With more and more voice communications being carried over through the internet, softphones are becoming more and more popular. Because they are actually just software which can be installed on basically any computing device, these systems represent an efficient alternative to traditional desk phones. But there’s more benefits to these systems. However, they also have their technical limitations, which have to be looked into, as the cost factor should be. Here’s a quick roundup of what prospective business users need to know about these new kind of phones.
These items are software products turning any internet-connected device into a phone, which means an infrastructure and peripherals are needed to fully enjoy the benefits of such systems.
A softphone is a software-based system capable of turning any internet-connected computing device into a telephone. The immediate example is a PC running Skype or comparable products. However, “hard”, physical phones are manufactured to work with such software, and only need to be plugged into the internet to work. Even traditional phones can be connected to the program with an adaptor. All these are also softphones. On a smartphone, and when calls are routed over the internet rather than through the cellular network, the concept also applies.
How they work
Since they are mostly used with a PC or tablet however, most applications of this type require the use of a microphone and speaker, or combination microphone and headphone headsets. They also need a fast and reliable internet connection so that conversations can be intelligible, but we’ll get back to this further. Usually connected within a private or enterprise network via VPN, these phones now also use Sip trunking to deliver quality calls outside these networks.
Pricing of softphones usually depend on the number of users - the higher the number, the lower the cost per user. For example, Avaya’s advanced SBCE system with Sip trunking support costs around £60 per user, up to 500 users. ShoreTel Mobility’s baseline appliance follows a different pricing system and the version supporting 100 concurrent costs about £3,500; the version supporting up to 5,000 users more than £10,000.
Benefits and limitations
These systems offer unique unified communications capabilities both at the office and on the go - but users may have to really beef up their basic infrastructures to enjoy all related benefits. Softphones deliver unique media blending capabilities on the go...
The first main benefit of these phones is taking advantage of cheap, if not totally free call rates within the network and on international calls. But media blending, unified communications capabilities have a fantastic impact on productivity: users can make calls, share documents, use video conferencing and collaborative software, access server-based files, all at the same time, on the same device. And they can even do it on the go, as more and more tablet optimised solutions arrive in the market.
This represent significant savings for companies with a lot of employees on the go, as compared with the use of cellular phones.
... but require top infrastructure to deliver
The flip side of the coin is that, even more so than with IP PBX, these systems require top-of-the-line internet connectivity. The reason is that prioritisation does not easily work with these communications, which cannot really be distinguished from other data activities on the internet. Networks can become easily saturated when too many users in the same network use these phones instead of their desk phones. A typical softphone installation will require a lot of network scaling.