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What Are Virtual Phone Numbers?

by Joe DeBari

What are virtual phone numbers? They'll help you meet the needs of your staff members while also extending the reach of your business.

Many cloud phone system providers advertise virtual phone numbers as part of their feature platforms. We’re all familiar with regular phone numbers and how they work, but what exactly makes a phone number “virtual”?

The short answer to “what are virtual phone numbers” is simply this: Numbers that are used to transmit and receive calls over the internet rather than strictly through copper telephone wires. But let’s take a closer look at how this virtual way of communicating can help you meet the needs of your staff, while also extending the reach of your business.

Route Your Business Calls Anywhere

In the past, a phone number was provisioned to work over a single phone line, and that line was physically connected from the phone company to the destination (a home or business office) by telephone wires. Any calls made to that phone number could only be sent to that specific destination. And in the case of a business phone number, the business would have phone system hardware, such as a private branch exchange (PBX) in the office to configure call routing rules, extensions, voicemail, etc.

Because a virtual phone number isn’t anchored to a specific phone device, phone line or location, a business has greater control and flexibility in how it receives calls. When used with cloud phone systems or Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) providers, virtual numbers can be directly purchased from the provider and managed via the web in the service’s admin portal. This allows businesses to set the destination of a virtual phone number and permanently or temporarily change it in real-time without having to wait for the service provider’s technician to get around to the task.

Unite Sales or Support Departments in Different Cities or States

For businesses that have multiple office branches, a virtual phone number can seamlessly unite staff working in different locations. Instead of incoming calls ringing phones in only one office, a virtual number can be set up to ring phones across separate offices.

How? If you have sales reps in different cities, make the destination of the virtual number a call queue or ring group. Incoming calls to the virtual number will then ring the phones of all reps who are a part of the queue or group—simultaneously or sequentially, depending on the ring strategy that you have set up. Any rep can then answer the call, no matter which office she is in.

Use a Local Phone Number in an Area Where You Have Many Customers

If your business has many clients or customers located in a different city or state, let them call you by dialing a local phone number in their own area code. Virtual numbers will help you establish a presence in areas where you’re not physically located while also reducing the cost of your incoming calls. Just purchase the phone number from your provider (OnSIP has a pool of phone numbers available to customers for immediate activation) and assign it to ring phones in your office— even if your office isn't in the geographic area serviced by the number’s area code!

Measure the Performance of Sales, Marketing, or Advertising Campaigns

When running sales or advertising campaigns, it’s imperative that you measure the overall health and success of the efforts. Rather than funneling all calls through your main business line, assign a unique virtual phone number to each campaign that you are running. That way, you’ll know which campaign moved someone to call just by the number that was dialed. And when the campaign is over, download and review your business’s past call detail records to see how many calls came into those dedicated virtual numbers—it can be one of the data points that help you evaluate how successful your efforts were.

Enable Remote Working and Geographic Flexibility

You can also use virtual phone numbers to support remote working and business travel. Perhaps your business’s owner wants to be reachable on his cell phone while away from the office but doesn’t want to give out his or her personal cell number to the entire company. By using a virtual phone number and setting its destination to his cell phone, staff can reach the owner simply by dialing the virtual number.

What Are Virtual Phone Numbers: Your Choice of Providers

Many VoIP providers offer this communication feature, either as a part of a larger PBX phone system or as a key component of a lightweight phone system.

Google Voice

Virtual numbers are at the heart of Google Voice's operations. Google Voice allows United States residents to choose a local phone number for voice service. This phone number forwards all calls to devices that the user has specified, such as cell phones, computers, and the Google Voice web portal.

Google Voice has limited PBX functionality. The Starter business plan comes with voicemail transcription, text messaging, conference calling, and call transcription. It lacks Enhanced 911 support unless you have Voice for Google Workspace accounts managed by your work or school. If you want more than 10 users, a SIP link, or multi-level auto attendants, you’ll need to subscribe to a Standard or Premier plan.

Google Voice works best for small businesses that want to retain a professional image by having a business phone number. However, if you want to do a lot more than make/take basic voice calls, look for a hosted VoIP solution.


MightyCall bills itself as a virtual phone system that levels the playing field between corporations and small businesses. Their Business plan requires a minimum of three users. Each user gets two virtual business phone numbers, including local, toll-free, and vanity options. A perk of MightyCall is that users don't have to purchase new hardware to use the service. A free softphone app for desktop and mobile is included, and the service also works with landline and home phone devices.

MightyCall has more phone system functionality than Google Voice’s Starter plan. You get auto attendants, employee extensions, caller ID, call recording and call queues. However, the service is not as robust as full business phone systems, lacking video calls and other leading UC features. There's also a limit to the number of virtual telephone numbers you can assign to each phone system, unless you move up to their Enterprise plan.

MightyCall can function as a step up from Google Voice for small businesses who want a phone system package with unlimited texting, as well as access to multiple virtual numbers, including vanity and toll-free numbers.


OnSIP is a hosted VoIP and communications platform as a service provider (CPaaS) that offers feature-rich business phone systems for small and medium-sized businesses. Virtual phone numbers are just one of many calling features the service offers. These virtual numbers can forward calls to mobile phones, landline phones, IP phones, computers, or any device that's been assigned a phone number.

Screenshot of the OnSIP web browser app

OnSIP has no limits for the number of virtual numbers you can create. Besides virtual phone number support, the platform is already primed for remote working, with video conferencing and high-quality service and geographic flexibility, including softphones and webphones that allow you to work from anywhere. OnSIP does not currently have SMS support, so those looking for a text-based forwarding service may have to look elsewhere. The service is a good choice for those who want a full SMB phone system with the ability to customize either now or down the road, as their business grows.

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8x8 virtual numbers are available in more than 55 countries, including the U.S. and Canada. This allows for international callers to significantly reduce their long-distance phone bills. The calls can be forwarded to IP phones, computers, and mobile devices.

If you have a significant presence in other countries, this option might be a good fit. Keep in mind, 8x8 is a full business phone system solution for SMBs and enterprises. If you're a small business that wants a business phone number, but not a lot of robust features, you might be better served by Google Voice.

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