If you have ever worked in an office setting for any period of time, you know that the phones there work a little differently than the one you use, or used to use, at home. They have nifty features like call transferring, conferencing and call parking that make routing and managing internal and external phone traffic easier and more efficient. There are other advantages to these office phone systems that are referred to as PBX (private branch exchange) systems that you may not be aware of unless someone took the time to teach you the details about how they work.
PBX: A brief history
When large businesses began installing phones in their offices, each phone had to have it’s own line. When the receiver was picked up a friendly operator would connect the caller to the person to whom they intended to speak by physically plugging a phone line into the appropriate jack on a switchboard. As you might imagine, it was expensive for very large businesses to pay for phone service on every line coming into the building. This is how PBX systems came about; businesses bought their own switchboards so that they could provide phone service to all of the phones in the building while paying for service on only a fraction of those lines.
The advent of electronic switching made such systems even more efficient. Instead of an operator or receptionist manually routing call traffic, PBX systems with electronic switching were capable of routing calls according to a number or a combination of numbers and letters that a user could “dial.” As a fun and entertaining aside, let’s briefly discuss the origin of that word, “dial.” It was first used in reference to sun dials, which had circular plates with information inscribed around their diameter that enabled users to determine the time based on the position of the sun. The term was then used for compasses, mechanical clocks and finally phones. Dial was appropriate in this context because of the so-called rotary phones that had a “dial” in front that enabled users to input and transmit data that enabled them to connect to a particular endpoint. Modern phones, of course, have keypads. Even though we now key in numbers, the term “dial” is still used – which means that the term is really an anachronism.
PBX systems that made use of electronic or automatic switching were known for years as PABX systems, the “A” signifying their automatic switching capability. This removed the need for an operator who manually connected callers and represented a major step in the evolution to modern phone systems. Over the coming years, these systems shrunk from massive to just very large, picked up some minor features and enhancements but did not change significantly until the mid to late 1990’s with the advent of what is known as VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol). At this point, it was determined that calls could be transferred between IP addresses instead of phone lines. This technology meant that office phones could be run on hardware that was significantly smaller than anything that preceded it. It also marked the transition from a time where phone service was administered exclusively by the phone company, to phone service administered by the company used for IT support. At this time, small telecom businesses began buying equipment that allowed them to “host” their customer’s VOIP phone systems at an offsite location. With this type of system, phone calls are received at the offsite location run by a VOIP provider and routed over IP to the appropriate location. This arrangement benefitted both service providers and consumers – service providers had found a way to route and manage calls more cheaply and over fewer phone lines than was previously possible, enabling them to provide service to users at a significant discount.
In the two decades since VOIP technology first began to be adopted by businesses, it has developed and matured in significant ways. Cloud based PBX systems represent the cutting edge of this technology. The cloud based PBX solution provided by First Service has a feature set that will blow your mind if you are unfamiliar with the technology. The other primary benefit of this offering is its stability and reliability – it is essentially impervious to downtime. Even when the power goes off or the office handsets go down for whatever reason, calls are automatically routed to users mobile devices. This doesn’t just happen when the power goes out, however. Our Cloud-based PBX system allows users to take calls from the office on their cellular device even when they are out of the office. Calls received on a cellular phone in a remote location can even be transferred from the cell phone back to a specific colleague back at the office. Checking office voicemail is as simple as opening an app and hitting the “voicemail” icon. It doesn’t stop there, features such as internet faxing are integrated into the system. This allows users to automatically store incoming and outgoing faxes and access them immediately at any time from their mobile device.
In our experience, businesses and the people who work in them tolerate their phone systems – they would appreciate the functionality their PBX offers if they didn’t take it for granted while they curse the very existence of their phone system when it inevitably goes down 1-3 times a year while business screeches to a halt. If you haven’t heard of this technology or haven’t had the opportunity to see it in action please, give us a call today. We would love to give you a quick demonstration of how easy this system is to use and the impressive feature set that it supports. If you’re interested, give us a call at 919.832.5553 – if you thought phone systems were to be tolerated but not loved, we will change your mind!