This department contains business phones suitable for offices of all sizes. We carry products for commercial phone systems ("keyphones") as well as phones for small and home offices; these latter products are referred to by the acronym SOHO (SOHO = small office, home office).
The term "commercial phone systems" (AKA key telephone systems) refers to products like the AT&T Merlin, Partner, and Definity, the Nortel Meridian, and many others. Commercial phone systems are distinguished by the fact that they allow multiple lines, multiple extensions, features such as page and transfer, and require a special central processor unit called a KSU.
SOHO phones, on the other hand, operate without the KSU, but often provide access to up to 4 lines and sometimes include a few of the commercial system features - such as paging and transfer - at a much lower price (at least for a few units; there is usually a cross-over point where it becomes more cost-effective to buy a commercial phone system than to buy many SOHO units).
Corded SOHO Phones
There are two types of SOHO equipment: 1 to 4-line phones without intercom and multi-line phones with intercom. This latter type allows for inter-phone communications and transferring calls from one phone to another.
Wiring problems: The old red/green/yellow/black wiring scheme in use in many older houses and businesses can cause problems, even with simple home-office phones!! Noise and cross-talk (a phemomon where a conversation on one line can be heard over another line) are both common problems with this older wiring. And, if you are planning to install 4-line self-contained SOHO phones with intercom, it is imperative that you use proper wiring; bad wiring can cause these phones to "flake out" entirely. The wiring has to be multiple pair (either 2-pair for 2 lines or 4-pair for 4 lines) lines and MUST be twisted-pair, category-3 or better.
Cordless SOHO Phones
Until recently, most cordless phones were aimed at the home market and were relatively-simple single-line units with a smattering of 2-line units for the small/home office market.
Nowadays, several manufacturers have introduced cordless multi-line, multi-extension phones that can operate as a full-featured SOHO phone system.
These products consist of a single base unit (with or without answering capabilities) and multiple handsets and can handle up to 4 lines (just like their corded SOHO counterparts). They have a complete set of useful features as well as intercom between handsets, caller id, and even, on some models, auto attendant and voice mail with individual mailboxes.
A final note: Multi-line cordless equipment is advertised as user-installable -- and in most cases it is, provided one understands the basics and follows the directions.
Commercial Key Systems
The mainstay of the commercial industry for the last 30 years has been the key system. These systems employ a central processing unit (often called a KSU or key service unit) which controls all the phones attached to it.
Until recently, key systems were "proprietary," which means that they would only work with their own specially manufactured phones; one could not mix and match phones between manufacturers.
New technology available on some key systems allows for hybrid use. Hybrid key systems can handle proprietary phones, but, in adition, can also operate POTS (plain old telephone service) phones as well, thereby affording maximum flexibility. With special programming, and, in the case of some systems, the addition of special circuit cards, hybrid key systems allow the connection of answering machines, voice mail, modems, fax machines, cordless phones and a multitude of other "single-line" products.In addition, new VOIP (voice over IP) technology allows phones to be connected over your data network -- or even across the internet -- and, in particular, SIP (session initiation protocol) phones will work with any manufacturer's system that has SIP support.
A final note: Commercial key system equipment is not user-installable; get a trained professional if you wish to have this type of equipment installed.