Difference Between a Phone Number, Extension, and Landline

The telecom industry has come a long way in the last few decades. Remember the days of 1-800-COLLECT and 10-10-321? Cell phones have revolutionized calling. Now we can hop on a call anywhere.

But cell phones are not the only area where phones have evolved.

The days of businesses installing and using an intricate home landline telephone system and network in their offices are disappearing. Most businesses are switching from home landlines to VoIP services because they are more cost-effective for streamlining office communications. VoIP line systems are great for establishing a quality connection, making business on-the-go easier while keeping productivity levels at an all-time high.

In fact, equipping your business with an electronic phone system, such as VoIP services, can improve office communication, decrease costs, and increase productivity. 

Understanding the differences between how a traditional business telephone system works versus an Internet-based communication service can be confusing, especially since the equipment and technology are different than what most businesses are accustomed to using.

Although each phone system differs in provider, phone type, features and size of the overall system, the basic “guts” of a phone share common characteristics and can serve as a great starting point for understanding a new office phone system.

If you are one of these businesses trying to do away with your landline telephone system, it may help you to learn about the basic differences between a phone number, a phone extension, and a line. Read on to learn the difference between these, so you can make a more informed decision about the future of your business’ communication system.

What is a Phone Number?

We all know what a phone number is because we all have one. But let’s take a look at how that phone number is connected or transmitted.

In its most basic form, a phone number is a unique series of digits, similar to a computer’s IP address. It acts as a kind of street address so the system knows how to connect you to the person you’re calling.

Depending on the provider is either dialed and connected through a fixed or “land” telephone line, which connects to a provider through the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) or a wireless electronic telephony device, such as what is commonly used today with mobile phones. Phone calls made from mobile phones today are transmitted using radio waves from cell towers, but they are routed to numbers all the same.

Why have more than one phone number?

Businesses can have more than one phone number. But why would anyone want more than one phone number?

One reason is to separate different parts of the business. Instead of having one number everybody calls, you could have separate numbers for shipping, customer service, sales, etc. This makes it a lot easier for your current and future customers. Also, you may want your salespeople to have multiple numbers.

A more complex reason is geo-targeting. You may want to have numbers in every area code, so when your salespeople call, it’s coming from a local number. VoIP can route your calls automatically through a different phone number depending on where you’re calling.

What is a Phone Extension?

Back in the day before VoIP, each phone line was connected to the PSTN. This helped lines be shared from desk to desk in a single location. This system allowed employees to call a “phone number extension”, which is similar to a phone number but only involves a unique series of four digits. These digits are the extension number and “extension” of a phone number or line, which connects to the main telephone line.

If the phone number is the street address, the extension number is the apartment number.

In business, an extension number typically refers to a telephone line that is on a private branch exchange (PBX) system. The PBX is similar to an electronic switchboard allowing multiple lines within an office to interconnect without connecting to a single outside line.

Furthermore, each user extension may have different phone features, such as call forwarding, a voicemail inbox and messaging. Users can also transfer incoming calls to other extensions.

What is a Line?

We refer to the term “line” frequently. But what is a “line”? In the traditional sense, a “line” refers to a telephone wire that connects to a circuit, which connects to the PSTN. These “lines” refer to the telephone wires that we see overhead.

Today, a line just means the virtual connection between the two phones.

So what’s the difference between a telephone number, a phone extension, and a line?

A phone number is the “address” people dial to call you. An extension is a more focused part of that address. A line is an actual connection.

So if you had 5 numbers or extensions but only 2 lines, only 2 people can be using the phones at a time. 

When you’re setting up your phone system, make sure you understand that so you get enough lines and phone line extensions.

The Future of the Phone Communications and Digital Technology—Beyond 2017

Traditional business phone systems have become complex over the years. However, VoIP services help make communication less complicated, without the need for an older system, telephone lines, clunky equipment or a switchboard or to manually connect calls.

We’ve already begun to see the evolution of digital and virtual technology in phone communications.

So what’s in store for telecom in the future? 

With text messages via mobile phones and messaging apps dominating the communications industry, the future of the telecommunications industry is uncertain.

For example, apps such as WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessage represent more than 80 percent of all texts, and Skype accounts for more than a third of all international voice traffic.

In the end, it’s important for businesses to understand where phone numbers came from, how they function, and where they are going in order to make more informed decisions about their communication systems.

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