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Comparing Multi-Line Legacy Phones with VoIP Solutions for Small Business

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You’re on the phone with a long-time customer, and they couldn’t be happier. Meanwhile, two other great customers had questions—but nobody answered their call while you and your staff were deftly managing other calls. Each time this happens, your business is taking a hit. Companies that have outgrown their single-line or simple call waiting solution will find two popular options: multi-line phones or VoIP solutions.

How They Work

Multi-line Phones: 

A multi-line phone system allows multiple phones to manage a group of phone lines, giving employees the opportunity to answer and internally handle several overlapping calls. With this system, calls continue to come through to the next available line until all lines are taken, at which point callers hear a busy tone. Long story short: you’ll need an on-site phone system, landline service from your telephone or cable provider and a contract from a local company to maintain this system.


VoIP Service:

With VoIP, phone “lines” use your internet connection rather than the telephone company’s lines. This solution replaces traditional PBXs and legacy phones with VoIP PBXs, which significantly expand call handling capabilities, enabling all features of multi-line phones as well as more advanced and customizable features common to VoIP.

 Features & Capabilities

Multi-line Phones:

Multi-line phones automatically send incoming calls to an available line, and display the status of each line. A receptionist can screen, hold and transfer all incoming calls with one multi-line phone, or incoming calls can reach customizable groups of phones, allowing anyone available to answer. While these features greatly increase call handling options, their setup is no easy task; you’ll need a professional to configure or change any settings. Additionally, multi-line phone systems are provider-specific – changing providers means investing in all new equipment. VoIP solutions, by contrast, use industry-standard equipment, lowering the cost and effort switching vendors.

VoIP Service:

VoIP replicates the functionality of multi-line phones and a receptionist, all while providing additional features that surpass analog restrictions and enable precise call handling. For example, a manager could program incoming calls to route first to the sales team, then to the management team if no one in sales answers within a pre-determined time, and finally to the VP of Sales’ voicemail. Since VoIP is not limited by location, this can take place across multiple locations, including on mobile devices.

VoIP Capabilities Go Beyond the Best Legacy Phone Advances:

  • Conditions-based auto-attendant call handling.
  • Interactive Voice Response with hidden functions.
  • Tag calls with identifiers for “sales” and “support” and beyond.
  • Time-based automatic call routing.
  • Remote phone-enabled call handling settings for employees on the go.

Most VoIP systems offer an auto-attendant and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) menu in their standard package to manage such handling, freeing up employees’ time and increasing productivity rates. In addition, many providers offer hold, call queueing, VoIP toll-free numbers, external programs and CRM integrations, and rollover to cell phones (without customers noticing the difference). This list of common features for VoIP service isn’t exhaustive by any means. Check out some of 4Voice’s features here.


Multi-line Phones:

With multi-line phones, managers can try to forecast how many incoming calls they expect to receive at one time to determine how many lines to purchase. While these lines don’t come cheap, multiline phones can route calls to internal extensions without the cost of additional lines. To calculate the cost of multi-line service, include both the hardware and the price of a standard bundle of business phone lines.

VoIP Service:

VoIP solutions are typically pay-by-user, and prices are significantly lower than landline options; adopting VoIP service can cut a landline bill in half.

Additionally, SIP VoIP technology can use burstable trunks to allow call volume to surpass the estimated capacity – callers will never get a busy signal. This is usually pay-by-use, allowing you to only pay for the channels you need. To estimate the cost of a VoIP phone setup, factor in the cost per user as well as the initial IP phone cost.

Installation and Maintenance

Multi-Line Phones:

Landline service is becoming a less popular business solution as equipment and infrastructure ages and more flexible, digital technology takes the forefront. Maintenance on dated equipment tends to be more frequent and time-intensive than VoIP solutions, and can incur significant costs and downtime for your business.

You probably already knew this, but it’s worth mentioning that phone companies are heading toward phasing out phone lines – something to consider for long-term planning. For those who paid to have their phone system connected to external systems, the pain of updating legacy phones or and integration comes in the form of serious maintenance bills.

Landline News: In a 2016 interview with Marc Blakeman, AT&T’s Vice President of External Affairs, CBS uncovered that “since 1999 … there are 85 percent fewer landline customers. But he insists AT&T is not phasing out traditional phone service.” Despite the objections presented in 2016, reported that by 2017 “AT&T has already helped pass similar legislation that abolishes, at least partially, its obligation to provide landline services in 19 of the 21 states where it’s the legacy telephone service provider, with California as the holdout.” 

VoIP Service:

VoIP installations are minimal. Without the need of new phone lines, businesses can simply set up their phones and immediately be up and running. Some providers will even complete this step for you, at no additional charge. Cloud-based VoIP vendors own and host all equipment and data centers, minimizing the business’s maintenance responsibilities.

For both VoIP and multi-line solutions, investing in a provider that prioritizes customer service is a must. There’s nothing worse than being stuck on hold or without phone service at all while you wait for your provider’s help. VoIP phone updates, CRM updates and uptime monitoring are all managed remotely, with the host taking most of the responsibility and reducing service calls considerably.


If a business experiences a steady call volume and appropriately estimates the necessary number of lines, multi-line services can efficiently handle all incoming calls. However, VoIP solutions are able to do so with more flexibility and features, at a lower cost. In fact, VoIP is so adept at call handling that many call centers use VoIP for their phone services. Additionally, since VoIP is a newer, digital alternative, businesses have begun to migrate away from landlines in favor of this user-friendly, flexible option.

Interested in customizing your phone solutions with VoIP? Schedule a demo with 4Voice to learn how VoIP can power your business and keep customers calling back for more.



Amruth Laxman
About the Author

Amruth Laxman

25+ years of telecom experience, specializing in high availability software and systems, I’ve seen the transformative impact they have on businesses. As the founding partner of 4Voice, I deliver customized, reliable phone solutions and can’t wait to share my insights with you in this blog.

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