What is a Virtual PBX?

David White

Computers can help us do all sorts of things these days, including telephone calls. This is especially true for businesses. A computerized device that helps connect a business with the outside world is called a PBX, or Private Branch eXchange.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

A PBX does much more than connect the person making the call with the person taking the call. It is, first and foremost for a business, a switchboard. Using a PBX, you can have all of your calls answered with a custom business greeting, offer an audio scroll-through of your employee directory, provide a connection directly to a specific person or department, play music while the system is on hold, and even take voice mail for employees who are not in the building at the time of the call.

Most businesses have this sort of service, and most business managers never give it a second thought. The PBX is a phone system with varying degrees of computer use. The most sophisticated systems offer conference calls that include third-party access.

In the reign of the Internet, we now have Virtual PBX, which needs no physical presence on either end of the phone call to connect the two parties. All of the PBX functions are handled by a third-party entity, the Virtual PBX provider. Neither the business nor the outside caller really notices anything different in service. The difference, however, is all too apparent when we look at who is providing the service.

Virtual PBX uses Voice over Internet Protocols to route calls over the Internet. This is a significant change from the way that phone calls are usually made -- through direct lines -- but it is one of only two essential differences between PBX and Virtual PBX. The other difference is who provides the services, including software upgrades and the like. In the traditional PBX setup, a business will purchase a phone service system, attach phone handsets to the main switchboard via phone wires, and go about the business of taking and receiving calls in the traditional way.

Virtual PBX keeps the wires -- unless it's wireless Internet -- but eliminates the handsets and the switchboard, at least on the company premises. Rather, the switchboard is the Internet and, specifically, the company providing Virtual PBX. It is this Virtual PBX company that is responsible for providing the phone service, keeping access available at all times, keeping up with the latest in software technology and Internet best practices, and so on. In essence, Virtual PBX is third-party phone service hosting which uses the Internet as a switchboard.

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