Softphones – that is, software programs that run on computers to let users make phone calls over IP links, rather than phone lines – can bring a lot of benefits. They can let you dial by clicking once rather than by pressing 10 or more keys. They can make spending money on a desk phone unnecessary. They can provide access to other computer-based communication methods including IM (instant messaging) and video. And they can of course help a company save money by avoiding the public telephone network.
But softphones are not ideal for every person in every situation. Whether you get one will depend a lot on what kind of work you do and where you do it.
A Growing Market
A new Frost & Sullivan report finds that softphone use in North America is growing rapidly. Sales rose to 416,000 units worth $18.9 million in 2007, a 30 percent increase in dollar terms over the previous year. In 2014, sales should reach 4.2 million units worth $135.1 million, according to research analyst Alaa Saayad. The percentage of the total IP-telephone market that softphones represent will increase from 5 percent to 20 percent in that time, Saayad added.
Who’s Using Softphones
Four categories of workers are most likely to end up with softphones, Saayed stated. The first is telecommuters who split their work time between home and the office. Softphones let them access corporate phone features even when they’re working from home. The second key category is mobile users who make calls through their laptops, for reasons of savings and convenience. A growing subset of this category is mobile-phone users with client software on their handsets, which also lets them access corporate telephony features while away from the office.
The third category is those with telephone-centric jobs, such as customer service or sales representatives. By providing such workers with softphones, companies may be able to save money by not buying them desk phones at all. The fourth category is SMBs that need to save money. Buying IP desk phones for employees can be a major expense, so such companies can cut costs by using softphones almost exclusively.
The savings can be considerable, Saayed noted. Softphones from third-party developers such as CounterPath Corp., IP blue Software Solutions and Nuvoiz Inc. may run from $25 to $50, he said, while those from major IP PBX vendors such as Avaya Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. can cost from $50 to $150. Low-end IP desk phones, by contrast, can start at $140 or $150, with more expensive models approaching $1,000. In addition, softphones are easier to upgrade, because getting the latest capabilities doesn’t require buying new hardware.
The biggest disadvantage of softphones is, of course, that they depend on a PC. That means you can’t just sit down at your desk and dial. In addition, many workers have trouble getting comfortable using headsets, preferring the feel of a handset when they’re talking. Some workers and companies also continue to worry about the quality and security of IP telephony. Because of such issues, Frost & Sullivan expects softphones to remain for the most part a supplement to rather than a replacement for desktop phones in enterprises.
An increasingly powerful trend will be the addition of unified communications capabilities to softphones, according to Saayed. “As we see more unified communications come into play, uniting different services under the same GUI or umbrella, softphones will be the path to more complex unified communications clients,” he explained. Those services can include IM, video conferencing, text-to-speech translation, advance scheduling of conference calls and Web conferencing. To make such unification possible, softphones will have to access the capabilities of unified communications servers, especially their ability to detect availability or presence across multiple services.
Whatever form future softphones take, one thing is certain: top executives will have the most innovative features first. While technically they may or may not all qualify as power users, they definitely have all the control.
How to Implement
At Phonewire, we have designed PBX phone systems that combine PC softphones, mobile wireless, and a network of physical desk telephones connected digitally and by IP. Call us at 1(877)877-9473 to consult with an expert and discuss what systems configuration might work best for your new communications system upgrade.