What is a PBX Switchboard?

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In the world of telecommunications, there are a lot of acronyms that might not be familiar to you. Perhaps you already know what a PBX phone system is, but what is a PBX switchboard? 

In this article, you will learn exactly what gets switched (so to speak), who operates this type of technology, and perhaps, most importantly of all, what benefits a PBX switchboard can bring to your business.

Table of Contents

  1. What is a PBX Switchboard?
  2. What are the main functions of a PBX switchboard?
  3. Who operates PBX switchboards?
  4. How do PBX switchboards work?
  5. Which industries benefit from PBX switchboard systems?
  6. Types of telephone switchboards

What is a PBX Switchboard?

PBX is short for a private branch exchange – in simpler terms, this describes the internal phone network of a business. 

A PBX network still allows calls to come in and go out, and employees can also talk to each other, but one of the major differences when compared to a normal landline system, is the phone bill. Depending on the service package that the company choses, PBX systems provide the same communication abilities but at a considerably reduced rate.  

Moving closer to the point, this system has many components, but one valuable aspect is the PBX switchboard. Most people are familiar with the word “switchboard,” and upon seeing it, you might think back to the golden age of telephones, where an operator had to plug a wire into a specific location on a switchboard to connect your call. 

A PBX switchboard is not that old-fashioned, but the idea remains the same. It is a central point where inside and outside calls get funnelled to before they are directed to their final destinations within the company. 

A PBX switchboard also looks different from the old 20th-century switchboards, which were so big that an operator often sat in front of several panels covered with a dizzying array of input points. 

These days, it resembles a normal office phone handset that is easy to use, and the device can sit on someone’s desk without stealing a ton of space. To put that into perspective, the first switchboards often required their own rooms.

What are the main functions of a PBX switchboard?

A PBX switchboard might be a hundred times smaller than the technology that came before, but it brings a lot more benefits and features to the table. 

As far as the main functions go, these can differ depending on the design and model of the PBX switchboard, but below, you will find a good overview of all the primary functions of PBX phone systems. 

  • Customers or suppliers can call a single business number and have access to all company departments and employees.
  • A way to place callers on hold while they are waiting for a specific department or employee. 
  • The ability to create music or custom messages for callers who are on hold.
  • Call directing; connecting an incoming call to a specific department or extension.
  • Easy call forwarding via input digits that directly link with employee extensions.
  • Ensuring that calls are evenly distributed among available employees in a department through Automatic Call Distribution technology.
  • The ability to conference multiple incoming calls with staff extensions.
  • Connecting calls between extensions.
  • Keeping a detailed record of all incoming and outgoing calls. 

At the end of the day, a PBX switchboard exists to make things easier and more efficient for a busy company. A number that stays engaged, or drops callers into a maze where they are passed between employees or departments because they keep ending up in the wrong place can drive customers away for good. 

A switchboard allows callers to connect with a helpful points of contact as soon as they place the call who then directs them to the right department.

This fast response is not just beneficial for customers and suppliers. When staff members can also easily connect with each other, then issues and projects can also be resolved in a timely manner. Indeed, one of the biggest factors for staff stress, disagreements and miscommunication is not being able to quickly connect with the right individual within the company when they need to.

How do PBX switchboards work?

A traditional standard PBX phone system (there is also the highly popular alternative cloud PBX phone networks), is a physical system located on the premises of a business. In a wider sense, it’s linked to the PSTN, or public switched telephone system. 

The latter is the technology that allows callers to hear each other over the phone, and the PSTN is also the web that connects all the world’s communications networks, including cellular and satellite networks and phone lines. 

But to focus on PBX again, as a switchboard, it acts as a central function that connects different parts of a company’s telephone system. It’s mainly used to route incoming phone calls to the correct extension within an office. 

It also serves as an internal communications network by allowing a company to share phone lines between extensions. Some are tweaked to handle other duties, but this is not a common occurrence as adapting this technology requires expensive and extensive configurations.

Who operates PBX switchboards?

In most business environments, the PBX switchboard falls in the domain of receptionists. In PBX jargon, the person who manages this phone is not really called a receptionist, per se, but a PBX operator. 

The primary purpose of a PBX operator is to answer phone calls, often from multiple lines and extensions. It might take a minute or two, but the operator must glean enough information from the caller to determine where the call should be directed. 

For example, if a customer wants to place an order, they can be directed to a sales representative, or if they have a complaint about a defective order, the PBX operator can then direct them to the customer service department.

A PBX receptionist also has other duties to perform, and these commonly include correct information transfer, answering basic queries about the business, making emergency calls, making sure that the equipment remains in functioning order and ensuring that maintenance is performed when something goes wrong. 

Being a receptionist is often a thankless and hard position, but in a busy company, a PBX system can make a receptionist’s job a lot easier and much more effective.

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Which industries benefit from PBX switchboard systems?

Broadly speaking, nearly every industry can benefit from replacing their old landline systems with a PBX switchboard; it’s cheaper, faster, more streamlined and more dependable. 

There will also be no more unanswered calls (and angry customers), collaboration and reach will improve, and the maintenance costs are significantly lower when compared to what it costs to repair more traditional phone lines. 

The companies that might benefit the most are the ones that rely a lot on telecommunications in order to keep teams connected and also to do business with customers and suppliers. Just some examples could include: 

  • The medical field
  • Legal firms
  • Construction companies
  • Retail, and
  • Higher learning institutes.

Types of telephone switchboards

Telephone switchboards have come a long way since they were first invented in the 1800s. Many different types have since sprung up and improved upon each other, but these days, most companies prefer one of three phone switchboard models. 

They include PBX, IP-PBX, and Virtual or Cloud PBX. If you’re a first-time buyer, then this section can be helpful to understand the differences by taking a brief look at each and also weighing their pros and cons. 

Traditional or On-Premises PBX

Traditional PBX is sometimes simply called PBX or on-premises PBX. This type represents a phone switchboard that is physically present in the building of a business. One of the main differences, when compared to the other two types, is that maintenance tasks fall mostly on in-house IT staff members while maintenance costs are the responsibility of the owner of the company. 

At the core of this system is a small physical device that assists in diverting all external and internal calls to the relevant departments within the company. Employee phones also run software that offers all the benefits of VoIP. 

Some benefits include the fact that the owner of the business has full control over the implementation of features and that there are no extra costs should you decide to add more lines to the network. 

On-site PBX is also not reliant on a third party and doesn’t rack up massive bills; the running costs are actually quite low. On the negative side, since this is a physical system, you can expect the installation fees to be very high. Maintenance can also become a money drain as it requires IT training (or the hiring of extra IT specialists) and purchasing new parts when hardware breaks or becomes outdated.


When companies wish to have all the perks of an on-site PBX system but they don’t want the headaches that come with ownership, they often turn to IP-PBX as a suitable alternative. Whereas in-house PBX is not reliant on a third party – and that is fine for some – this variation allows companies to instead rent PBX services from a third party, usually on a month-to-month basis. This moves maintenance responsibilities from the company over to the service provider.

One of the biggest reasons why businesses choose IP-PBX is the fact that technical support is included in the deal. The company doesn’t have to spend resources training IT staff or paying a call-out fee for technicians to come out and fix a problem. 

Hardware upkeep also falls on the provider, and unlike on-site PBX, there’s no need to worry about a costly physical installation. Upfront fees are minimal and usually only include the first monthly fee. Since the provider also charges per user, small companies can look forward to fair prices. 

This might not be the best option for business owners who like to be independent though. There are a lot of service aspects that are controlled by the provider and not the client. Larger companies also have to pay more for IP-PBX since they have more staff using the service

Virtual or Cloud PBX 

One of the fastest-growing PBX phone networks in modern times is the cloud-hosted or virtual PBX system. What makes it so popular is that this switchboard lives in the cloud. Apart from a handset, there is no physical equipment to purchase. Not only is this cost-effective, but in situations where office space comes at a premium, having less equipment in the room is a great bonus.  

Other plus points include leaving all responsibilities and maintenance to a third-party provider. Cloud-hosted systems are also the cheapest entry point for companies looking to get their first PBX system, and it can certainly make a small business look and operate on a more professional level. 

This system is, however, heavily reliant on connectivity. Companies with weak internet connections that run slowly or constantly dip cannot adopt cloud PBX technology because it simply won’t operate. In order to function, virtual PBX needs a high-speed and stable internet connection.

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