The acronym, "PBX", is short for private branch exchange. Knowing the full name doesn't shed much light on the purpose of a PBX -- but don't worry, it's less complicated than it sounds and this post will make everything clear.
Let's use a small business with six employees as an example. Our fictional business is called "Joe's Travel Agency". Naturally, each of Joe's employees needs a telephone on their desk, and there are times when all of the employees are on the phone at the same time. So Joe has two choices:
- Call up the local telephone company and order six separate phone lines
- Install a PBX
Understanding the difference between these two choices is the key to unlocking the value of a PBX.
Option 1: Six Separate Phone Lines
Joe can call his local telephone company and order six separate phone lines -- just like the phone lines in a typical house. The benefit of this option is that there's no special hardware to maintain. The phone company delivers the phone lines, and Joe plugs in a regular analog telephone into each one. The problems, though, are many:
- Each phone line has it's own phone number. So if a customer calls one employee's direct line and that employee is on vacation or away from their desk, there's no way for other employees to pick up the call from their telephones.
- There's no way for employees to transfer calls to a colleague because each phone line is completely separate.
- No voicemail - Joe would have to give each employee their own answering machine.
- No extension to extension dialing - for one employee to call another, they have to dial the full phone number.
- No shared call appearance - there's no way to tell when another employee is already on a call
It's pretty clear that this option isn't suitable for a business with more than a single employee.
Option 2: PBX
Joe calls the phone company and orders a special kind of phone line - referred to as a "trunk". The trunk plugs into a special kind of server that Joe has in his office -- the PBX. Next, Joe plugs six telephones into the PBX. So all phone calls to and from the outside world, and even calls from one employee to another are funneled through the PBX. The PBX can do all sorts of business-like things that you expect:
- The trunk can have one or more phone numbers. When calls come in, the PBX can be configured to route the calls to one or more of the six phones (the extensions) in various ways. Joe wants calls to a main number to ring all six extensions at the same time, but he also wants each employee to have their own dedicated phone number that only rings his/her extension. The PBX takes care of this.
- Employees are able to transfer calls to each other.
- The PBX provides voicemail for all of the extensions.
- When employees want to call each other, they just dial a 3 digit extension.
- Because all the phones are plugged into the PBX, the PBX can cause them to light up various line indicators when colleagues are on the phone. So everybody has a visual indicator to let them know when someone's busy.
- Music on hold
- IVR / Auto-attendant
The downside to this PBX option, however, is that Joe has a complicated, and often expensive, piece of hardware to maintain & configure. Most businesses wind up contracting a third-party company to handle the caretaking of the PBX, but this is an added expense that's usually overlooked when making the initial purchase.
An Even Better Option: Hosted PBX
Nowadays, there's an even better option available. Thanks to voice over IP technology, high speed Internet access, and the shift to move everything to the cloud, companies often find that moving to a "Hosted PBX" is the perfect fit. If Joe's Travel Agency signs up for a Hosted PBX service, then they'll gain all the benefits of the PBX option described above without any of the negatives -- and, best of all, this is usually the lowest cost option. There's no on-site hardware for Joe to maintain -- the individual phones connect to a "PBX in the cloud" via Joe's Internet connection, and the hosted PBX provider takes care of all the maintenance. In fact, a hosted PBX solution often provides even more features than a typical on-site PBX. VoicePulse's solution, for example, provides Joe's Travel Agency with these additional features:
- Joe's employees can work from home simply by taking their phone and plugging it into any Internet connection. No matter where they are, the phone system acts like they're all under one roof.
- Conference bridge - for those occasions when Joe needs to have conference calls with large groups of people
- Find me/follow me - employees can set up their phones so calls first ring their desk phones and then start ringing their cell phone after a specified amount of time.
- Advanced voicemail - receive voicemail alerts via SMS text message and/or email.