What is a PBX Phone System?

Khalid Noor, 2020

The PBX Phone System has taken many forms and undergone various changes over a vast period of time. Once such change enabled an alteration in its acronym; with the addition of the letter ‘A.’ So, what exactly is a PABX Phone System?

PABX, or ‘Private Automatic Branch Exchange,’ is a private business phone system used within many businesses and organisations. It allows for communication within organisations across other devices, and communication abroad, and possesses abilities such as conference calling, music on hold, and extension dialling. 

Despite this, in present times, the term ‘PABX’ is generally not used, and is just referred to as ‘PBX.’ The reason for this lies in the history between these two systems, which is synonymously intertwined. 

Decades prior to the advent of significant innovation in telephony, PBX phone systems originally were manually operated by switchboard operators which proved to be quite strenuous. The operator enabled incoming calls through plugging wires to complete the connection. This is how the terms ‘PABX’ and ‘PBX’ became separate entities, as PABX phone systems did not require the presence of an operator to enable it to function. 

PABX phone systems were mainly analog for a long period of time, which consisted of the use of copper lines and connected to the Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN) through Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) lines. The copper wiring was especially important as it allowed for the PBX phone system to manage calls, with the PBX phone system itself normally located in the closets of businesses. They were quite reliable, and performed standard functions of a phone adequately. 

Although analog systems seemed appropriate to most businesses for such a long time, the creation of digital systems completely changed the way organisations could apply telephony. Instead of copper wires, these new PABX phone systems connected through broadband internet, and had more potential for features and capabilities. Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) was also part of this shift from analog to digital, as it provided upgrades such as conference calls and caller ID, which came somewhere around the 1990’s. 

Phone systems today have drastically developed into much more efficient and capable systems. Voice over IP (VoIP) is a technology that has become most sought after in the business landscape of the present, and is seen as a spiritual successor to POTS. It enables the delivery of voice communication through the internet, and houses high definition audio that is easily compressed, as well as other deluxe features such as CRM compatibility. This vastly trumps POTS and other related technologies as the internet provides for many different uses for current PBX phone systems.

Throughout the evolution of phone systems, from manual operation to the introduction and eventual thorough implementation of the internet, the terms ‘PABX’ and ‘PBX’ have gone from being distinctly separate technologies to being one and the same. The ‘A’ in PABX relates to it’s automatic nature, however technology has reached a point whereby most things are automatic; thus resulting in ‘PABX’ and ‘PBX’ now being interchangeable and current systems being referred to as PBX only. 

The PBX phone system provides a whole host of benefits for small to medium sized benefits such as saving costs on hiring someone to answer phones where instead, the phone system already has automated attendants included. Apart from automation, centralised control, call routing to ensure the right calls always reach the right people are also among the numerous benefits pbx phone systems provide over a more traditional phone system.

It is interesting to understand how the ‘PABX system came about, its evolution and eventual transformation into an efficient, fast and highly expandable product that would greatly benefit most businesses today.