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Product Review: Horizon’s Hosted Phone System

A flexible, versatile system that is accessible and feature rich.

Niall is our Operations Manager. He heads up our Support team and ensures all our client’s varied needs are met. He is an expert in installation and product configuration, and knows how to put a new product through its paces…

 

Gamma’s Horizon Hosted Telephone system is dominating the hosted marketplace in the UK at the moment. This is partly because of Gamma’s undeniable position as a leader in VoIP services, and partly because the solution is delivered in conjunction with Broadsoft– a global player in Unified Communications, and an automatic source of extra credibility for the product.

But, hype aside, how does this Hosted business phone system fare alongside other, more traditional PBX solutions? We got the run-down on features and functionality from our Operational Manager Niall, and the feedback was pretty good…

 

History

Gamma’s Horizon offering has been around since 2011. Previous versions of their hosted telephony services came in the form of Feature Plus and Communicator, basic offerings which have now been superseded by Horizon. Gamma’s tactic was to rely heavily on Channel partners and Resellers (like us) to take this product to market, which has been a successful strategy. Its success is down to many things, but converts cite the versatile nature of Horizon, which lets you take as much or little control of your telephony as you choose.

2014 saw the release of several additional features designed to enhance Horizon’s appeal to the midmarket and above, as well as smaller companies- these include things like Integrator, a click-to-call function that merges with a company’s CRM system or Outlook. Call Centre was another addition in 2005 which is directly aimed at larger contact centre environments. There is talk of the product moving onto a newer Broadsoft platform sometime soon, meaning the quality of service will continue to improve. No doubt the development team will continue to release further updates and additional features as the momentum continues.

 

Installation

One of Horizon’s key advantages is the admirable speed at which it can be deployed. Depending on the connectivity in place, a company can be rolled onto Horizon in a matter of days. Our technical team have found that some larger projects took only a week to install, with smaller companies up and running on the system within 2 working days. This includes the plugging in of the handsets and any other kit, which can also be done by a company themselves if they wish.

The process is straightforward, which sometimes cannot be said of many of the more traditional PBX solutions. Installation requires a robust broadband connection, a clear idea of a call plan or routing plan, details of extension numbers and users, and access to the Horizon portal to upload all this information using a pre-defined template. From a numbers perspective, the ability to be able to bulk upload user information is great for large organisations, and a reputable communications provider can either manage this process for you, or train you in how to use the administration portal so that you can set up your business yourself. This, in a nutshell, is what Horizon is all about- retaining as much or little control as you choose.

 

Features, pros and cons

Screenshot Horizon's Admin Portall

Horizon’s Administration Portal

More control

The main features of this system are controllable from the Administration portal. Additionally, there is a web-based user portal which can give an end user great control over their calls and handsets if they need it. If anything, the amount of information and controls available is almost overkill, especially as the majority of end users will never need to look at the portal and simply want to make and receive calls. This aside, it’s refreshing to see how much ability a user or administrator has over their telephony.

In terms of the admin portal itself, this is where Horizon displays its greatest versatility.

 

Great for Multi-site

Companies with multiple sites, for example, can manage their telephony effectively from the Site Management area. The ability to be able to administer each site from a single portal, including managing hold music, auto-attendant (a limitation with other traditional PBX systems), call pick-up groups etc, group voicemail and more cannot be underestimated.

 

Accessible to all

Horizon’s admin portal is an intuitive platform, again, mostly when compared to a traditional PBX which is difficult to manage with limited expertise. This portal is much more accessible to businesses looking to gain some control over their telephony if they want to. It’s compatible with Internet Explorer, FireFox, Safari, Chrome and Opera. The portal is designed and laid out in a logical manner, around four main core functions- call groups, users, devices, and directory. It’s all done with a real eye to user experience and making things as simple as possible. A handy directory search is available throughout the system for quick lookups, the dashboard is customisable to a user’s needs, and it’s fair to say a user could be trained up as an administrator on the system easily, much more so than with a traditional PBX. Alternatively, full control of the system can still lie with an outsider partner as part of an end-to-end service if time and resource is an issue.

 

Handsets

Polycom VVX 400 Handset

Polycom’s VVX HD voice 400/600 series handsets

Horizon comes with Polycom HD Voice Quality handsets. The HD voice element essentially does what it says on the tin, with these phones offering great sound quality. Programmable keys are available but a bit limited in terms of what can actually be programmed.

A side car can be added for extra functions, like adding new staff. Overall, the handsets are more intuitively designed than some rival brands, and not overly engineered, complicated or crowded with too many functions or features- which fits with the overall ethos of Horizon: keeping things simple. They are good, solid entry-level handsets for businesses, with great voice quality.

 

Still a bit of work to do:

Horizon Mobile App

Horizon’s mobile application still needs a bit of polishing

The mobile app definitely still needs some attention. In particular, iOS users will find one irritating bug that means an incoming call can effectively kick you off a call you are already making using the app. Calls are easily retrievable however, so this is a minor irritation.  This is also a common problem with most SIP or VoIP apps available on iOS due to how the software is locked down.

Hunt groups also need a bit of work, in particular voicemail settings relating to a hunt group- if you are a member of a hunt group, voicemails left on a hunt group or main line have no visual notification on the user’s phones that a message exists. Users have to dial in to listen to the message. Again, this is usually gotten around easily by enabling voicemail to email.

 

Summary:

The Horizon hosted voice product is definitely one of the easiest to use, feature-rich and reliable hosted products in the UK marketplace at the moment. Its appeal and success is down to a real understanding of what end users actually want- all the same features as a traditional phone system, without any of the associated costs or migratory hassles. But the main appeal of this hosted phone system is simply how easy and accessible it is to move across to, use and manage. Everything has been designed to streamline and maximise efficiency and productivity as much as possible, and this has been achieved with a fine balance between functionality and straightforwardness.

 

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