10 Phone System Terms You Probably Misunderstood


As users of phone systems, people generally assume that they understand most things about them and what all the words mean because after all, we’ve all used phones for our whole lives. The only problem with that is, phone systems have changed quite a bit over the past few decades, and the words have changed, too.

In the first place, you may have misunderstood some terms the whole time, anyway. In this post, you’ll see 10 phone system terms that you may or may not be familiar with, and the explanations for each.


1. Port


The term, “port” is not exactly common knowledge; however, just about every adult alive today has ported a phone number, whether they realize it or not. A port is simply the transfer of service for a phone number, from one service provider to another.

So, if you have ever switched cell phone providers but kept your existing number, then you ported your number. Small businesses know this experience all too well because it is frequently necessary for them to move to a different phone service while retaining their business number.


2. Carrier


You may think that you know what a carrier is, but there’s a good chance that you have the term mixed up. It’s simple, right? The carrier is the company that services your phone, isn’t it? That’s exactly right, but people get carriers and service providers confused—and there is a difference.

Your service provider is the company that you pay to turn on your phone, and they are the ones who add all of your features and manage any issues you may have. The carrier is the company that actually owns all of the infrastructure. They own all the wires, the cell towers, and the means of production.


3. PBX


PBX stands for Private Branch Exchange. What it basically amounts to is a phone network localized to a single system. The most common type of PBX that has been used by businesses for the past few decades is the conventional phone system that we’re all familiar with, employing either a classic landline or Internet-based VoIP lines.

To describe it more clearly, a PBX essentially takes one (or a few for large systems) phone line coming in from the phone company, and turns it into multiple lines to be used by the business. It’s what you see when there are multiple desk phones all over the office that have multiple open lines on each phone. Those multiple lines are being branched off of a main line from the phone company.

Now, with virtual service providers, you can have a virtual PBX system which operates on the same principle but creates multiple virtual phone lines instead, making it possible to have a lot more open lines.


4. Cloud-Hosted


This term means exactly what it sounds like, but it made it onto this list because if you’re not familiar with virtual phone systems, then you probably have no clue what it is. “Cloud-hosted” is a term used to describe a virtual phone system that is managed entirely online and not associated with a standard phone line.


5. VoIP


Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) refers to a very common type of phone system that has been used by businesses for a long time, and how it works is pretty simple. So, if your business uses a VoIP system for your phones, then it works over an Internet connection. The actual system in the office will look just like a standard, wired-line PBX, but it’s just coming form an Internet line instead of a landline connection.


6. Voicemail


Naturally, you’re probably saying to yourself, “I know exactly what voicemail is… Duh.” But, do you? Most people are perfectly clear on what voicemail is, but the only reason that we’re mentioning it here is because many people tend to use this word interchangeably for other related things that are not voicemail.

For example, if you’re calling any audio message that you play for callers in your automated phone system, “voicemail”, then you would be wrong. Voicemail is the term exclusively used for messages that callers leave for you in your voice mailbox.


7. Call Menu


This one only requires a little explanation because there are a few different names for it, and people aren’t always clear on what any of them mean. Also known as an auto attendant, phone tree, or IVR, a call menu is an automated menu that you can add to your phone system which has multiple options callers can select by pressing a number on their phone’s dial pad.


8. Virtual Number


There is always a bit of confusion surrounding virtual phone numbers if you’re new to them, and understandably so because it’s still a fairly new concept for many businesses. Let’s go ahead and alleviate that confusion now and show how simple it actually is. If you think of a standard phone number that we’ve all grown up with, then you’re already in the ballpark.

A virtual phone number is exactly the same thing as a standard phone number, except that it is not attached to any physical phone. Furthermore, a virtual number actually has some advantages that you don’t get with a standard number because though it can be your main business phone number like any other, you can also easily make it forward to any other phone you may have, among other advantages.

To learn more about the difference between standard and virtual numbers (which isn’t much), check out this additional post:



9. Submenu


A submenu is, again, pretty much what it sounds like. What you get with a submenu is a whole other call menu within your primary call menu, under a main menu option. You already know what this is but may not know exactly what it’s called, which is a submenu. It works like this:

Someone calls your business and immediately reaches your main call menu. Then, after hearing what the options are, let’s say they press #2 to hear the options in Spanish. After pressing 2, the caller then hears your menu options in their language. They can then select a number again to connect with whatever or whomever they need.


10. Mobile Dialing App


The mobile dialing app is an exception, as most people have no idea what it is. It’s somewhat self-explanatory, of course, but it’s kind of mystifying at first glance because you know it has to be different than a regular cell phone dialer but aren’t sure how that works.

Using our service, Talkroute, as an example, the mobile dialing app actually works with your phone’s native dialer to make calls, rather than independently of the native dialer. Some cheaper dialing apps that you’ll find out there might work separately without your phone’s normal dialer, which can be extremely unreliable due to its reliance on the Internet connection of your phone, instead of using the standard cellular network to place calls.

If you want to check out a mobile dialing app for business that works the way it’s supposed to, feel free to sign up for a trial with Talkroute and test out the full phone system.


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Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.

Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.

Stephanie10 Phone System Terms You Probably Misunderstood