Fonality has been a player in Cloud PBX and Voice-over-IP (VoIP) solutions for a long time, though it was recently acquired by NetFortris.
Even so, it's still the same mature platform based around the Asterisk open-source VoIP PBX system.
In this review, we're looking at NetFortris Fonality Hosted PBX, a hosted PBX system that begins at $24.99 per user per month for the Professional version and 1-4 users.
With this product, Fonality delivers a rich set of PBX services, including its innovative head-up display (HUD) application, all at a price that stacks up well against the competition.
All of this earns NetFortris Fonality our Editors' Choice award along with a few other players, including RingCentral Office and 8x8 Virtual Office Pro.
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Fonality's offerings include functions and scalability that extend well beyond the small and midsize business (SMB) market, but they offer pricing tiers that reduce some of those features as well as the price to better fit smaller businesses.
The Fonality Essentials package offers the basics to get you started, and includes installation and technical support, standard business phone system features, audio conferencing, and call center queues.
The Professional package includes that as well as a free softphone, the HUD app, and customer relationship managmement (CRM) integration, and the Ultimate package bumps that up to include advanced call center features such as barge/monitor/whisper, voicemail transcription, and HD video conferencing.
All pricing is per-seat and volume-based so the rates change as you add users.
As an example, the aforementioned Professional version will go for $29.99 per user per month if you increase the user count from 1-4 to 5-10.
It is extremely important to note here that this price includes pre-provisioned Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) phones.
You can choose between Polycom desk phones or Yealink DECT mobile handsets, or a combination.
When you add a user, you receive a phone for that user that plugs into your network and starts working immediately.
Solid Connectivity Required
For cloud operation, Fonality relies on a solid internet circuit to function, which means you'll need to spring for a static IP address from your internet provider.
All voice communication will flow through this circuit, so it must be sufficient in both latency and bandwidth to support VoIP services.
Fonality recommends at least 100 Kbps per user and offers preconfigured internet routers with Quality of Service (QoS) functionality enabled to improve the quality of the system if you run into problems.
However, Fonality also offers a hybrid solution that will place PBX hardware on-premises that will interface with local phone services if desired or required.
This hardware will be managed just like the hosted service, through the Fonality management web interface.
An important note is that no matter which implementation of the service you choose, you'll need to include some baseline testing of the service and how it runs on your network.
That's true of any VoIP system, and it seeing how the service and your network perform under real world conditions; say what happens if some, most, or even all of your employees decide to initiate a VoIP call at the same time.
Maybe you're fine, but maybe it chokes your network bandwidth or your Internet connection, which will result in dropped calls and maybe even other apps having difficulties.
Additionally, remote users may also experience problems if they're using a virtual private network (VPN) to connect to the Internet.
To tweak your network to support VoIP calling means having your IT staffers use their network monitoring tools to monitor the VoIP data and determine a fix.
That could mean either increasing your bandwidth or going for more advanced techniques like implementing quality of service (QoS) measures to protect your voice and video traffic.
Full-Featured But Complex Functionality
When you sign up for the Fonality service, guided installation is included.
This means that, when you get your phones, you also get phone time with an integration technician who will walk you through the setup of the entire system until you are completely up and running.
The tutorial in how to use the Fonality system takes several hours and is completely one-on-one, so you can ask questions along the way.
Setting up a complex PBX is, well, complicated, and this level of support is very welcome to small businesses that likely don't have VoIP experts on staff.
The Fonality management system is straightforward but contains a significant variety of options that can be dizzying at times.
For instance, the auto-answer attendant can be configured in nearly infinite ways.
Perhaps you want one greeting played during certain hours and another at other times.
Or you want to use a specific greeting on Christmas Day or you want calls to go to a specific voicemail box if no menu selections are made or to go to a specific extension if the calling number is 555-555-1212 (or to a different extension if the number dialed to reach your business is 555-555-3333).
All of these are possible, and potentially possible, all within the same inbound call route.
This makes phone specialists smile but it will almost certainly be overkill for the average SMB.
Once a caller makes a menu selection, they can enter the Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) functions of the Fonality system.
The ACD system grants you another slew of features over how your callers connect with your employees.
You can configure the queues you may need, such as Sales and Support, what type of queue they should be, such as round-robin, fewest calls, random, or ring all phones.
Advanced queues can also be configured with much more extensive options.
You can define how many callers can be on hold at one time in the queue before calls get bumped to the next sequence in the route, how much time an agent can have after concluding a call to make notes before the system sends them the next call, and whether to bring callers into the queue one at a time or to route inbound calls in simultaneously to multiple agents.
You can further tweak these queues by selecting from multiple music-on-hold playlists and play them depending on certain schedules or the current queue.
This functionality is further expanded with the ability to set what the caller hears when in the queue, such as expected hold time, position in the queue, to thank them for their patience, and so forth.
Then you can define the queue members by extension, and optionally set a priority for them.
Agents can also log into queues from the HUD, though other agents can be mandatory members of certain queues if desired.
You can even define a list of reasons that agents can select when they suspend inbound calls.
To say that Fonality has many options for inbound call routing and ACD functions is to understate the case.
Not all of these features are available at every tier, however.
Most of these advanced features are tuned to call-center usage, but basic queues can be set up very quickly to accommodate standard functionality like ringing a group of extensions when a caller selects Sales from the voice prompt.
Further, extensions can be restricted to certain functions only, such as no external calls, or no long distance calls, and so forth.
E911 services are supported, as are extensive Find Me functions that allow users to configure call routing for their own extensions, such as the ability to ring their mobile phone if their office phone goes unanswered, with extended options such as to do so only during office hours, and when they're not currently on the phone.
Finally, Fonality also offers a wealth of reporting tools that can track usage across the system.
These are only some of the features and capabilities available with Fonality, but serve to show just how rich this offering is even when compared to other long-time SIP providers, like RingCentral Office ($19.99 at RingCentral) and far beyond SMB-only vendors, like Citrix Grasshopper .
Then again, it's worth it to look these features over carefully as many are ones you won't need at all unless you've got a call center in your future and if that isn't the case, you might be better off with something a little more targeted at your situation.
One Fonality feature aimed specifically at call centers is the HUD system.
This is a web-based app that gives users a clear, graphical representation of the phone system.
In call center apps it can be used by agents to view the queues they're currently in, the number of callers, average hold time, and number of agents in the queue.
For managers, they can use the HUD tool to monitor calls, whisper to the agent (the caller cannot hear this communication), or barge in on the call, all with a single click.
HUD also has provisions for instant messenger (IM)-style chat between users, file sharing, calling, voicemail access, and quick access to video and audio conferencing.
It's a one-stop-shop for all kinds of communication inside and outside of the company.
The interface is very configurable, with drag-and-drop organization of frequent contacts, queue overviews, chat windows, and so forth.
Integration with certain apps is also possible through HUD, such as having an existing customer record automatically display in a helpdesk or CRM app when that person calls in.
NetFortris Fonality also offers a mobile app that offers a subset of the HUD functions, and allows users to make and receive calls from their extension while on the road, read chats, even access some of the call center features like monitoring and barging.
One downside to the HUD, however, is that you can't bulk upload contacts.
Instead they must each be manually entered, which can be a significant task depending on the size of your contact database.
Overall, the Fonality solution offers a vast array of options; more than most small businesses will likely need.
But they also offers assisted installation, live tech support, and plenty of features to grow into as needed.
All that and a competitive price more than justify NetFortris Fonality's Editors' Choice award.
The Bottom Line
NetFortris Fonality receives a well-earned Editors' Choice among our VoIP competitors because this business-oriented offering has it all.
From solid performance to an excellent selection of hardware options, Fonality is a great selection.