Systems Engineering Blog

The 411 On Cloud-based Phone Systems

January 13, 2018 | Posted in:

Technology Trends, Collaboration

Posted by Jason Beal

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Those of you who are familiar with Cisco Jabber or Microsoft Skype for Business and have been following along with my last two posts (A day in the life... and The Cloud is Here to Stay) about the features of the Cisco Spark app will undoubtedly see many similarities in this article. 

In addition to the Cisco Spark app (which I covered in my earlier posts), Spark has proven to be an outstanding cloud-based phone system as well. The Spark phone system supports the Cisco 78xx- and 88xx-series desk phones (with HD video) and the full complement of telepresence room devices.  These cloud-based PBXs (Private Branch Exchange) are often referred to as ‘Hosted PBXs.’

Hosted PBX’s have been a reality for several years now, and I have been lucky enough to work intimately with a few flavors- from Asterisk-based VM’s in a data center, to the more enterprise-class Broadsoft cloud platform (now owned by Cisco). That being said, Spark has really delivered on the well-designed user interface and features that make it a forerunner in its class.

For the more business-focused among you, this means that Spark has matured and can deliver a full-service PBX very much like you are already used to, but without headaches such as on-premise server maintenance, backups, and disaster recovery situations.  Features like unlimited PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) calling, auto attendant menus, hunt groups, and voicemail are all well implemented and very easy to set up.  You can keep your existing phone numbers as well.

As I mentioned in my first post, ISPs are now very resilient as they are expected to support cloud hosted products like Office365, and having redundant ISPs with SD WAN (Software Defined Networking) edge devices can assure almost no trouble reaching the cloud.  This means that the phones and Spark applications on your workstations will be reliable and can offer crystal clear audio and video calling.  Better yet, all Spark calls are encrypted!

The real purpose of this post is to explain how Spark phones can be used to call the rest of the world.  By that, I mean picking up your desk phone and dialing any number, including international calls, 911 emergency services, etc.  Inbound calls from anywhere will reach your desk or voicemail and can even simultaneously ring your cell or home phone.  The Cisco Spark-hosted PBX gives you all the features you could want to reach anyone, anywhere. 

PBX Features

Having built several premise-based PBX’s for clients and for the purpose of training IT staff, I understand the frustration many Admins feel learning how to update Auto Attendant menus, add members to a hunt group, or even just update storm or holiday greetings.  For those responsible for maintaining these, I give you the Spark Admin Portal! 

Here's a glimpse at the PSTN features:

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Auto Attendants

Here is an example of Spark’s graphical AA builder, with it’s very intuitive approach to menus.  Greetings can be typed out and read by a high-quality computerized voice, or a professional menu greeting can be uploaded with a few clicks: 

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Hunt Groups

Hunt Groups are as simple as choosing a number or extension, assigning users, and a final destination like a general voicemail or AA menu:

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Add users and a destination during the last step and that’s it! 

Voicemail and User Features

Each user in your system gets a cloud user portal, where they can change ringing, call forwarding, and voicemail settings like their voicemail PIN, greetings, etc:

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Voicemail messages appear in the Cisco Spark app (a.k.a Visual Voicemail) and you can manage voicemail features there as well. 

PSTN Calling Plans

Cisco Spark has partnered with IntelePeer to bridge its Hosted PBX with the rest of the world (often called PSTN calling).  Here is a snapshot of the features that are included with each user’s calling plan:

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This bundle maintains that each user gets a regular phone number to make and receive unlimited U.S. calls for a low monthly fee. 

Hold Music

An often under utilized feature of any good PBX is Music on Hold, which can be used to play customized marketing messages to your clients, or music if you desire.  Simply upload a .wav file to have it play to your callers! 

Cisco Spark is a Cloud PBX

Cisco Spark is in constant development, staying cutting-edge with features and security, and on the horizon is Spark Care- a hosted Call Center product with agent-web-chat widgets so you can engage your online audience quickly and provide them with the best customer service experience possible. 

Questions about Cisco Spark or Microsoft O365 cloud-based collaboration tools? Email or call 888.624.6737.

jbeal.jpgJason Beal, Infrastructure Engineer, is a Cisco Network and VoIP Engineer with close to 20 years of network engineering experience with a focus on Cisco Collaboration technologies.  He has been with Systems Engineering for four years and maintains a CCNP Collaboration certification. Jason divides his time between building Cisco phone systems, troubleshooting customer networks, and traveling to customer sites for deployments. Outside of the office, Jason captains the SE soccer team.