Nicola Tamma
Nicola Tamma Product Manager: Communications

Many of us have heard of, and even make use of a pbx phone system for our business communication, but what exactly is PBX and how does it work?

What is a PBX phone system?

PBX is a private branch exchange: the system organisations use for their telephone network. It the hub from which all business calls are received, directed and made. All phone extensions in the organiation plug into the PBX. This allows people to make and receive calls from their office line, and access additional features like voicemail, call transfers, interactive voice menus (IVRs), and many others.

The PBX can be physical (on-site) or virtual (hosted in the cloud). With Internet Protocol (IP) PBX, calls can be transported using IP, which means organizations can use any phone with any system – which was not the case before, when the phone was linked to the system.IP telephony is compatable across platforms


From landlines to cloud hosting: a short history of PBX

In the old days, a business number and a switchboard operator (a person) would connect you to the person you wanted to talk to. Now, you can bypass the operator and dial the person’s business number directly using direct inward dialling (DID), but you can’t bypass the PBX itself.

With the introduction of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), PBX technology evolved from a complex setup of cables, operators and handsets on premises to cloud-based solutions where the underlying infrastructure is barely visible.

On-site IP PBX

The on-site IP PBX model is still in use for organisations that have the facilities (space, power, uninterrupted power supply) and resources to manage it.

With this setup, dedicated servers for the PBX are installed on site, They connect to the local area network (LAN). The phones, which could be physical handsets or softphones on a PC or laptop, also connect to the LAN.

Each phone is allocated a phone number from a range provided by the local telco, for example +27 575 xxxx. If your organisation has a receptionist or switchboard, a range of numbers can be allocated to a single phone.

Usually, these solutions require a capex investment plus ongoing maintenance fees and periodic upgrade costs.

Hosted IP PBX: advanced features for enhanced communication

Hosted IP PBX solutions are becoming more popular as the PBX hardware doesn’t have to be on your premises. Instead, you can connect your handsets or softphones to the PBX over the internet or through a network connection that is managed off-site by a service provider.

Hosted solutions enable enhanced communications, or what we call unified communications. Over and above the functionality that comes with IP telephony, you can add features like presence (you know someone’s status before calling them), conferencing, chat, video, whiteboarding and screen sharing.

To ensure optimal voice quality, a reliable connectivity medium is imperative. While broadband connectivity solutions are effective, a dedicated fibre line will deliver a superior quality for your VoIP solution.

The benefits of hosted PBX

With hosted PBX, you can opt for a dedicated or shared cloud platform. Either way, it’s less hassle than the on-site option because you outsource the maintenance to experts. Usually, you pay a fixed monthly fee per user plus call fees, so there’s no wasted investment in infrastructure you don’t use.

Hosted IP PBX as an alternative solution to an onsite IP PBX solution also offers financial benefits, as you don’t have to outlay significant capital investments on the initial set-up of the infrastructure. However, you will need to invest in handsets or headsets.

With both the on-site and hosted option, softphones can be registered on your PBX network remotely through apps on a laptop or mobile phone without creating a network-breach security risk.


PBX for a new world

In addition to these advancements to PBX infrastructure, we’ve seen disruptors, new entrants and technologies like open-source platforms opening the market for smaller players to build and sell PBX solutions. This means more organisations, regardless of size, will have greater access to tools for communicating effectively. We are already seeing a shift from using a number (e.g. +27 575 xxxx) to a profile (e.g. name surname) in order to connect.

While the mechanisms for making calls may change and evolve, we’ll continue to see a need for technology that supports voice communication. Because sometimes you have to make a call, and sometimes … you just want to.