What is a softphone?
We discuss how a VoIP phone system on a computer works using a softphone.
For most of us, the traditional method of communication (since forever) has been the desktop phone. We’re all used to seeing some sort of phone sitting on a desk at work, or our counter at home, or something slightly phone looking sitting on the conference table at the office.
Traditional ‘phones’ have customarily been the easiest and quickest way to make and receive calls, but ever since mobile devices starting appearing around 30 years ago, that’s been slowly changing.
We’ve found that many of our clients are increasingly looking more and more “mobile friendly” requirements. Despite the proven track record traditional phones have, folks are looking for more mobile, and flexible, communication methods. Simply put, people are wanting to make sure they can use their phone, regardless of location or hardware available.
The issue traditionally has been that folks had several phone numbers & phones, meaning their customers or clients need to keep a couple of phone numbers handy in order to get in touch. Since folks used to have office phones, pagers, 800 numbers, and cells, this was tricky. People are looking to avoid that, and stay connected, no matter what the device.
Fortunately, if you’re using a VoIP phone system at your business or office, you’re in luck. A concept called “Unified Communication” has taken hold, which is best described as technology that unifies your communication platforms. It more or less means you can simplify how you communicate, and how your customers get in touch with you.
The death of the desktop & traditional business phones.
How many of you are reading this right now on a tablet, smart phone, or laptop? For many folks, you’re constantly connected, whether you’re in the office, commuting on a train, or working from home. So, that means the concept of a desktop, or even a traditional work environment, is becoming a thing of the past.
Diane Myers of Infonetics Research, an analyst at a Boston based telecommunications research firm had this to say about the subject:
The notion of a one-to-one relationship between a workplace phone extension and a hard phone in a cubicle will become a thing of the past.
So while many institutions will most likely stay with a single device on the desk for the short term, it’s very plausible that a tablet or smart phone could one day become the only equipment an IT department issues to their employees.
That’s great, but people are frequently overlooking a huge asset with VoIP phone systems that few really take advantage of.
Computers, VoIP Phone Systems, and Softphones
Whether you’re sitting at a desktop computer or on a laptop, you have an incredible piece of hardware sitting in front of you. Unless you’re using an old relic from the last 90’s, chances are pretty good your computer can easily stand in for a phone.
What I’m referring to is a piece of software that gets installed on your computer called a ‘softphone’. A softphone is a software program for making phone calls through a VoIP service using a computer or mobile device, rather than using hardware (such as a traditional desktop phone).
Just like looking at your smartphone, or a regular old desktop phone, softphones are designed to function like a traditional phone with buttons and a display panel. Imagine if you just took the interface you were already familiar with using on a phone, and it was digitally recreated on a computer screen.
How does this work? Pretty simple actually. If you already know what a VoIP phone system is, then the concept of a phone on your computer should make a lot of sense. In short, your voice is turned into data, sent across the internet, and ties into a telephone exchange, enabling you to connect with any phone anywhere in the world.
The benefits of using a smartphone.
As times continue to change, workforces get younger and younger, and the concept of a physical office building, with physical desks, and physical phones goes out the window, using a smartphone not only is a good idea, it makes good business sense.
Softphones are great for modern work environments.
For instance, the emergence of millennials entering the workforce has placed certain expectations on what the culture of a business is supposed to be. Stiff, traditional office setups are being passed over for more open, flexible, and communication friendly environments.
It is very common for companies to have employees who are rarely present at their actual desks, shuffling around to different work stations and buildings. Until now, they have given out their personal cell numbers, or were issued a company provided mobile device. We’ve heard from numerous customers that this had caused headaches for the employee, very high reimbursement cell phone costs to the business, and the added stress of being in charge of handling a bunch of mobile accounts with various providers.
With a softphone, employees can conveniently make or receive calls without clients seeing their personal phone numbers.
Staying in touch while traveling is no longer an issue.
Additionally, the age of globalization has also changed the way we view the common 9-5 desk job. If you’re traveling for work, roaming fees and costly calling cards can be a nightmare, especially if you’re overseas. Keeping in touch with your business while traveling and depending on traditional communication methods can be a costly, confusing, and expensive issue.
With softphones, as long as you have access to the internet, you can stay connected no matter where we are in the world.
Added functionality makes softphones a smart choice.
Most softphone applications also include various elements to them that give us increased value when compared to traditional communication methods.
For example, many softphones feature a built in instant messaging feature that allows you to easily message any department without making a time consuming phone call.
Also, inbound & outbound call logs with caller ID can provide you with a visual context of daily activity just like you would see on an iPhone. Coupled with analytics, reports, and various monitoring platforms available to voice customers, and you can easily keep track of a lot of aspects of your telephone system.
Another great benefit softphones offer is visual voicemail. It’s like treating your calls like an email browser. You can see who called you, when they called, how long the message is, and listen to it without having to go through a multi-level prompt.
And lastly, video calling and multi-party conferencing can also be done using softphone, usually with no additional costs.
What are the requirements to use a softphone?
You’ll obviously need VoIP service and a computer because without it, none of this is possible.
You’ll need a good, steady broadband connection. Something like DSL or cable works fine.
You’ll also need a way to hear & be heard on the computer. If you’re on a laptop, your mic & speakers should work fine. If you’re on a desktop, you’ll need something to plug in, like a headset.
Even if you don’t need a headset because you’re on a laptop, we still recommend using one for better overall call quality.
And that’s it! If you have all that you can be up and running in no time.
Why shouldn’t I use a softphone?
For anyone who’s not very technologically savvy, it can be a bit of a burden.
Additionally softphones use the same internet signal as your device is using, so it most likely won’t be getting 100% of the signal, and your call won’t match the clarity of a traditional phone call. If you’re using Wi-Fi as opposed to being hard-wired, you might experience some call quality issues as well.
International calling, while great in theory, can be buggy sometimes. We’ve found folks can experience a delay in talking & hearing the other end, resulting in a less than ideal communication method. If you’re calling into an important meeting, or need to hear every word, this might not be your best bet.
The future of softphones.
Overtime we’ve seen, and will continue to see, a steady rise in the use of softphones in companies of all shapes and sizes.
The cost-effectiveness paired with ease of use continues to make it a no brainer for the forward thinking work force.
Features such as Multi party video conferencing, phone book, visual voice mail, audio and video calling, and recording have made enterprise companies take notice around the globe.
Many vendors are saying it’s time to replace our old desk phones with softphone applications on mobile devices, but will we do it? If technology trends have told us anything, the needle is pointing towards mobility and innovation.
By Vincent Finaldi
Vice-President, Tele-Data Solutions
E-mail: [email protected] | Direct Line: (908) 378-1218
What brings me satisfaction is meeting with New Jersey–based businesses and genuinely helping them solve communication and business problems. As someone who has lived in New Jersey my entire life, I love working and playing here. I live in Morristown with my wife, Lisa, and root for the New York Giants.