I'm Learning to Love My Softphone, and You Should, Too


I have to confess to being originally irritated by our transition here at the home office over to an IP-based telephony system -- primarily, I suppose, because I tend to be irritated by most all change. Not something to be proud of, but not altogether atypical of most end users, I'd imagine.


However, I have started to get quite fond of the softphone client on my laptop. I used it four times Friday, in fact, as I worked from home while waiting for a delivery.


For those Luddites (like me) out there, the best way to describe a softphone is that it's a way to use your office phone number to make and receive phone calls on your PC. In my case, it's a workstation-class HP laptop, and I have found the speaker/mic setup that comes standard in my hardware to be more than adequate for handling a phone call, although I am perpetually hounded by the software to get a Bluetooth headset.


I have credible, but not remarkable, consumer broadband at home, and I have not yet run afoul of any of the latency and QoS problems that are perhaps the most common cautionary tale out there about moving to IP-based telephony.


There certainly is an obvious productivity benefit that comes with folks being able to reach you at your office number, regardless of your physical location. There are more sophisticated presence and UC applications that work toward this end, of course, but the Luddite in me finds such things a little creepy, at this point.


Our infrastructure VP, Troy Atwood, told me the main reasons we went with our new pure-play IP Cisco system were, in no particular order:


Portability: As a small business with aspirations for growth, we are always considering the possibility of moving our main office, and with our IP phone system that's exponentially more doable than with an old-style PBX.

Feature set: In addition to the basics of just using your laptop as a speaker phone, the PC-side client offers features like having MP3s of your voice mail sent to your e-mail address and various conferencing services.


Expedience: Our old PBX was such a dinosaur that we couldn't get parts for it anymore.


Seriously, I can't imagine any company that's looking at any upgrade to its telephony system not going the IP route at this point. Troy tells me we are spending a bit more a month on our new system than we did with that dino PBX, but the feature sets are pretty compelling, particularly since we do have staff across the country who often are on the road. Plus, I get a speaker phone for the house.


Seriously, though, analyst shop Frost & Sullivan is projecting pretty substantial growth in hosted VoIP adoption in the coming year, given that so many businesses are putting the clamps on any large capital outlay. Enterprises have been far more agressive about adopting IP telephony than their smaller counterparts, as our Carl Weinschenk has chronicled, which is of course to be expected.


My advice? Do the math, and even if you find that the switch to a system like ours presents a noticeable, but manageable, bump in outlay, make the switch -- particularly if you have workers who telecommute (and you should).


If I can get kinda excited about the a phone system's features, most of your employees will go nuts for them.

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