Business phone jargon explained

It's easy to get snowed under by the jargon. Our guide can help

It’s easy to get snowed under by the jargon.

Here’s a quick run-through of the terminology you might come across:

ACD Automatic Call Distribution – a specialised phone system used for handling many incoming phone calls and then distributing the calls between available staff in a logical pre-programmed pattern. It also keeps records and tracks what it does with great accuracy for future reference.

Auto attendant A device or a feature of some PBXs and phone systems that answers a call and lets the caller route their call to a specific extension or group, typically by inviting the caller to press number keys on their phone to select options. No human intervention is required.

Automatic route selectionOr ARS. This feature automatically chooses the least expensive phone line to the destination.

CabinetThe box (usually wall mounted) that contains the control circuitry for a. PBX system. May be called the Key Service Unit (KSU) or Central Control Unit (CCU).

Call forwarding Feature which allows an incoming call to be sent elsewhere.

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Call hunting If a particular extension is not picked up after a specified interval, an incoming call can be passed on to nominated alternatives.

Centrex lines Service offered by the local phone company from their local central office. It basically provides many of the faculties you’d expect from a PBX; they can include call forwarding, intercom, call transfer, toll restrictions and least-cost routing.

CLI Caller Line Identification. A facility where the incoming call provides the telephone number it is dialling from. Known as Caller ID in the States.

ConferencingConnecting three or more people in a single phone conversation.

CordCan refer to the curly cable that goes from the phone to the handset or to ‘line cord’ – the flat cable that runs between a wall socket and the phone.

CTIComputer Telephony Integration. The ability to connect a computer to a telephone.

Data portOr more simply ‘port’ – a point of access to a computerised system for transmitting or receiving data. Basically it’s a socket.

DDI Direct Dial Inward – dialling a specific number to reach a specific person or department even though the call actually goes through a switchboard or PBX. (In America and Japan this is called DID, Direct Inward Dial.)

DECTDigital Enhanced Cordless Telephony – a standard for cordless voice (and data) transmission using radio waves. Users can make and receive internal and external calls from anywhere on the premises if they are in range of any of the strategically positioned ‘base stations’.

Default The original settings of a programme or some other configurable system. Same as ‘factory settings’.

Dial tone The tone that is heard when accessing an outside line.

Digital Digital technology means that sound is transmitted as bits of data rather than audio waves, and in theory this has many advantages – much clearer transmissions, for instance.

DISADirect Inward System Access. A person can call into the phone system and access its features without operator assistance. This can include making long distance calls or just calling another extension.

DSS Direct Station Select. This function (typically a set of buttons) allows the operator to call or transfer a call to a particular extension with a single keypress.

DTMF Dual Tone Multi Frequency. Tones that are heard when dialling on an outside line or single line phone.

ExtensionA unique number that identifies a phone – in practice, each telephone in a phone system.

GatewayA facility that connects networked computers to the telephone system.

HandsfreeSome phones (‘speakerphones’) have a built-in microphone and loudspeaker so that you can talk on the phone without picking up the handset.

HookswitchThe mechanical or electrical switch that terminates a call. The handset usually depresses the hookswitch when it is returned to the cradle.

Intercom Sometimes abbreviated to ICM. Internal communication using the phones.

ISDN Integrated Services Digital Network. An all-digital network that runs as an alternative to the standard analogue system, providing multiple channels per line and high-quality voice and data connections at a premium price.

IVR Interactive Voice Response. The ability to direct callers to a specific application on the system by inviting them to speak or press touch tone buttons on the phone.

Jack Or modular jack. The socket into which a telephone can be plugged. The most common types of jack – and therefore the most common styles of plug and socket – are RJ11, RJ45, and BT431.

Key setA telephone with buttons that can be used for call holding, auto-dialling, line pick-up and other features.

Key system A small type of phone system. Key systems typically use buttons or keys to access different outside lines.

KSU Key service unit. The main cabinet that holds all of the switching electronics of a business phone system.

Last number redial Or LNR. Hit the button and the phone will redial the last number you tried.

Least cost routingOr LCR. This feature automatically chooses the least expensive phone line to the destination.

Line cord The cable that goes from the wall socket to a phone.

Lines Connections to the outside phone network. The number of lines determines the number of incoming and outgoing calls that can simultaneously occur.

Live call screening Allows a user to monitor incoming calls as they are being recorded in their voice mailbox.

MDFMain distribution frame. The panel where cables from the KSU are terminated.

Message waiting An indication on the phone (a lamp or a displayed message) that there’s a message for the owner of the phone.

Modems A device which converts digital signals (from a computer) into analogue form (for transmission over the telephone network). At the other end of the link another modem performs the reverse process.

Music on holdBackground music or messages heard when someone is put on hold.

OPX Off Premises Extension. A telephone located away from the phone system but still accessible from it – so an incoming call could be routed to your number whether or not the phone was physically located in the building.

PBX Private Branch Exchange. A switch used inside a private business as opposed to one serving the general public. Typically you have to dial 9 to get an outside line with a PBX system.

Reset Unplugging or turning off the power to a device.

Screen popping A facility in some CTI where a call arrives at a user’s desktop and the caller’s details are automatically retrieved from a database to ‘pop up’ on the recipient’s screen.

TAPIThe telephony interface provided by Microsoft.

Touch tone The tones that are generated when dialling out or pressing a number on the dial pad.

Two-way recording The ability to record your phone conversation.

Two-way transferPermits an extension user to record a conversation in another person’s mailbox.

Voicemail A facility that answers calls and allows the caller to leave a message. It may also enable an internal caller to send interoffice messages to multiple recipients. Most systems allow employees to retrieve their messages from other phones both inside and outside the office.