Our stake center had an old phone system which was apparently purchased using stake funds in the 1970’s. The system allowed the stake center with stake offices and 3 wards to operate on 2 phone lines. Over time the system was having serious problems and became unreliable. FM indicated they could not replace it.
Our Stake President felt that we should minimize the overall cost, even if that meant spending stake budget funds to purchase equipment since all of the funds including the ongoing monthly costs used sacred funds. With the approval of our FM Group we replaced the phone system in the stake center with hosted VoIP phones in April, 2008. Because the phone service was reliable, we upgraded the other 4 buildings in the stake over the next 2 years. We have 31 IP Phones and 5 Analog Phone Adapters (one for the hall phone in each building). These phones support 14 wards/branches, the stake offices, and 2 family history centers in 5 different buildings. Each building has a single phone number with an auto-attendant (“Press 1 for…, ETC”), with one additional phone number for one of the Family History centers. The phones and POE switches have paid for themselves many times over since we installed them. The labor for network cable installation was donated and was done at the same time as internet wiring in the buildings for MLS computers. The system continues to be solid and very reliable with features like voicemail, call forwarding, audio conferencing, and much more. As of this writing, the savings has been well over $30,000.
I’m not advocating that others do this, since it sounds like there are pilots for an official church system. However, it has been very successful in our stake.
For years we kept an (unused!) analog phone line in each building because that was the policy at the time. The FM group dropped those lines after several years. We have used the VOIP phones as backup for stake conference webcasts, but never needed them. I’ve heard the concerns addressed above, but in practical terms, we have never experienced a downside with VOIP in our usage.