A private branch exchange (PBX) is a telephone exchange or switching system that serves a private organization and permits sharing of central office trunks between internally installed telephones, and provides intercommunication between those internal telephones within the organization without the use of external lines.
The central office lines provide connections to the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and the concentration aspect of a PBX permits the shared use of these lines between all stations in the organization.
Its intercommunication ability allows two or more stations to directly connect while not using the public switched telephone network. This method reduces the number of lines needed from the organization to the public switched telephone network.
Each device connected to the PBX, such as a telephone, a fax machine, or a computer modem, is referred to as an extension and has a designated extension telephone number that may or may not be mapped automatically to the numbering plan of the central office and the telephone number block allocated to the PBX.
Initially, PBX systems offered the primary advantage of cost savings for internal phone calls: handling the circuit switching locally reduced charges for telephone service via central-office lines.
As PBX systems gained popularity, they began to feature services not available in the public network, such as hunt groups, call forwarding, and extension dialing. From the 1960s, a simulated PBX, known as Centrex, provided similar features from the central telephone exchange.
A PBX differs from a key telephone system (KTS) in that users of a key system manually select their own outgoing lines on special telephone sets that control buttons for this purpose, while PBXs select the outgoing line automatically.
The telephone sets connected to a PBX do not normally have special keys for central-office line control, but it is not uncommon for key systems to be connected to a PBX to extend its services.
A PBX, in contrast to a key system, employs an organizational numbering plan for its stations. In addition, a dial plan determines whether additional digit sequences must be prefixed when dialing to obtain access to a central office trunk. Modern number-analysis systems permit users to dial internal and external telephone numbers without special codes to distinguish the intended destination.