Do “virtual number” and “virtual extension” mean the same thing? The simple answer is yes. The main difference between the two is the context in which they are used.
“Virtual,” in the context of VoIP, means that the call is forwarded to another phone. You dial one number, and another phone rings. From a purely technical standpoint, every VoIP number is a virtual number. The phone number forwards to an IP address, which is that of your phone. But, in layman’s terms, you associate, a phone with a phone number. For purposes of this article, we can call this a “dedicated” phone, or one that is “tied to” a particular device.
A virtual phone number refers to a phone number in a different area code, or even a different country, that causes your phone to ring, even though you associate it with a local number. In VoIP, all toll free numbers are virtual numbers; calling the 800 number forwards automatically to your main office line, and you are charged by your provider the agreed-upon rate for each minute. You can set your outgoing caller ID to display an 800 number, but no 800 number can actually make outbound calls. In either a residential or business setting, a virtual number is not associated with a phone.
The same can be said for a virtual extension. Virtual extensions also forward to another number, or to a voice mailbox, or to a recorded message. In any of these cases, the number is not dedicated to one phone. When a call comes in to a virtual number, the call may be automatically forwarded to your cell phone; when a caller calls your office and presses your extension, the call can also be sent to your cell phone. For the inbound caller, though, he experiences just calling one office phone number.
To sum up, virtual extensions and virtual numbers do the same thing: forward a call to a phone that already has a phone number associated with it. In business, a virtual extension can forward anywhere, including multiple phones at call centers, or “dead end” extensions, such as voicemail boxes and messages, because there does not have to be a dedicated phone in the first place. In a residential setting, a virtual phone number can save friends and family members money by having them only pay local charges to reach phones far away. The only difference between a virtual number and a virtual extension is the context in which they are being marketed or used.