What Do These Business Phone System Acronyms Mean?

Don’t Be Afraid of the POTS, VoIP, PRI, PBX…

If you find yourself wondering about Centrex, POTS, VoIP, PBX, PRIs and Voice Mail servers, you may be shopping for a new business phone system. Those are just a few terms that get thrown around when you’re looking to upgrade or install a new system.

business phone system acronyms definitions

The only problem is that when you ask a question like:

“What is a POTS line?”

You get an answer like:

“That’s Plain Old Telephone Service.”

Every time I hear that I think of the line from the movie Airplane.

“This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.”

“A hospital? What is it?”

“It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.”

Away From Definitions and Into a New Phone System

Most of these acronyms stand for the different types of office phone services or phone systems that people use. They are not so much about the device that sits on your desk (though that is important) but more about the supporting infrastructure behind that phone. Your current bill usually tells you what kind of service you have.

POTS, T1s, and PRIs are all traditional phone services that connect a business phone system to the outside world. A small company generally has (or had) a few POTS lines connected to a simple phone system called a Key System.  A larger company would have a PBX (Primary Branch Exchange) that was connected by a bigger phone pipe that carried 23 (PRI) or 24 (Channelized T1)  simultaneous phone calls. And to add to the confusion, some businesses used a type of service called Centrex which brought in a single telephone line to each employee. The functions of the phone system (such as transferring calls or putting calls on hold) were accomplished by pressing star codes on a simple phone handset.

Today, more and more companies are installing VoIP-based Phone Systems. These systems have lots of functionality and communicate to the outside world via VoIP telephone service. They have many, if not all, of the advantages of a high-end PBX, but without many of the challenges. With a VoIP system, it has become very simple to let a worker move his/her phone to a new location…even outside of the office…and still have it communicate via the Internet to the VoIP Phone System. That was not possible with a traditional PBX.

The Best Kind of Phone System Has No Acronym

The best phone system is the one that suits your needs and doesn’t make you pay for things you don’t need. Instead of learning definitions and technologies, identify the needs you have for your phone network and let your salesperson do the hard part.

  • Do you need multiple lines in and out?
  • Do you need integration with smartphones?
  • Do you need a system that works seamlessly across multiple locations?
  • Do you need to add and remove employee phone lines often?
  • Does each employee need a direct 10-digit phone number or is it acceptable to have a main shared number where employees are reached by dialing an extension?
  • Do you need voicemail that will email people their messages so they don’t have to dial in to check their voicemail?The best phone system meets your needs and doesn't make you pay for things you don't. Click To Tweet

Just like you leave the ins and outs of tax law to your accountant and the right oil to your mechanic, you can leave your phone system acronyms to your salesperson. When you have an experienced consultant that you can trust, your main job is to know what you want in a phone system.

Your Phone System is Made up of Three Parts

When you add-on, upgrade, or get a new phone system, you are really dealing with three main parts:

  1. The thing people will talk into
  2. The network that will carry it around the office
  3. The network that will carry it out into the world.

When you get those three working together in harmony, you are going to have a great phone system. Whenever you talk to any phone salesperson, you want to make sure they have a good knowledge of those things. If they know a lot about the plastic phone your call center will use but underestimate the network, you’ll have dropped calls. If they have a great network across the country but their handsets are garbage, you’ll have frustrated employees. If you have a great internal network and great handsets but a poor outside connection, your employees will love talking to each other and not know they have customers calling in.

You can see that phone systems are complicated, but they don’t have to be. Call us today to get some free advice on what kind of system you need to help your business.

Contact us for a no-obligation meeting talk about your phone system needs.

If, however, you want to know more about the types of phone systems available, read on:

POTS – Plain Old Telephone Service

This one is one of the most fun to explain to people. It stands for Plain Old Telephone Service and that’s exactly what it is. (It is pronounced ‘pots’ like ‘pots and pans’.) This is what most people had at home before the cable companies offered a triple play. When you talk on the phone, there is a copper wire leaving your phone and connecting to a switching station somewhere. The sound quality was generally very good unless you lived in a really rural area. One great benefit — your phone probably still worked even if you lost power at your house. Very small businesses can still use this type of service.

You can read more about POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plain_old_telephone_service

PRI – Primary Rate Interface

A PRI (pronounce each letter, P-R-I) is basically a line that can carry a lot more than just one voice phone call. A PRI is what is used today to carry voice, data, and carrier info to modern phone networks. You can have multiple phone lines, caller ID, in-house direct dialing (with a 3-digit extension, for example) and even call hunting that will transfer calls to different phones if one is busy.

One PRI can handle up to 23 simultaneous calls at once and each of the lines can represent any phone number assigned to that business.

PRI (Primary Rate Interface) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primary_Rate_Interface

When you have an experienced consultant that you trust, your job is to know what you want… Click To Tweet

VoIP – Voice Over IP

Yes, this one is an acronym within an acronym. The “IP” in VoIP stands for Internet Protocol. Pronounce it like “voice” but instead of the “s” sound, say a “p” sound. It used to be that VoIP was reserved for services like Vonage and Skype, but now most phone systems eventually get carried over the Internet before being translated back into whatever the local phone is. The quality of VoIP depends on the quality of the internet connection and how much is going along that signal. If it is carrying HD video and high-quality voice traffic, the connection and the local network needs to be in good shape.

VoIP (Voice over IP) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VoIP_phone

KSU – Key System Unit (or Key System for short)

This is a phone system that has a basic set of features and connected to the outside world via POTS lines. To make a call, you would press a button to access an outside line. Businesses using this type of system typically had several phone numbers, even if they only publicized one. Incoming calls had to be answered by a receptionist and every employee with a phone had an extension. Employees didn’t get their own 10-digit number that could be dialed directly. Depending on call volume, this system would make a receptionist very busy.

PBX – Private Branch Exchange

A PBX is a fully functional telephone switch that provides phone services inside of a business. It functions much the same as the switching equipment within a telephone company.  Many PBXs now support VoIP service, making it much easier to have remote phone handsets. A PBX has a lot of features and its handsets can perform many operations. It can be intimidating without training.

With a PBX, some employees may get their own direct-dial phone number (called a DID for Direct-Inward-Dial). This is what allows you to dial an extension within your office and call your co-workers. Once upon a time, internal calls would involve an internal operator, who would connect Mr. Drysdale to Mr. Bodine down the hall. Nowadays, a PBX acts as an internal operator, preventing calls from accessing an external switch in order to connect with individuals inside your business.  You save money by not getting the phone company involved with switching the phone calls. Now, hosted phone systems don’t require manually connecting phones inside the office. As a result, PBX has come to apply more to the convenience of 3-digit dialing between multiple locations within the same company. This is how the YMCA in downtown Evansville can 3-digit dial any office at the YMCA on the east side near Newburgh.

JT Switchboard 770x540

PBX (Private Branch Exchange) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_telephone_system#Private_branch_exchange

But really, you don’t have to understand how any of these phone systems work in order to choose the right one for your business. That’s where an experienced phone system salesperson comes into the picture. Let us help you determine the best system for your company’s needs.