Q: I'm moving to VoIP soon. What is a softphone? Should I get one?
A: A softphone is a software-based phone client that greatly expands your ability to place or receive calls when working outside of the office. It can be installed on a smartphone, laptop or a desktop computer. When placing calls through your softphone, you appear to be calling from your office. Most softphones also display your contact list from your VoIP account, enabling quick contact availability for ease of dialing. Incoming calls to your office phone number ring simultaneously on your office phone and your softphone, wherever you may be.
Softphones installed on iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, or Windows Mobile smartphones greatly enhance your mobility. The phone-based client can be downloaded from the Apple App Store, Android Market, BlackBerry App World or Windows® Phone Marketplace for a nominal one-time fee. Once installed, the application presents familiar features, such as a dial pad, voicemail icon, and a "Contacts" section. The calls are received and transmitted as data through a wireless access point or the user's 3G/4G connection.
A PC-based softphone simulates a regular telephone by using the computer's audio system, microphone or an external headset and allows you to place and answer phone calls. A dial pad may appear which is used to enter phone numbers, along with call logs and point-and-client contact directories.
Calls being made from remote locations through a VoIP softphone are generally routed over the Internet, costing significantly less than toll calls made from a hotel landline or a cell phone with a "minutes"-based plan. Depending on your softphone vendor, the advanced features you've come to expect with VoIP are fully integrated into the softphone client. Additionally, a softphone client on a smartphone or laptop is far more convenient than having to transport an actual VoIP phone to one's home or while traveling.
As you can see, a softphone can be very useful to most organizations. If you are considering implementing a softphone for your business, these are the key selection criteria to keep in mind:
- The connection. Be mindful of the fact that the quality of a call made over a softphone is dependent upon the connection it is traveling over and the traffic that is sharing that connection. Calls from wireless smartphones may be impacted by a weak wireless signal. Calls made through residential internet connections are generally very clear due the large amount of bandwidth available through these systems. Consult a softphone vendor you trust for recommended bandwidth requirements.
- The laptop or PC. Factors such as speed, memory utilization, firewall settings and the presence of sound cards and microphones are things that need to be considered when planning for an enterprise softphone deployment. For this reason, consider an IT management services vendor which is versed in all aspects of IT to ensure seamless integration of your softphone.
- The technology. Softphones are typically purchased directly from online sources by the user or in bulk by the provider. For consistency, consider purchasing softphones from a source that offers versions compatible with the range of devices used by your employees.
mindSHIFT can help you assess your VoIP needs and determine if your organization will benefit from softphone implementation.
Learn more about mindSHIFT's cloudSHIFTSM VoIP solutions or contact us.
Bob Lanier is mindSHIFT's Product Manager for VoIP, based in our Sterling, VA office.