India Virtual Phone Numbers
A virtual telephone number is a phone number used specifically as a forwarding number. Incoming calls to the virtual number are automatically forwarded on to another telephone number that you designate. Virtual numbers are often paired with a VoIP phone service to make cheap international phone calls.
Virtual numbers are also known as DID or direct inward dialing numbers.
The incoming calls can be forwarded any distance (locally, nationally, or internationally) and to any type of receiving number (landline, mobile, fax).
For the calling party, the virtual number looks like any other normal phone number. It is impossible to tell by looking at the number that it is virtual - and the subsequent routing of the call overseas or to wherever is completely transparent to them.
There are two basic types of virtual phone numbers: virtual local numbers and virtual toll-free numbers. Each forwards incoming calls in a similar manner, but number availability and cost may differ significantly. Either type can be forwarded to a VoIP service.
For the caller, the cost of the call is just the part associated with reaching the virtual local or toll-free number. In many cases, this is going to be free.
For the virtual number subscriber, the cost includes the monthly subscription fee for maintaining the number - plus any cost associated with the 'forwarded' part of the call (i.e., the calling cost for the distance from the virtual number to the designated final number the calls are being forwarded to).
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Virtual Phone Numbers in India
Currently, India limits the use of virtual phone numbers - or more specifically, India limits the use of VoIP virtual phone numbers. Toll-free virtual numbers that usually operate on the PSTN are allowed, but are typically not what our visitors are looking for (more on toll-free virtual numbers below).
The main issue is India's restriction against allowing voice calls to cross from the regular phone network (PSTN) to the internet - or vice versa - within the country.
Since this crossover is essential to how VoIP virtual numbers are able to save people money, it is a fatal problem.
As a result, virtual local telephone numbers are not available in India at this time. One company tried in 2008, but their numbers were shut down within a few months.
Note that this restriction applies to situations where virtual number calls crossover from one network to another within India, but it does not apply to virtual numbers where the crossover happens outside the country and/or through authorized international gateways serving India. In other words, as described below, you can find VoIP virtual numbers in other countries and route inbound international calls to India, but you cannot do the reverse - and you cannot use a virtual number for domestic long distance or other purposes where a crossover occurs within India.
Note that if you are prepared to pay US$100+ per month, you can obtain toll-free virtual telephone numbers that work on the regular phone network (PSTN) and that don't crossover (or at least don't crossover in India). Such numbers are available from companies like TollFreeForwarding.com.
For the future, strong demand combined with changing regulatory policies could mean that VoIP virtual phone numbers will become more widely. Both regulatory groups have endorsed the idea to some degree, but there is a considerable distance to go before commercial implementation happens by companies.
Virtual Phone Numbers for India International Calling
In international calling, virtual telephone numbers are used to sharply reduce call costs for the calling party.
To do this, a virtual number is set up in the caller's country. When calls come into the number, they are then routed to a destination country and answered either using a regular landline or mobile phone - or using a PC or smartphone equipped with VoIP software.
The monthly subscription fee for the virtual number, plus the cost of the long haul portion of the call is borne by the called party (not the caller). The caller bears only the cost for reaching the virtual number - and normally this is either a local or toll-free call.
Typically, international virtual numbers are set up using VoIP because it is low cost. But, an international virtual number can also be done using regular PSTN phone service as well, although the cost will be higher.
For India international calling, virtual numbers could, in theory, be set up at either end of international calls to India. In other words, they could be set up in India for outbound calls to other countries - or they could be set up in other countries to handle inbound calls to India. We discuss both options below.
Virtual Phone Numbers for Inbound International Calls to India
While there are restrictions on using VoIP virtual numbers within India proper, these rules do not preclude usage of VoIP virtual numbers in other countries to route calls to India. Such numbers are not subject to India regulation, but rather the applicable regulations in the originating country.
As a result, you can purchase VoIP virtual numbers for inbound international calls to India in any country that allows them, including the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada, and Hong Kong, among other countries.
You can, in fact, set up virtual numbers in more than one country if you have such a need. So, for instance, you could set up virtual numbers in both the UK and the US to allow friends and family in each location to call you without incurring any long distance charges.
To use your virtual number, you will need to receive incoming calls on a PC or a smartphone where you have set up VoIP software (aka a 'VoIP client') from your provider. This same VoIP client can, as well, be used for other PC-to-PC VoIP connections within India and/or internationally that don't involve the virtual number.
Due to India's restrictions on crossing between the PSTN and the internet, incoming calls cannot be received in India on regular phone lines - at least not without special handling and extra expense.
VoIP virtual numbers for inbound international calls to India are available from any number of international VoIP service providers. One popular service that offers them is Skype which offers virtual numbers in over 20 countries. Monthly subscription prices may vary by country and provider, but typically are $10 - $20 USD per month.
Since VoIP providers each work in their own ways, please be certain your provider offers virtual numbers in precisely the location(s) you want.
If you are unable to secure a VoIP virtual number in your target country, you could instead purchase a regular PSTN virtual number that works on the regular phone network. These kinds of numbers are available in many countries, but the cost will generally be higher than for VoIP numbers - both for the monthly telephone line cost and for the actual call costs. One vendor that offers these types of numbers is TollFreeForwarding.com.
Virtual Phone Numbers for Outbound International Calls from India
Due to regulatory constraints within India, one cannot presently purchase a VoIP virtual number for outbound international calling from India to other countries. This is because such numbers would violate rules that prohibit voice calls from crossing over from the regular phone network (PSTN) to the internet.
At some point this regulation may be changed, but for the time being, there are no VoIP virtual numbers available for this purpose.
In fact, recently a company called Jaxtr, a leading international VoIP provider, had put some VoIP virtual numbers in place for this purpose. However, after several months, the numbers were shut down by the regulators. Read more: Jaxtr India Numbers Shutdown (Illegal Usage). It is unlikely any company will try again until the regulators fully clear such services for the market.
As above, in lieu of a VoIP virtual number, one could instead purchase a virtual number on the PSTN (regular phone network) from a company like TollFreeForwarding.com. TollFreeForwarding.com sells '800' numbers in a variety of countries. But at ~$100 per month or so, such service is considerably more expensive than the VoIP equivalent and you will incur the full cost of all international toll charges which probably are also carried over regular phone lines at higher cost than VoIP.
What is a 'Virtual Phone Number'?
A virtual telephone number is a phone number used to specifically for the purpose of forwarding incoming phone calls onward to another telephone number.
Subject to local laws and regulations, virtual telephone numbers are available for purchase in many countries. They are generally used by individuals or businesses as a mechanism for forwarding incoming local phone calls to a destination number in a different country - usually using a VoIP internet telephony service to save money on long distance toll charges.
Virtual numbers are sought after because they can enable individuals or business to reduce international or domestic long distance calling costs.
Typically, virtual numbers are simply regular local telephone numbers used specifically for purposes of forwarding calls to another location, often in another country. Virtual numbers are often used in conjunction with a VoIP phone service to allow inbound calls from regular phones.
Toll-free numbers can also be used for as virtual phone numbers. However, while toll-free numbers are more widely available, they are also generally more expensive than regular local telephone numbers. As a result, using a toll-free number as virtual number will usually not save money - at least not for individuals.
While virtual numbers are available in many countries, they are either not allowed or are not widely available in many others.
Where there are limitations, countries are usually trying to protect incumbent telephone companies from low-cost VoIP competitors.
As mentioned, virtual phone numbers come in two flavors:
Both types of virtual numbers work the same way, except for 2 main differences.
One difference is that virtual local numbers are free to the inbound caller only from the local service area of that number. Callers from outside the local service area must pay any long-distance charges themselves. For example, if you had a local virtual number for India, then callers from in and around the India service area would be able to call that number for free.
In contrast, with a toll-free number normally the inbound caller pays nothing regardless of where they are calling from in the country - any long distance charges are passed along to the toll-free number subscriber.
The second main difference is the monthly cost of a local vs. toll-free virtual numbers to the virtual number owner / subscriber. Generally, toll-free virtual numbers are considerably more expensive than local virtual phone numbers. Not only does the toll-free number have a higher baseline monthly subscription cost, but also the toll-free subscriber must pay any charges related to long distance inbound calls to the number.
As a result, toll-free virtual numbers are generally not a viable cost saving solution for individuals, though they may work well for businesses.
For most readers of this site who are looking to make cheap international phone calls, the most important use for virtual numbers is in relation to VoIP phone service. Virtual numbers allow people to call you on your VoIP service from regular landline and mobile phones.
How Virtual Phone Numbers Work
Virtual numbers are used to forward incoming calls to another location - usually in another part of the country or in another country altogether.
Generally, the incoming calls to the virtual number are forwarded to their destination via VoIP internet calling technology. This allows either the inbound caller or the virtual number subscriber or both to reduce the cost of long-distance domestic and/or international calls.
Unlike normal phone numbers, virtual telephone numbers generally do not have an actual physical landline or mobile phone assigned to them. Meaning that they don't actually ring anywhere.
Instead, virtual phone numbers are used as a mechanism to get the incoming call onto the telephone network - sort of like an entry ramp onto a roadway. Once 'received', the calls are then immediately routed forward to the end destination telephone.
Virtual telephone numbers can be forwarded to any type of end destination phone number - a mobile phone, a landline phone, a VoIP phone number, a fax machine, etc. The end destination number can be domestic or overseas.
Typically the end destination number can be easily changed using an account management interface. The owner of the virtual number simply specifies what end destination number they want to use - whether for a few hours or forever.
Virtual numbers can be used for many purposes. Some examples:
Assuming they are available, virtual phone numbers work much like a regular landline or toll-free phone number in terms of billing and payment. You subscribe to the service and then pay a monthly fee. The exact cost is determined by prevailing rates in the country, the provider, and the calling plan you select.
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