Nicola Tamma
Nicola Tamma Product Manager: Communications

PBX is a private branch exchange: the setup businesses use for their telephone system.

Think of it as a box that all the phone extensions plug into so people can make and receive calls from their office line. This box can be physical (on-site) or virtual (hosted in the cloud).

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 persons business number directly using direct inward dialling (DID), but you can’t bypass the PBX itself. It’s the hub where all business calls are received, directed and made.

From landline to cloud hosting

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.

The on-site IP PBX model is still in use for those 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 and they connect to the local area network (LAN). The phones, whether physical handsets or softphones on a PC or laptop, also connect to the LAN. Each phone is allocated a phone number from a range that has been provided by your local Telco, for example +27 575 xxxx. In the case of 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 solutions are becoming more popular as the PBX hardware doesn’t have to be on 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.

In addition, hosted solutions enable enhanced communications, or what we call unified communications: in addition to 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 imperitive, while broadband connectivity solutions are effective, a dedicated fibre line will deliver a superior quality for your VOIP solution.

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 savings, as you are not required to outlay significant capital investments on the initial set up of the infrastructure, however you will still need to invest in handsets or headsets to enable the solution.

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.