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By December 2025, the landline network in the UK will be replaced by a digital network. While you can use your mobile phone for business, there is a smarter option that’s cost-effective, dynamic and has tools to grow your business: virtual phone numbers.
In this comprehensive guide to virtual phone numbers, we will explain what virtual numbers are, how they work, how they’re different from traditional phones and everything else you need to know to choose one for your business.
What is a virtual phone number?
How virtual phone numbers work
Virtual vs. traditional phone numbers
Types of virtual phone numbers
Virtual phone number: The benefits
Disadvantages of virtual phone numbers
Key features to expect from a virtual phone number
Modern versions of virtual phone numbers
How to choose your virtual phone number
How to get a virtual phone number
Chalkboard: The virtual phone number for modern businesses
Virtual phone number FAQs
Traditional phones are linked to a single, fixed device which could be a landline or a mobile phone. What makes a virtual phone number different is that it’s not linked to a particular physical device or location.
Virtual phone numbers use the internet to connect callers. Any incoming call or message is routed to a pre-set line which could be a landline, mobile or VoIP-enabled device. What it means is that a virtual number can be operated from any location and through any connected device.
You can set it up to receive calls and messages on your mobile phone, laptop, tablet or VoIP device. You can choose which of these devices will receive calls and when. This increased mobility is one of the main reasons why virtual numbers are growing in popularity.
Landlines use the physical cable network while mobile phone calls are routed through the cell network. A virtual phone number’s call is routed through the internet. The number originates in the cloud and gets linked to a telephone number that the user already owns. That’s why they’re also referred to as cloud phones.
In association with VoIP, a virtual number provides a location-neutral business phone system to organisations. These phones can be used from the office, at home or when travelling. You don’t have to buy an additional device to operate a virtual phone number. You can use it on any of your connected devices.
It’s important to note that there will be no difference between a virtual number and a traditional number for the user. You dial numbers and receive calls as normal and the person at the other end won’t know that you are using a virtual number.
Across sectors, legacy systems are making way for digital technologies. Virtual phone numbers have been redefining telephony for a while and are set to grow and expand into more industries. The differences between virtual and traditional phone numbers will help explain their popularity.
To get a traditional phone number for your business, you need to invest in the infrastructure to support it. You will need telephone lines in the building to connect devices. Along with the initial costs, you also need to take care of their maintenance.
A virtual phone number doesn’t require any infrastructure on the user’s part. The software and data backup will be hosted by the provider. There’s also little maintenance since there’s no cable network or hardware.
With traditional phone numbers, it’s difficult to add or remove users. Getting a new user would mean getting a new device, extension or number. It’s both time-consuming and expensive. A virtual phone number allows you to add or remove users without even contacting the service provider.
Another crucial difference is in functionality. With a traditional landline, you can only make and receive calls. With on-premise PBX (Private Branch Exchange), you will get call forwarding and other basic functionalities but setting it up is expensive.
Virtual phone numbers offer several tools to optimise your communication and grow your business. You can monitor and manage your communication to improve key areas like customer service. Some virtual phone numbers also bring the power of automation to reduce costs and improve your marketing.
Unlike conventional phone systems, virtual phone numbers give businesses the power of text marketing. With group broadcast, for example, you can send marketing messages to groups of customers, which will cut down your costs and improve efficiency.
Traditional phone systems are also inflexible. Other than limiting you to a device or location, they also make it difficult to scale. As your business grows, you would need to give business phone access to more employees. With conventional phones, this means getting new devices and SIMs and waiting for their installation.
With a virtual number, you can easily add new team members through your dashboard. Even remote employees can be instantly added and given the necessary access and features. Some providers allow you to share your virtual numbers. All these significantly improve collaboration.
There are three kinds of virtual phone numbers that businesses can use:
Local numbers: These are based in certain localities and come with area codes. These are helpful if you want to associate your business with a geographical area to gain your customer’s trust.
👉 Find out more about the pros and cons of using local phone numbers for business.
Toll-free numbers: These start with certain codes and allow people to call them without having to pay any fees. You can use them for customer service or in marketing campaigns to generate leads.
👉 A whistle-stop guide to toll-free numbers.
Vanity numbers: You can get unique and memorable numbers like 1-800-AUTO to get a greater recall for your business.
You can also port your number. Some virtual number providers also allow you to carry your existing number. This way, you don’t have to spend resources on redesigning your marketing collateral to inform your customers of your new number.
👉 Everything you need to know about number porting.
Why are freelancers, sole traders, and businesses of all sizes ditching their landlines and shifting to virtual phone numbers? Because they provide these demonstrable benefits:
A traditional phone system requires devices, additional hardware and a physical network. Even if you use mobile phones for business, you need separate SIMs or devices. All these are expensive and cumbersome. Plus, in the case of a PBX, you need to have trained staff to maintain the system.
A virtual phone number is like any other app that you can download on your smartphone, laptop, tablet or VoIP-enabled device. They’re exceptionally easy to set up and you don’t need anyone from the provider to get started. If you want a separate number for customer care, you can have one in minutes.
Conventional phone systems are expensive to own and maintain. Along with the devices and hardware, you have to spend on maintenance. Virtual phone numbers don’t require additional devices, making them extremely cost-effective, especially for small businesses, startups and freelancers.
The operational costs are also low because virtual numbers have lower rates. By shifting to a virtual phone number, you will make significant savings if your business involves long-distance or international calls. Plus, you can add or remove features with ease and don’t have to pay for functionalities you don’t need.
One of the biggest advantages of virtual phone numbers is that they help unify your business communication. All your employees, no matter where they are, can use the same number. This creates the impression of a unified office to customers and clients in the age of remote work.
You can set up your text marketing from your virtual phone number and monitor it. Virtual phone numbers also provide actionable insights that can help you improve crucial areas. So, from the same application, you can run a marketing campaign, field customer calls and improve collaboration.
The first thing you’ll notice when you start using a virtual phone number for business is that it gives you the freedom to take calls from anywhere. You could be in the office, at home or anywhere else. As long as you have a reliable internet connection, you will be accessible to your customers and team members.
Why is this increased mobility important? With remote and hybrid work getting regularised, your distributed team can function as a cohesive unit. Secondly, if you’re a digital-first business, you may not need an office if you can unify work and communication. Finally, it’s easier to hire people when your system is remote-friendly.
When starting a business, you should have a clear idea about the number of phone lines you need. Similarly, before expanding your small business, you may not think much about the additional lines your business will require. When you do need an additional number, the process will be significantly easier if you have a virtual phone number.
There’s no need to buy additional devices and hardware and worry about their installation. You can effortlessly get a new number through your dashboard or by upgrading your plan. This makes it easy to add remote employees and give them the features they will require.
Traditional phone systems come with limited functionalities. You may not realise the need for additional features if you have previously been tied to a business landline or mobile phone. It’s only when you shift to a virtual phone number do you discover the many tools it can provide.
If you’ve been using your personal number for work, a virtual number gives you a dedicated number that you can use for business calls and messages. This separates work and personal communication and improves your digital security. You also get contact organisation, auto-reply, call waiting, call forwarding, group broadcast and number sharing. All these will enhance your business communication and improve productivity.
To empower employees, companies are increasingly shifting to BYOD or Bring Your Own Device policies. This makes communication easier for employees since they can work on devices they’re comfortable with and the organisation doesn’t have to buy new devices. Virtual phone numbers are well-suited for this change since they can work on any device.
When an employee joins an organisation, all it has to do is give them a new virtual number and access to the system. Their phone expenses can be easily tracked and there’s little need to submit bills for reimbursement. Similarly, when they leave, the company can effortlessly remove them from the system and revoke their access.
Does it mean that virtual numbers have no disadvantages? No, as with any technology, there are certain issues that you should be aware of.
There are two primary disadvantages of virtual phone numbers. One is related to infrastructure and the other to usage.
The quality of your calls will depend on your internet connection. If it’s weak, you may experience dropped calls. If there is congestion in the network, there will be a delay in the transmission and unpacking of digital packets, which can create latency and jitter. So, you need to have a reliable internet connection to use your virtual number.
Put simply, with a virtual phone number, you’re constantly available. Whether you’re home or in the office, you will be reachable. This can distort work-life balance unless you set working hours for your business and activate auto-reply for the times when you can’t take calls.
The features you need from a virtual phone number should serve your business interests. What you want are tools that will improve your business operations and not a set of challenging features that will make it more complex. But irrespective of the sector you operate in, your virtual number should have the following features.
Contact organisation: To separate work and personal lives, you need to organise your contacts separately. This will make it easier to fetch their calls and messages.
Auto-reply: Missed calls can cost you customers and revenue. But not if you send pre-written texts by setting up an auto-reply. This also allows you to separate work and personal lives.
Call forwarding: Direct an incoming call to another number with call forwarding if you’re busy with a call. This way, your customers can always find a team member to address their problems.
Voicemail: Callers should have the option to leave a voicemail. Some virtual phone providers will transcribe the voicemail and send it to you as a text or email.
Number sharing: This feature allows your team to share their virtual phone numbers. If one team member cannot take a call, another one can step in without causing any interruption to customer service or client management.
Text marketing: All virtual phone numbers give you basic functionalities. But to improve customer acquisition and engagement, you should look for providers who will offer you enhanced messaging.
A smart way to analyse technology, product or service is to find out if it has advanced over time. Unlike traditional phone systems, virtual phone numbers have constantly evolved to make themselves more customer-friendly, flexible and cost-effective.
They were dependent on devices. In the initial stages, if you had to get a virtual number, you had to get a VoIP-enabled device. This was an expensive proposition, especially for small businesses. But soon, like most technologies, virtual phones also migrated to the cloud.
Now they’re device-independent. You can download a VoIP provider’s app and quickly get a virtual phone number. Just like an instant messaging app, you can download it and use it on any connected device. This has increased the accessibility, speed, and flexibility of virtual phone numbers.
Some are for the big guys… VoIP providers like Cisco and Avaya serve medium and large enterprises. They have advanced features such as contact centre support and real-time sentiment analysis that customer service representatives handling hundreds of calls can use.
…while some focus on small businesses. Chalkboard is popular among small businesses, startups, freelancers and sole traders because the app has everything they need at affordable fees. There are no complex and binding contracts or challenging features that might confound smaller teams. It’s VoIP, made simple and efficient.
Before selecting a virtual phone number, it will help to have clarity on your communication needs.
How many calls do you receive and make in a day?
Do you plan to launch a product?
Do you make long-distance or international calls?
Are you opening a new office and will you need a local number for that?
Do you need text marketing to improve your customer engagement?
Do you need a new number for your marketing campaign?
Once you know your needs, keep in mind the following factors when choosing a virtual phone number.
Ease of set up and use: Make sure that it’s easy to set up and use. You shouldn’t have to call IT personnel or the VoIP provider to get started or add or remove features.
Pricing: The virtual number should deliver value for money. You should have a reasonably priced plan that suits your usage and only have to pay for the features you need.
Customer support: Your virtual number should have dedicated customer support. There might be service interruptions if you have to turn to online forums for answers.
If you decide to get a virtual phone number, the first question to consider is whether you want a local number, toll-free number or vanity number. Your communication and marketing requirements will help answer that question.
Remember that some virtual number providers will also let you port your number. If your customers are familiar with your number and changing it would be expensive, this could be the right option for you.
There are free virtual phone numbers like Google Voice. But these don’t come with business features. They’re also notorious for their less-than-helpful customer support.
If you already have a VoIP system, you can get a virtual phone number added to your package. Or you could get a VoIP phone with a virtual number and a subscription plan. But the easiest way is to simply buy a virtual number from any of the top providers.
For example, with Chalkboard, all you have to do is download the app, register a new account and you’ll get a second number within minutes – all without having to invest in a new device or hardware.
There are several virtual phone numbers either built for medium and large enterprises or regular users. But there’s only one designed with the singular purpose of helping small businesses, startups and freelancers. That’s Chalkboard.
Like other virtual phone numbers, you get a second line for work with Chalkboard but that’s only the beginning. You get to organise your contacts and their communication, which will make it easier to find their calls and messages. This helps separate your work and personal lives.
You can also share your virtual number. This helps improve customer service and collaboration. Chalkboard comes with group broadcast and advanced chat to magnify your marketing.
In short, Chalkboard has everything you want from a virtual phone number and much more. Plus, it’s affordable and has no binding contracts.
Let this virtual number help grow your business.
Some providers like Google Voice have free virtual phone numbers in select markets. Others have free virtual numbers for individuals but paid ones for companies.
A virtual phone number saves you money, enables you to use your phone from anywhere, comes with tools to grow your business, helps separate your work and personal lives and is easy to monitor and manage.
Yes, you can have multiple virtual phone numbers.
You can port your current phone number. Although Chalkboard never charges for number porting, please be aware that some providers may charge you a nominal fee for porting.
Yes, top-rated virtual number providers will allow you to separate your business and personal contacts. This should be an important factor in your search for virtual numbers.
The best virtual phone numbers will offer you a free trial. This helps you try out the features and see if the app works seamlessly on all devices.
All information provided in this guide was believed to be correct at the time of publishing. However, please be aware of future changes.
A better work-life balance and added privacy are only some reasons why business owners should get a second phone line