What is a Virtual Phone Number?
A virtual phone number is actually an ordinary phone number. You can use it to make and receive calls just like any other phone numbers.
People calling the number will not know that they are calling a virtual number.
In this article we will explain what a virtual number is, what different types there are and how you can use it for answering and making calls.
Virtual numbers can connect calls anywhere
Normal phone numbers are configured by the local phone company to connect incoming calls to physical phones connected to their network or to mobile phones that have SIM-cards registered with their mobile network.
This means that normal phone numbers are connected to something physical.
Virtual numbers on the other hand are not connected to anything physical.
The destination of incoming calls to a virtual phone number is configurable by the subscriber, allowing incoming calls to be answered with apps in a laptop or mobile – across the Internet.
Both normal numbers and virtual numbers support call forwarding. This means that incoming calls can be sent onward to some other phone number, anywhere on the planet.
There is usually an extra charge for the call forwarding – as the onward call is a second outbound call, that is bridged together with the incoming call.
What can a virtual number be used for?
You can use virtual numbers in many different ways. Here are some examples.
- International sales
Business can make themselves more easily available for customers in foreign countries. Showing a local number at the web site increases sales and reduces charge backs on credit cards.
- International consultants
Consultants working for customers in other countries, can have a local number in the city of the customer to make it super easy for the customer to reach them.
- Ad tracking
By showing different phone numbers in different ads, it is possible to track how efficient each ad is at driving sales.
- Family members abroad
Family members abroad can make themselves more easily available for family members at home by having a virtual number in their home country, forwarding calls to their mobile in the country they are in.
- Job applications
When applying for a job in another country, it may increase your chances of getting the job if you can include a local number in your CV – close to the company you want to work for – making it easy for them to contact you.
- Door bells
Door bells need to call a number when someone pushes the bell. By using a virtual number you get more flexibility of who to connect the call to.
If you are relocating to another city or country, it can be easier to get everything set up – from remote – if you have a local number for all the communication needed prior to your arrival.
Publish a virtual number instead of showing your real number. This allows you to shelter your privacy without exposing your real number to the world.
Different types of virtual numbers
All number types that you can find as regular numbers are also available as virtual numbers. Each number type is identified by an area code or a number prefix – such as Manhattan, New York, USA (212), Stockholm, Sweden (8), Toll free numbers in the US (800).
You can get geographical numbers that relate to a city, such as Stockholm (8) or Paris (9) – or a part of a city – such as Manhattan (212).
These numbers are recognized by local subscribers as ordinary local numbers and are cheap to call.
Earlier, every household had a number like this – but nowadays it is mainly local businesses that use these type of local numbers.
The numbers can normally be called from anywhere in the world.
National numbers are not related to any city or region, but only relate to a country.
These numbers are usually used by businesses that have customers all across a country.
In most cases, the price for calling National numbers is the same as for geographical numbers – but in some countries national numbers may be a slightly more expensive to call.
Some countries only have national numbers and no geographical numbers (like Denmark) while other only have geographical numbers but no national numbers (like the United States).
The numbers can generally be called from anywhere in the world.
Toll free numbers
Toll free numbers are generally free for the caller to call.
The cost of the call is instead paid by you – if you have a toll free number.
These type of numbers are usually used by companies that want to make it free for their customers to reach them.
The cost per minute for answering calls on toll free numbers varies a lot by country, and the numbers often have a higher monthly cost than geographical numbers. In some countries there can also be a significant initial cost for getting a toll free number.
Toll free numbers can generally only be called from within the same country.
Virtual mobile numbers come without a SIM card. This means that you cannot use them to receive or make regular mobile calls.
They can however be used in an app to make and receive calls across the Internet.
Virtual Mobile numbers are used mainly by companies for communication with customers.
Virtual mobile numbers may or may not support SMS.
Making calls with virtual phone numbers
Most providers of virtual phone numbers allow you to make calls with your virtual number.
Here are the different techniques available for making calls with virtual numbers.
Across the Internet
With this option your call travels across your Internet connection to the provider of the virtual phone number.
If the destination of your call is a regular phone number, the provider will connect your call onward onto the regular phone network to the number you dialed.
The person you call sees your virtual number, regardless of where in the world you are.
Calls can be made with an app of software across the Internet from a phone or laptop. Many providers provide you with proprietary apps to be used with their service for making and receiving calls.
Some providers also allow third party apps or physical desktop phones using standards such as SIP to be connected to their service. This is however error prone, since the standards are not always implemented in the same way. Firewalls and so called NATs can additionally cause calls or audio to fail.
There are many ways to set up call back calls, but the general principal is that the provider sets up a mobile call to you and to the phone number you want to call, and then bridges the calls together. You pay for two local calls – but usually make a saving by not having to pay for an international call.
The way it would normally work is that you in a mobile app select a contact or enter a phone number to call, and then press “Call”. The provider’s system would call you, and as soon as you answer the call, they would start a second outbound call to the phone number you wanted to call, and then bridge the two calls together automatically.
The person you call sees your virtual number, regardless where in the world you are.
With this approach, the provider’s mobile app would do the following after you enter a number or select a contact to call; The app would ask your mobile to make a regular mobile call to a local access number that the provider has in your country. As soon as the call gets connected, the provider would set up a second call onward to the phone number you wanted to call.
For you, it is like making a regular call. The person you call will see your virtual number.
You would pay your mobile provider for the local number -unless you have free minutes – and the virtual number provider for the other call to the destination number.
What does it cost to have a virtual number?
The cost of having a virtual phone number varies considerably from provider to provider. From a few dollars per month to tens of dollars per month.
Here are the general components that you need to consider.
Virtual number fees
- Number set up cost
Phone numbers may come with a setup charge which can range from a few to several hundred dollars. This is especially common with Toll free numbers which can be very expensive in some countries.
- Monthly cost
A monthly fee is common with most providers. In most cases you can get a lower monthly cost by paying for one or more years in advance. A limited set of providers offer you free numbers.
- Incoming cost per minute
Toll free numbers (free for the caller) usually come with a per-minute charge for the owner of the number. Some providers additionally charge a per minute fee for all incoming calls.
- Call set up charge
Some providers charge you a small fixed fee for each call you received.
- Call forwarding
Call forwarding to a mobile number or landline is usually charged extra per minute.
- Add on services
SMS and voice response may be included free or cost extra.
Are virtual phone numbers available in all countries?
Virtual phone numbers are available from many – but not all – countries. This is caused by local regulations prohibiting the connection of phone numbers to the Internet in some countries.
This is usually caused by governments wanting to protect the revenues of the local phone companies. In some cases, abuse of virtual phone numbers has also lead to bans.
Different regulations by country
Local laws are different from country to country. This means that virtual numbers in some countries only are available if you live in that country, while virtual numbers in other countries only may be used if you live in another country.
Local regulators also have different requirements on what type of documentation that is required to allow someone to have a local number. In some cases proof of identity and proof of local address is required. In other countries regulations are more relaxed,
From Sonetel you can get a Free forever virtual phone number – if you install the free Sonetel chat functionality at your web site.
Otherwise prices start from $1.79 per month.
Photos by Gabriel Gonzalez, whereslugo , Hannah Wei, Robin Noguier, Jorge Gardner and Gabriel Gonzalez on Unsplash