works the same as a desktop phone would with Intermedia's VoIP service. Intermedia also offers additional capabilities when the softphone and the desktop phones are combined. All the on-site administrator does is plug the phone in and power it up, or install the softphone and point it to a URL.
The softphone service is included in the pricing, which doesn't require a contract, and has no cancellation fees, indicating Intermedia's confidence in user satisfaction. Their claim of 99.999 percent uptime and 1.5 billion switched minutes per year is also in line with other enterprise-grade services, such as Fonality. However, with a base price that's slightly higher than competitor RingCentral, and significantly higher than more small to midsize business-oriented (SMB) services such as Citrix Grasshopper, it's important to note that other options cited above cost extra, including the mobile VoIP phone client, web faxing, and more. Therefore, be sure to speak to an Intermedia sales rep to get a detailed quote before committing to the service.
Getting Started With Intermedia Cloud PBX
For this review, I used Polycom VVX300 SIP phones that had previously been used with another service, and the most difficult part of the entire review process was following Polycom's procedure for getting the phones reset back to a base configuration. Once that was done, registering the Polycom phones for the Intermedia service and setting up softphone clients, was very simple and straightforward. In addition to the Polycom phone, Intermedia offers a variety of other phones, from single-line to 12-line phones as well as conference room and video-enabled models. Normal users wouldn't have the issue I had, since Intermedia can send pre-configured phones directly to the user, which means my setup steps would be unnecessary.
The dashboard (see the screenshot above) provides the admin with a straightforward view of all the phones, phone numbers, and options for each line. Everything is easily understood—the admin need not be a trained network or phone admin. For example, setting up the auto attendant is simple, with sample scripts for each function ("Press 1 for…"). All of the usual functions have their own tabs, such as controlling numbers and extensions, voicemail, assigning lines and devices, or configuring the auto attendant's hold music (see screenshot below).
The service includes a variety of features that might cost extra with other offerings, including free installation support, both a direct-dial number and extension for each user, voicemail with voicemail-to-email capability, and Find Me/Follow me functionality that rings both the extension and a user's mobile phone simultaneously. The service also offers 3-way calling, auto attendant, call queuing, call recording, call transferring, call waiting, caller ID, calling name, music on hold, smart conferencing with 200 minutes per month, and simultaneous and ordered hunt groups. Intermedia also gives you eAgent integration for passing the number of a caller to your customer relationship management (CRM) system, real-time monitoring of who is using the service at any given time, a personalized web portal for each user, and unlimited calling in the US.
Key Features of Intermedia Cloud PBX
In addition to SIP phones, Intermedia provides softphones for browsers as well as an extra-cost mobile VoIP client for Android and iOS (iPhone). Using this client, your users can install the app on their personal smartphones and then use the Intermedia service as though they were in the office. In addition, your IT staff can use other, third-party SIP-compliant softphone clients, such as the free Bria Lite client with setup for that client being very straightforward and available from Intermedia. This can be useful since the Intermedia softphone iOS client supports the Apple iPhone but not the iPad. So you can use the Bria Lite client there without any loss of functionality. Still, I found it strange that Intermedia's softphone client wasn't responsive, meaning it wasn't designed to function across multiple device form factors. That's a bit of a ding in this day and age and points to Intermedia having some work left to do on the software side.
I liked the service's implementation of more standard cloud PBX features. The auto attendant was easy to use. Home and mobile numbers can be added to the system so that calls can be forwarded to cell phones or home numbers for people not in the office. You will find all of these capabilities through an easily accessed and nicely designed web portal.
Once a SIP phone or softphone is provisioned through the Intermedia web user interface (UI), calls can be made, received, transferred, put on hold with music, and more. The person designated to be your installation guide will walk you through every necessary step, although experienced admins will have little need as the UI itself is self-explanatory. There's also good, context-sensitive help and a lot of clear documentation available.
Using softphones (see screenshot to the left) is no harder than using a cell phone or web client like Microsoft Skype. Additional features are easily accessed through a simple UI (see screenshot below). Softphone clients can be configured through the Intermedia administration web interface in the same way as SIP phones, including real-time usage monitoring.
Once a business with multiple lines is defined, one of the lines can be designated as the operator or incoming calls can be directed to the auto attendant, with as many choices as needed, from 0-9, or with the option to press 0 for the operator, or choose an extension. More noteworthy features include the ability to designate a caller ID to be used by a mobile user when returning a call so that the caller doesn't see the mobile number, just the user's extension at the office. Hunt groups allow a group of users you designate to receive a particular kind of incoming call. This is useful if you want to split up your sales or support office so that certain groups of reps specialize in particular parts of the country based on area code, or if you want to route callers who press a particular menu option to a set group of helpdesk professionals.
Once the call is routed, Intermedia implements a sophisticated set of controls over how long the person who answers a call will have until the call is put back into rotation, or you can configure hunt groups as round-robin or simultaneous rings to the entire group. The system lets you easily take people out of the group temporarily for breaks, and lets you forward numbers to mobile or other devices. You can create multiple groups so that rules can be different and apply individually to whatever different teams your organization requires, such as manufacturing, sales, support, and more.
Web faxing functionality is also available, which lets users send and receive faxes or virtual faxes through a dedicated client. Each user can have one direct dial line and can associate several other numbers with that line, including a mobile number, home number, toll-free number, and softphone.
Overall, Intermedia still has some work to do polishing its custom software, but overall, the Intermedia Cloud PBX service provides an excellent feature set that can handle any sized customer, from SMBs to enterprise organizations.
Given all of its capabilities and the ability to integrate with the other apps that Intermedia offers (including hosted Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft Office 365, and backups and archiving), a company could not only outsource all of their phone functions but most, if not all, of its communications and collaboration functions as well—and gain excellent integration between all of those tools at the same time. While its slightly higher price tag may be a factor for some, I found Intermedia Cloud PBX to be a great business VoIP offering and worthy of our Editors' Choice designation.
Logan G. Harbaugh is a freelance reviewer and IT consultant located in Redding, CA, who has worked in IT for more than 20 years. He was a Senior Contributing Editor with InfoWorld Labs for eight years, a Senior Technology Editor at Information Week Labs for five years, and has written reviews for many publications and web sites, including Storage Magazine, TechTarget.com, BizTech, EdTech, FedTech and StateTech, Virtualization Review, Information Week, eWeek, Network World, Linux Journal, PC Magazine, PC World and Internet.com. He has also written… More »
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