When you’re a small start-up or even a medium sized business that wants to streamline your calling into a more efficient operation, you have two options, option one is to hire a secretary to answer all your calls and route them as necessary, or you can buy a Virtual PBX (Private Branch Exchange).  This review is of such service,

When I was first approached to review this service, I must admit, I had never heard of RingCentral.  Why, well my line of work doesn’t require me to have a PBX at my house, but for those of you with a small business, a PBX can help to provide your small business with the professionalism to drive it to the next level.

If you’re still scratching your head because you don’t know what a PBX system is and Wikipedia is too many mouse clicks away, it’s the system when you call a phone number that says “please press 1 for Neowin, 2 for the Tip Box or 3 to subscribe”.  Now that we're on the same page, let’s begin.

RingCentral isn’t a new company, in fact, it’s about as old as Neowin, so this isn’t a start-up that got a few investments and is trying to make it big.  If I were to try and sum up this review in one word, it would be ‘depth’.  Why?  Because the options that you have are seemingly limitless but they are not free, so lets remember that this is a pay for service. 

There are a couple ways to begin your service, you can either take a number that they provide you (I don’t recommend this and will explain a bit later) or import your own number, but be aware that it’s not an instant port, so be patient. 

The reason why I suggest importing your own number is that you will own that number; it’s registered to your name or business.  It would probably be only necessary to do this with the main number dial in number and then purchase the others from RingCentral.  That way if you do ever leave the service you still own your main number.

Once you get started, you land on an over view screen that, in a nut shell, is your recent call and voicemail history.  It allows you to see your outbound and inbound calls, see how many minutes you have left on your account, and check your voicemail. 

If you read the part about how many minutes you had left and got nervous because you make a lot of calls, there are unlimited bundles available and the pricing is based on how many lines you are using.

While trying to keep this review in a reasonable length, I’m going to skip over the basic items like creating your profile and hit the meat of RingCentral.

You can quickly and easily setup extension to any number that you like, such that 1 is help, 2 is Tip box, ect.  Each extension can also have its own options as forwarding, going directly to voice mail, or to play an announcement ( such as an upcoming sale).  It’s all straight forward and is a painless process.

The amount of options is almost daunting that there are so many to choose from.  You can select the hold music, block numbers, forward your calls depends on who is calling you, have a different menu appear after business hours or on the weekends, ect. You can also sync your contacts with your Outlook contacts, this can make setting up your PBX system even easier.  If you can think of an option that you would like on a PBX system, it will be available on RingCentral, this truly is a serve all needs type service.    

If you want to ditch the traditional phone line and use VOIP, RingCentral can help to integrate that solution to help fit your business needs.   They can get you setup with new or existing hardware.

If your on the go and want to be able to use your service, they also have an iPhone app that will allow you to use your service from your cell phone.  Although, the call is not a VOIP call and will continue to use your cell phone minutes. (Note: I could not test the iPhone app as I do not have an iPhone)

Voicemail works as you would expect a modern day PBX system to serve you.  You can do the traditional call in to the voicemail and access your account or you can use the web interface on your landing screen to hear your messages.  They also offer up an email service that will email you a .WAV file of the message too.

At anytime there is detailed billing on demand so that it would be easier to keep control of your costs per month.  Although, the free evaluation account didn’t have any details populated because, well, it’s all free. 

One downfall of the solution is that is clearly designed for medium or small sized businesses.  When I asked about having 100’s of extensions on the Press call, I was told that the system could easily handle it, but the interface was not designed for large corporations and that the menu system may become a little overwhelming. 

While I could go on and on about all the features of the service, at the end of the day, the system works, it’s easy to setup and use. Every time I used a feature, be it voicemail; call out or in, the system worked as advertised.  The cost appears to be inline with other competitors in the field and there are multiple package solutions available.  While this is not designed for large corporations, the medium sized business should find itself with enough depth and options to create the phone system it needs and the interface, while a little bland, works well and will provide you with little trouble when setting up your account. 

Stay tuned for a RingCentral giveaway

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RP had been severely impacted by the layoffs early last year. So I am waiting on some word about v2. Mid-last year I heard that they were rethinking this market segment. If I were them, I'd move it towards a hosted solution on Microsoft Online Services.

Its pretty good for a hosted service but I opt'd to run 3CX (free version) on my Windows Home Server instead. I pay $45/mo for 6 SIP channels and several dedicated numbers. Not only is 3CX more cost effective but flexibility is unmatched.

JohnCz said,
Its pretty good for a hosted service but I opt'd to run 3CX (free version) on my Windows Home Server instead. I pay $45/mo for 6 SIP channels and several dedicated numbers. Not only is 3CX more cost effective but flexibility is unmatched.

Not sure why you're paying $45/mo for 6 channels when 3CX free won't handle more than 2... If you want to upgrade to take advantage of your SIP plan send me a PM.

Frazell Thomas said,

Not sure why you're paying $45/mo for 6 channels when 3CX free won't handle more than 2... If you want to upgrade to take advantage of your SIP plan send me a PM.

Actually, there are no limitations on the # of channels but you are limited to 4 simulataneous calls with the free version. I use several VOIP/SIP providers for Inbound/DIDs and Outbound calling.

Edited by JohnCz, Mar 22 2010, 4:29am :

I've used this service for a couple of years now and overall I'd give a thumbs up. It was a bit tricky, but you can use your own voice greetings and messages. There are a lot of features that I've never bothered to use, but I like having them there just in case. Bottom line for me is that it's been a cheap, effective and reliable 800 service.
I will say that the forwarding directly to your cell phone seems to take too long and most hang up by the time I answer, 1 ring for me usually is the 4th or 5th for the customer, but it could just be something on my end.

It didn't say whether you could upload your own versions of "Press One to go to Marketing"....

Imagine a world in which customizable machine voices exist instead of that slow, monotone, same ol' same ol' voice which I'm sure EVERYONE is sick of.

Unimatrix Xero said,
shame this is US only

Its uk as well but in the UK it sucks. We did use it but had some big problems with the quility of the lines and droped callson both inbound and outbound.

It does work but, in UK at any rate, i cant recomend it as a real solution.