RingCentral Offers Web-Based Phone Platform for SMBs

RingCentral leverages the cloud computing model to offer a Web-based phone system for SMBs as an alternative to traditional phone carriers such as AT&T and newcomers such as Google Voice or Ifbyphone. RingCentral Office costs $99.99 per month for up to four users and includes several of the bells and whistles business users have come to associate with traditional phone and fax services.

Much is made about Skype and Google Voice, applications that let consumers use the Web as a medium for voice communications, but you don't tend to hear a lot about business phone systems living entirely in the cloud.

RingCentral aims to change that with the introduction of RingCentral Office, a cheaper VOIP (voice over IP) phone platform offering preconfigured Linksys IP business phones for workers in small and midsize businesses.

RingCentral Office costs $99.99 per month for up to four users and includes several of the bells and whistles business users have come to associate with traditional phone and fax services from Ma Bell and others.

Callers will call a single toll-free 800 number or local phone number that can be programmed to ring multiple phones, including existing mobile, home and office phones, or PCs. Users can also send and receive faxes, route calls to any worker regardless of his or her location and provide callers with an auto-attendant and a dial-by-name directory.

The Office package also includes unlimited virtual phone extensions and voice mail in-boxes; unlimited inbound and outbound faxing and calling; and the ability to add an unlimited number of lines for $24.99 per month.

One might ask, What's wrong with existing phone systems from legacy phone carriers? They tend to be reliable. Reliability is not the pain point RingCentral is attacking, but price. Between the carrier's hardware installations and calling charges, legacy phone implementations are expensive to set up and maintain over time.

RingCentral aims to be a cost-effective alternative to this, saving SMBs thousands of dollars per year over traditional phone systems, Praful Shah, vice president of product strategy at RingCentral, told eWEEK.

Jeffrey Kaplan, managing director of Thinkstrategies, told eWEEK the overall growth of VOIP and business applications based on SAAS (software as a service) has opened the door for a growing number of businesses to consider and adopt cloud-based phone alternatives to traditional telephony.

"While this is particularly true among startups and SMBs, it also includes larger enterprises that have situational needs that are best served by a cloud-based solution," Kaplan said. "RingCentral Office offers a cost-effective and easy-to-use alternative."

However, the cloud computing model still has kinks to work out. Google, which offers its Gmail and Google Apps as alternatives to on-premises solutions from Microsoft, IBM and others, has suffered several outages that painted the cloud model in a bad light.

Moreover, a hacker's recent infiltration of a Twitter employee's Google Apps account put another damper on the cloud model's image, this time with regard to security. It's not that the software itself is insecure, but that the humans who use it are careless with the way they keep and maintain their passwords to access these applications.

Thanks to such events, RingCentral will have to fight the preconceptions of customers concerned about the cloud, and it will have to battle phone carriers who have had a lock on the land-line market for decades.

The company also faces competition from insurgents such as Google Voice, which will eventually make plays for businesses in addition to consumers, and startups such as VirtualPBX.com and Ifbyphone.