The past decade has experienced an explosion of new technology innovations within the telecommunications world – from mobile phones to business class IP PBX unified communications platforms replacing outdated analog systems.
The same holds true for the softphone market, despite it’s somewhat decline in overall acceptance. Softphones originally provided PC users with the ability to make calls using their desktops along with a microphone and downloadable softphone application. As the mobile world has grown over the years, users easily and quickly began transferring their communication methods from the desktop to their mobile devices such as pilots, cell phones and tablets.
In the wake of all these changes the role of the softphone appears to have decreased, however there is still a unique place for the softphone and its many uses beyond PC telephony.
Most softphones are usually free and provide the basic functions of phoning other networked users along with Chat (Instant Messaging), Presence (busy, online, away, etc.), and even Video. In essence, they have become what Skype is – a branded softphone. However who knows what Skype will look like 5 years from now since Microsoft has bought them out and will likely use it for its Lync PBX platform.
Manufacturers of softphones have taken the concept of basic communications to a new level by recognizing the emerging growth of business IP communications, most notably VoIP (Voice over IP) and SIP (Session Initiation Protocol). Businesses are rapidly jumping on the SIP bandwagon, experiencing the many benefits from lower overhead, greater deployment flexibility, increased quality sound (SIP trunks vs. regular internet or even analog lines), plus a greater savings due to different pricing structures (call paths vs. per analog line) and fewer taxes (not subject to many of the taxes that regular phone services incur).
Softphones such as the X-Lite by CounterPath are able to register with SIP servers and therefore can take and receive calls on that user’s network. By creating applications which are compatible with the iPhone, Android, or other mobile device, users can use the registered softphone to receive or send calls through their SIP while using their mobile devices.
Use of softphone technology can help businesses operate more efficiently in regards to internal communications allowing employees to use features such as IM/Chat with fellow staff members, hold video meetings and of course answer calls which are sent to their regular office phones (the calls are forwarded to the softphone).
These phone applications are also used to provide a backup to a business’s existing PBX platform. Although the mirrored PBX settings are on an offsite server, the softphone would be registered to that SIP PBX, thereby only being used when their primary PBX goes down in cases of natural disasters or local hardware failure. This allows businesses to still operate their phone lines when their main phone lines are down.
Softphones may not be what they were when the desktop was their primary target however, for the companies which have managed to modify the softphone software to be conducive with mobility, are seeing a steady demand for their services and applications. No, they are not dead, but the main use and application has changed to embrace the latest technology in an effort to create a more productive and efficient mobile work environment.
About the Author
Liz has been actively involved in the telecommunications industry, specifically working for a US based SIP provider for the past two years. Learn more about SIP trunking for your Microsoft Lync or ShoreTel UC platforms.
- Buying Guide: VoIP for small business (macworld.com)
- Samsung Galaxy S III Supports VoIP Very Nicely (technoverseblog.com)
- Build your own VoIP System – Part 3: the sip:provider as an SBC (sipwise.com)