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Chapter 1: Multi-line Phone Systems

Everything your small business needs to know about multi line phone systems4-line-phone-system

This is chapter one of The Ultimate Guide to Small Business Phone Systems. This guide will help you determine what telephone system is best for your company. The three other chapters in this guide are VoIP phone systems, PBX phone systems, and Cloud phone systems.


What Are Multi-line Phone Systems?

Multi-line phone systems improve office communication and productivity by allowing ease of communication with colleagues and customers. Standard telephone systems are designed to carry audio data packets between two parties—one on either end of the line. Multi-line telephone systems, including 2-line business phone systems and 4-line phone systems, are designed to permit multiple people to be on the phone at the same time.

These multiple lines can be external or internal. External lines let you communicate with your customers, while internal lines enable you to communicate with your employees and colleagues. These lines become a “system” because they need to connect to talk with each other.

2-line phone system

Does your company need a multi-line phone system?

Consider getting a multi-line telephone system for your business in the following situations:

  • You are a solopreneur who works from home and you want separate phone numbers for business and personal use. These two lines would become a SOHO (Small Office/Home Office) phone system.
  • You have two or more people who need constant access to a telephone. For example, you may want a multi-phone line in situations like these:
    • You have at least two customer service representatives and each needs a dedicated telephone number.
    • You and your receptionist need to use the phone at the same time.
    • Your restaurant receives a high volume of calls during the dinner rush.
  • You’ve looked into larger systems, like PBX, and decided that the cost was too high for your sized business.

Private branch exchange PBX is a type of multiline phone system that centralizes the phone system components for many users. This is a scaled down version of a Key System for businesses with 10-50 users. A key system uses a central control device called the key system unit (KSU) to provide more features than traditional lines.

With PBX, phones don’t have a 1:1 connection to physical phone lines. Instead, several phone lines feed into a PBX system, typically housed on premises at a business. From there, the PBX system connects to many handsets and the systems handles the task of switching phone lines and routing calls within an organization and assigns calls to lines automatically. IP PBX, sometimes called VOIP PBX, is another version of PBX that uses the internet, not standard phone lines, to send voice signals.

What will you learn about multi-line phone systems in this chapter?

This chapter will provide guidance on how many lines your small business needs, features you should consider when choosing a telephone system, and leading brands and telephone models to consider. There is also a frequently asked questions section at the end of the chapter.

2-Line Business Phones and 4-Line Phone Systems

Use this easy formula to calculate how many lines your small business telephone system needs:

1 line per employee who needs constant access to a private line
1 line per set of employees who can share a phone for infrequent calls that don’t happen at the same time
1 line per non-human function (like a fax number, a toll-free number, etc.)


Total lines needed

Here are a few examples to help you determine how many lines your small business needs:


2-Line Phone System

Example: Solopreneur who works from home. Has no employees but wants a separate line for business use.

1 line for home

1 line for business

= 2 total lines


4-Line Phone System

Example: Insurance brokerage with two full-time employees and five part-time data entry specialists.

2 lines for brokers

1 line for data entry team

1 line for toll-free number

= 4 total lines


5+ Line Phone System

Example: Realtor office with one owner and three employees.

1 line for owner

3 lines for realtors

1 line for fax

= 5 total lines

21 Features to Look for in a Multi-Line Telephone System

Consider this list of features when shopping for a business phone system. The basic features in this list are typically included with a multi-line phone system. The advanced features aren’t typically included in the base price, but they may be beneficial for your company.

multi-line phone system

Basic Features:

  1. Caller ID – Caller ID shows you the number of the caller, and Caller ID with Name lets you see both the name and number of the caller on your handset’s display unit.
  2. Speakerphone – You can use your office phone system hands-free with the speakerphone feature, available on most standard office telephones.
  3. Mute and Volume Control – Most handsets include mute and volume features, which allow the user to control the volume of the speakerphone, earpiece audio, and ringer, as well as mute the microphone.
  4. Fax Machine Integration – Fax Machine Integration gives you the opportunity to use your existing fax machines and connect them with your multi-line phone system.
  5. Voicemail – Voicemail lets your customers leave messages if you’ve missed their call.
  6. Message Waiting Indicator – With a message waiting indicator feature, the desk phone will flash a red LED light to remind you of any voicemails.
  7. Hold Functionality – Most standard telephones will come with the ability to put callers on hold. When an external call is placed on hold, your customer is presented with hold music, which can be customized on some phones.
  8. Personal Directory – Personal directory is a personal phonebook in each desk phone your company has. Calls can be made from the handset’s directory. The size of this phonebook depends on the telephone you purchase.
  9. Speed Dial Directory – Speed dial makes calling critical numbers easier for your business by storing numbers for easy access and dialing. The size of the speed dial directory depends on the phone models your company has.
  10. Headset mode – Many desk phone system handsets come with a socket to plug a headset into the phone for hands-free communication. This enables you to easily take notes or pull up customer information while you’re on the phone with your customers.
  11. Internal and External Call Transferring – This feature permits an extension to transfer a call to an internal extension or external number.
  12. All Page/Intercom – Paging lets you speak to all phones at the same time through the speakerphone. This intercom function can be used to make announcements or to inform your employees of a waiting call.
  13. Call Waiting – Be notified of an incoming call while you’re already on the line. This feature allows you to use your handset to put one call on hold to answer the second call. Your company won’t miss any calls, and your customers will feel valued by talking to a real person.
  14. Do Not Disturb – In Do Not Disturb mode, anyone trying to call you will be sent directly to your voicemail. This feature is convenient when you’re in a meeting or conducting an interview and are unable to answer the telephone.

Advanced Features:

  1. Auto Attendant – Auto Attendant greets callers and routes them to the right person or information, 24/7. With this feature, your company sounds larger and more professional.
  2. Wireless Adaptors – Eliminate the need to run wires to each phone in your office with wireless adaptors.
  3. Conferencing – Conferencing provides you the opportunity to connect with clients and employees, even if they’re not in the office.
  4. Included Installation – Many telephones don’t include installation. It’s worth knowing if installation comes included, or if you will need to install your multi-line phone system and handsets yourself.
  5. Customer Support – Ensure that there is a customer service department you can contact and that there are readily available representatives to help solve any phone issues quickly.
  6. Warranty – Warranties on the equipment aren’t always included. Decide if your company needs a warranty on your phone system.
  7. Texting – Texting services enable you to use your existing landline number to text your customers on their mobile device. You can use this feature to schedule and confirm appointments or to offer text-only deals and coupons.

Leading Brands and Top-Selling Phone Models

Frontier Business multi-line telephone system brand partners are Mitel, Cisco/Meraki, Avaya, and Adtran.

#1 top-selling model: Mitel MiVoice Office

  • Pros
    • The system is very user friendly.
    • It provides analytics, enabling you to anticipate and staff for higher call volumes.
    • The desktop interface lets you seamlessly move calls between your desk handset and your mobile phone.
  • Cons
    • With advances in technology, a premise-based phone system could become outdated in 5–7 years.
    • Costs will vary greatly depending on type of handset, hardware, maintenance, and purchasing method.

#2 top-selling model: Frontier AnyWare

  • Pros
    • Frontier AnyWare is an affordable, scalable, and customizable cloud-based VoIP solution.
    • The system provides the convenience and affordability of paying a simple monthly subscription fee per user.
    • It outsources management and maintenance, so you won’t have to employ or hire a phone technician to handle any big changes or updates.
  • Cons
    • Some small businesses are not familiar with cloud-based phone systems.
    • Some prefer to have a physical phone system controller on-site.

Frequently Asked Questions


How much do multi-line phones cost?

Depending on the telephone and the handset features, 2-line phones usually cost $50–$200, while 4-line phones usually cost $100–$400. You can typically purchase the phone equipment from your local office supply store, phone company or business phone provider.

How much does business phone service cost?

Business phone service costs range quite a bit depending on setup and complexity. They generally start between $50 and $100 a month. You can get Frontier Business phone service starts at a reasonable price, starting at around $30 a month.

What is the range of the phones running wireless?

Many desk phones have cordless phone options that allow you to pick up a dial tone from 40 feet away. This range gives you the freedom to move while communicating with your team and your customers.

What happens if the power goes out?

Depending on the model, your phone system won’t be affected by the power outage if you have at least one handset plugged into a phone jack. You can use that telephone to receive and make calls regardless of the power outage.

Can I call emergency response?

In case of emergency, dial 911. With today’s advanced features, E911 systems automatically track a 911 caller’s call back number and, in most cases, location information. This automatic number identification and location is sent to emergency service personnel, even if you cannot speak this important information. You will receive an automatic callback.

This safety feature happens automatically on standard phone lines and multiline phone systems. If you have a VoIP line, things can get tricky since these types of calls can originate from virtually any internet connection. It can be difficult to get an automatic location identification, if you don’t provide a physical address to your interconnected VoIP service provider. If you do, your physical address will be shared with emergency services just like any other type of phone system and help can be dispatched to your location.

Can I keep my current phone number?

Yes, many providers allow you to transfer, or “port” your existing phone numbers.

Can I hook up a VoIP phone to my standard phone line?

VoIP is different. It uses the internet to handle voice calls. If you have slow internet, it may not be the best option for your business. On the other hand, if you need portability and flexibility, VoIP may be the best option for your business. It’s a flexible phone system that helps small businesses grow and access modern, enhanced calling features they can’t get with standard phone lines. Plans like Ooma office or Frontier AnyWare let you access some features from your computer, as well as your handset or mobile phone. Head on to the next chapter to learn more about VoIP.