What are softphones? Should you use them?

Samuel Howieson
Samuel Howieson

Recent years have seen many businesses switching their phone systems over to VoIP services. Simply put, VoIP relays audio signals as data to connect voice calls through the net. This basic premise, however, has paved the way for other innovations, including one you’ve likely come across—softphones or software-based phones. Many businesses have been adopting softphones as part of their switch to VoIP. This gives them a number of advantages, including savings, adaptability and efficiency. If you’re thinking about using softphones too, here’s what you need to know.

What is a softphone?

Softphones are computer programs that mimic the functions of conventional phones. They include all the usual features, like voice calls, mute, hold, transfer, and so on. Different softphones work with different devices. Options exist for smartphones, tablets and desktop/laptop computers. In addition to the basic features, different softphones have various features of their own. Most support video calling, conferencing and instant messaging. Some capitalise on their virtual interfaces to include click-to-call, CRM integration and presence indicators, among others. The softphone category is broad, comprising many programs of varying levels of complexity. It shouldn’t be tough to find one simple enough to fit a budget or robust enough to meet more intensive requirements.

Softphone benefits

Softphones’ features are definitely a point in their favour. But the biggest reason companies switch to them is the savings they entail. Compared to the alternatives (VoIP desk phones or mobile phones) softphones cost a lot less. A single physical VoIP phone or “hard phone” generally costs around $170 to $400. Meanwhile, a soft phone client costs around $70 per user—that’s less than half the cost. Businesses willing to go truly bare-bones can even get some softphone clients for free. Another major advantage is flexibility. Because softphones can run on a range of devices, it’s possible to use them outside of the office as long as you’re connected to the net. This lets employees use the business phone system while working remotely. This, in turn, means that they can keep their personal numbers to themselves while still being available outside the office.

Softphone limitations

While softphones can be a great choice for many businesses, they do have their drawbacks. Since they’re reliant on having an existing device, a softphone is constrained by the equipment you do have. If you don’t have good audio hardware (e.g. speakers and mic) then your call quality could suffer. If you do a lot of business calls, such as for sales or customer support, you might find a dedicated desk phone handles these better. Physical handsets, with their tactile buttons, can be easier to operate. This convenience adds up when you deal with several calls a day. Finally, if you rely exclusively on softphones, at least one of the devices you have it installed on should be running at all times—otherwise you won’t be able receive calls.

Should you switch to a softphone?

Switching to a softphone is generally a good choice for businesses but it’s especially convenient in two situations. First, if you have many remote workers, switching to a softphone would let them use the business phone system no matter where they are. This leads to savings on mobile phone calls, which are generally more expensive than VoIP calls. It also lets them use business numbers instead of personal ones—more professional and more secure. Second, if you’re using a hosted PBX system, a softphone lets you cut back even further on hardware costs. Not only will your phone system be delivered on the cloud, your phones will be virtual as well.

Find a setup that works for you

Softphones and physical phones aren’t mutually exclusive. Many businesses include both in their communication system, depending on the needs of each department, team or employee. If you’re looking to improve your business phone system, Alltel’s phone solution specialists are always ready to help. Give us a call at 1300 255 835 (1300 ALL TEL) or visit us at www.alltel.com.au

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