Traditional phone systems, sometimes referred to as TDM (Time Division Multiplexers) or PBX (Private Branch Exchanges), have come a long way. They have morphed into a digital delivery of voice communications> and multimedia sessions known as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) networks. Industry experts say two growing trends are the elimination of hardware and transformation of IP communications to be more application-oriented.

If you’re a business still using analog phones with a dial tone, you’re far from alone. Many are using a hybrid model, PBXs that incorporate both analog and VoIP endpoints to reduce cost. A cloud PBX like ShoreTel Sky support the hybrid model with analog terminal adapters (ATA’s).

“Even if companies are buying IP PBXs for new employees or executives, they’ll maintain a lot of the old [analog] phones because of the cost savings, so there still is quite a large installed base,” says Diane Myers, principal analyst at research firm Infonetics. “I know anecdotally from talking to vendors that there are still a lot of analog PBXs being used.”

IP-based PBX systems are ideal for any kind of company, especially if it is distributed, Haskins and Myers said. VoIP can also save money: if a company pays for TDM circuits for the PBX to plug into, they incur on-going maintenance costs.

Hosted VoIP allows you to minimize PBX hardware and eliminates the need to maintain idle telecom circuit capacity. A PBX with VoIP means that other apps can interact with it in the same service. A cloud-based PBX takes this concept yet further, removing the central hardware infrastructure from the premise and leaving behind a small footprint of VoIP phones and adapters, and providing a standard API for application access.

“It’s evolving PBX past voice,” said Haskins. “Now that it’s an app, I can view it in multiple ways to communicate: instant messaging, data sharing, video and voice. The universe explodes and you can get very creative here.”