10 Techie VoIP Terms Translated into Plain English

By Top10 StaffTop10 Staff

Let’s be honest, VoIP isn’t the sexiest acronym in the world, and understanding this telecommunications system can be a bit of a headache at times. VoIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol and—as much as the acronym isn’t sexy—what it can do is. VoIP is one of the better ways to make telecommunications more affordable, efficient, and reliable from the individual consumer to the enterprise-level business.

The thing is though, VoIP has a lingo all its own, with acronyms and terms that you may have never heard before starting down this road.


Let’s break it down some.

1. VoIP

If the words Voice over Internet Protocol don’t really make sense to you, you’re not alone. And although the wording sounds complex, the idea behind it is pretty simple. VoIP allows users to communicate—by talking and other stuff (such as texting, voice and video messaging, and live video conferencing)—over the internet rather than through a traditional phone network.

2. PBX

This is not the Public Broadcasting Service’s after-hours adults-only programming hour, nor is it an acronym for a peanut butter-and-XTREME jelly sandwich.

Peanut butter extreme sandwich but not PBX

This might be a Peanut Butter Extreme sandwich, but it's not a PBX.

PBX stands for Private Branch Exchange, a private telephone network that is used within a company or organization and which all of the phones in a system route through. Traditionally this has referred to an old-fashioned phone switchboard inside of a business or residence. Nowadays, this routing can be done off-site by your VoIP provider by way of Cloud PBX.

You can learn more about PBX and Cloud PBX in this informative video or compare virtual PBX providers on this chart of the best VoIP PBX providers .

3. Trunking

Some people hear “trunk” and probably picture speakers in the back of a big body Cadillac or Lincoln, neon lights and chrome wheels, but VoIP trunking is something entirely different.

Not VoIP trunking

Note: This is not what techies mean by VoIP trunking

In the world of VoIP, a “trunk line” refers to the line that allows you to send and receive voice calls from your old-fashioned telephone network (aka PBX) over your internet connection.

4. SIP

If you’re thirsty, SIP won’t help you, but if you’re looking to use VoIP, it could be key. SIP stands for “Session-Initiated Protocol”, and it’s one of the basic network languages (or signaling protocols) for voice and video calls over the internet. This protocol has been implemented on a wide range of VoIP-enabled phones.

This is a mighty cute sip, but not SIP

This is a mighty cute sip, but not SIP

SIP is not the only protocol that VoIP can be built over, but it is a particularly good option since the protocol itself works with a wide range of equipment.

5. Hosted VoIP

Hosted VoIP just means that the mega-computer(s) (aka servers) powering your VoIP services are being managed by a VoIP provider and not by you or your company. This is opposed to “on-premise” VoIP systems which certain large companies, with the economic and human resources, choose to power on their own.

This usually means no set-up costs and also less need for equipment. You just need to plug into the service and it does the heavy lifting for you.

6. Cloud VoIP

This is not a literal cloud, but you probably knew that. Cloud VoIP is basically a synonym for hosted VoIP (explained above). But when people refer to Cloud VoIP they are generally referring to a multi-server infrastructure that is not just hosted in one location, but many. That way, if one server is weighed down with an inundation of calls because many people are using the service at the same time, the Cloud VoIP software can reroute calls and improve service.

7. Managed VoIP

Managed VoIP is a type of hosted VoIP, but rather than sharing a server with other random users, you get your own. This service is usually more expensive. The benefit is that you don’t run the risk of other users overloading a server that you share with them because the server is for you, or your company, only. The con is that there is less flexibility, you pay a set price and receive a set amount of server space. So if you only use a fraction of the server space, you still pay for the use of the entire server.

This is also known as having a “dedicated” server, because you are renting a server that is dedicated exclusively to you.

8. Hunt Groups

Also known as line hunting, this is a way that phone systems distribute phone calls to a group of several phone lines.

Basically, you link a number of phone extensions to a single line and then whenever that line is called, it will call the extensions in the group. This can be set up so that all of the non-busy telephones in the hunt group get a call, or that it goes down the list, ringing at one number, and if its busy, ringing the next number, and so on, until a free line is reached. You can also configure the system so that when a new call comes in it will ring the line that appears on the list directly after the telephone that answered the last call.

9. Softphone

A softphone is not a phone made out of Nerf. It’s software that you install on your computer or mobile device to allow you to provide real time audio communications service and run VoIP.

10. Hardphone

Like softphone, “hardphone” is also something of a misnomer. While a hardphone is literally hard, what it refers to is an actual tangible device that you use to run your VoIP. Typically hard phones look and operate similar to standard telephones, to make things simpler, but it’s more accurate to think of it as a computing device in its own right.

Bonus Term: Bandwidth

Getting your drummer off their diet is one way to improve your bandwidth. Bdoom boom chh!

Not the meaning of bandwidth

Not the meaning of bandwidth

Bandwidth is probably a term you’ve heard and if you don’t know what it means, that’s not that unusual. Put simply, bandwidth is the amount of data that a system can transmit in a specific amount of time. If you expect to have a whole mess of data coming through your VoIP system, then the more bandwidth the better.

Good luck with VoIP

Thank you for reading. We wish you a lot of success choosing the best VoIP service for your needs. For more information, check out our rankings of the best VoIP business providers  of 2020.

Compare Best Business VoIP

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