A Virtual number is a phone number without an associated physical phone line. They are also sometimes called Personal numbers, direct inward dialling (DID), access numbers or follow-me numbers. A traditional land line phone number is assigned to a unique physical access point on the telephone network, and calls are connected from one telephone to another by routing a signal through the exchanges and switches which make up the global phone network.
For example, if you are in the USA and you want to call a friend in London, you pick up your phone and dial 011 44 20 12345678. The first group of 3 digits (011) is the USA exit code which tells the network to route your call to the international exchange. The next 2 digits (44) are the country code for the UK, which tells the international exchange to route the call to the UK. The third group of digits (20) is the area code for London, which routes the call to the London exchange and the last group of digits (12345678) are your friend’s personal phone number which routes the call to your friends house and makes their phone ring.
During this process the owners of the physical networks your call passes through carefully track the line usage and pass access charges along the chain to your telephone service provider. If your call uses many exchanges and undersea cables these charges can be high, which is why international calls are often very expensive.
Virtual numbers work very differently. These phone numbers are not linked to a physical access point, but instead the signal is forwarded directly to another phone number (which can be a fixed line, a mobile phone or a VoIP service like Skype) chosen by the owner of the virtual number, and the destination phone number can be changed at any time. The virtual number is not linked to a point in the phone network, but it still has a ‘location’. You can choose an area code for your virtual number anywhere you want it to be. Your number can have a ‘local’ code (the same as any fixed line telephone in that city) or you can opt for a national local-rate code like 0345. You cannot change the location of your number, but you can have as many different virtual numbers (with different area codes) as you need.
So, if you are in the USA and you want to talk to your friend in London, but your friend uses a virtual number with a USA area code, you simply dial the number and are connected immediately. You will pay only the cost of calling the area code on the virtual number, and your friend may pay a small fee to receive the call but the total cost will be much lower than an international call.
Of course, you can also make outgoing calls from a virtual number. The exact process varies by service provider, but always begins by dialling the virtual number from your phone. The service will then confirm you are the account holder, and you can dial the number you wish to call. The person you are calling will see the virtual number and not the number of the telephone you are using.
How much does it cost to use a virtual number?
The charges to call a virtual number depend on the area code of the number you are calling. It doesn’t matter where the person you want to reach is located—if they are using a virtual number you will only pay the standard charge to call any number with that area code. If you are calling from a mobile phone or a land line with included minutes, the call will use your minutes exactly as a normal call would. The person you are calling may pay a small charge to receive your call, but don’t worry—they get an alert when an incoming call is via a virtual number and they can choose to accept or decline the call.
Outbound calls from a virtual number can be significantly cheaper than the making the same call from a fixed line, and many providers sell plans with inclusive minutes that can be very cost effective.
How do I spot a Virtual Number
Most people who call a virtual number are completely unaware they are doing so. The sound and quality of the call should be exactly the same as dialling a normal fixed line phone number. But be careful—some providers use lower quality VoIP (voice over internet protocol) connections to forward your number which leads to a poor call experience. If call quality is important to you, seek out a provider who uses high quality forwarding.
One exception is is you buy a virtual number (technically, a DID number) from your VoIP provider—these companies assign numbers with the UK prefix 070 which is not used by any fixed line numbers.
Who uses virtual numbers?
Virtual numbers are used by individuals, small businesses, professionals and even multinational corporations. Whatever your circumstances and however you want to use your umber, there is a service that will suit your needs and budget.
How do I get a virtual number?
There are many service providers who can arrange a virtual number for you. You can choose from a wide range of service packages, but you can expect pay a monthly fee which includes some free minutes. Once you have selected a provider and plan, you will sign up and enter payment details and you could be using your new number within minutes
Do I need any special equipment to use a virtual number?
No, you do not need any special equipment to use your virtual number. You can set your forwarding preferences by logging on to your provider’s website, and some service providers even offer a mobile phone app interface for added convenience. Once your forwarding is set up, you will receive your calls as normal on your chosen device.
What does a virtual number cost?
The cost of your virtual number depends on your choice of provider and your personal needs. Most people choose a package similar to a pay-monthly mobile phone contract, with a number of inclusive minutes each month, but if you do not expect to use your number often it is possible to find ‘pay-as-you-go’ deals where you pay only for the calls you have used each month. Selecting a plan is just like choosing a mobile phone contract, and you should consider how many minutes you expect to use each month, and whether you want to forward your calls mostly to a land line or mostly to your mobile phone. You will also want to check the monthly service charge (if any) and the cost of any extra off-plan minutes you may use. All different contract lengths are available, from annual plans to ‘cancel at any time’ contracts.
There are plans available to suit any budget, so if you shop carefully you are sure to find a deal that suits you.
Benefits for individuals
Virtual numbers are not just for big businesses. There are many ways individuals can benefit from owning a virtual number.
Do you live far from friends and family? You can buy a virtual number in your home country and have it forwarded to your mobile phone. Friends and family can call you whenever they want without paying expensive international charges or buying phone cards.
Do you move house frequently? A virtual number moves with you, so however many times you move your friends and family will be able to stay in touch.
Do you travel a lot for work? You can give your virtual number to all your contacts, and have your calls forwarded to your desk when you are in the office, to your mobile phone when you are on the road and to your home or even your voice-mail at the weekend.
Do you run a small business from home? A virtual number saves you the expense of a second phone line. Many providers also alert you when an incoming call is to your virtual number, so you can always be ready to give your best professional service to clients.
Do you value your privacy? A virtual number lets you call strangers without giving them access to your personal phone numbers. So if you want some peace of mind when using eBay, Gumtree or even dating sites, a virtual number could be the solution you need.
Benefits for small businesses
Virtual numbers can be invaluable for small businesses.
Do you wish your phone number was more memorable? Most service providers let you choose from a list of available numbers, so you can pick the number that is easy for your customers to remember.
Have you ever missed an important call because you were out on a job? Sole traders can forward their virtual number to a mobile phone when they are on site, and never miss a customer enquiry again.
Do you wish you had a professional phone system for busy times? Many virtual number services include services such as call queueing, caller ID, multiple lines, automated menus and even call recording and analytics. So you can have all the benefits of a fully functional corporate phone system without the outlay.
Benefits for larger businesses
Do you do business in more than one country? You can invest in a suite of country-specific virtual numbers—one for each country in which you do business. This will allow all your customers to reach you easily, without paying international call charges. Of course, these numbers can all be forwarded to one phone number, saving you time and money.
Do you want to track the response-rate for different marketing campaigns? You can assign a different virtual number to each campaign and log customer responses. This allows you to really drill down into the effectiveness of different marketing strategies for your business and could give you the edge you need.
Do you use a call centre? With a virtual number you can feel free to use any facility anywhere in the world, and change call centre at a moments notice. You can even contract with different facilities for different shifts, so you can offer 24 hour phone lines without paying premium overnight rates. Wherever you choose to locate your phone service, your customers will dial one familiar local number.
Do you want to control your branding and streamline your business? With virtual numbers you don’t need to base customer service people at all of your sites. Simply base one customer service team where-ever you want, and they can receive customer calls from any number or numbers you choose. If you want to stress local connection and familiarity, you can assign a separate number with local area code to each branch. If you want to present as a seamless national organisation, choose an 03** number and use it nationwide.