Q

Is it possible to conduct hands-free VoIP calling?

Hands-free VoIP calling can offer an experience similar to using a Bluetooth headset with a mobile device, says VoIP expert Matt Brunk.

Is it possible to conduct hands-free VoIP calling? I'd like to talk and move around when I'm using Skype the same

way I'm able to use Bluetooth with my cell phone.

It is possible to obtain the same results with VoIP calling as you do with your Bluetooth headset on your mobile device. If you want true mobility, however, your chosen VoIP client may not work as well as cellular voice in certain scenarios (like if you are driving while connected to your laptop), but it depends on the client application, the weather, cell tower locations, traffic congestion on the cell network and other factors.  

Let's first look at Bluetooth options. If you'd like to use hands-free calling around an office building, then you can pair a Bluetooth headset with a software client on your desktop, laptop, tablet or another capable device. This method has limitations, though, including the lack of distance supported by the Bluetooth headset, and you can run into some integration problems with your mobile device.  

Here's one potential use case: You're on the phone at your desk with a customer, but you'd like to go to your car to retrieve some notes while remaining on the line. The Microsoft Lync client allows you to do this by transferring the call directly to your cell. Internal PBX systems are also able to do this by transferring the call to a mobile client application (Bria for iPhone, for example). It's important to note that this only holds true if your internal PBX and hosted PBX have integrated dial plans.

My Mac desktop computer is equipped with a Bria 3 client from CounterPath. It has multiple Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) accounts, including SIP services and hosted PBXes that I have tested, written about and even implemented. This client is very cool. Why? Because it works. The audio and the host of the PBX are excellent. The Bria application loads on iPads and other devices as well.

I've also purchased Bluetooth headsets from Plantronics in the past. I purchased one model at Costco several years ago for around $19. This headset is not a very comfortable fit, but it works very well. The higher-end Voyager, which costs from $199 to $229 retail, has a very comfortable fit and longer, but limited, range. If you're looking for mobility from your desktop, you should consider a Bluetooth headset with longer range. It's also helpful to look into different clients for your smartphone that can improve the range, and if you're using a hosted Lync service, getting the hand-off to your cell might be a good option. Then, you could always use a hosted PBX to do the same along with the client application on your desktop/cellphone.

As for mobile VoIP calling, the Skype client works the same way, and it's evident that the Skype-Lync integration by Microsoft has been a game changer. If you can tolerate the complexities and licensing, you have a chance to benefit from this integration. I suggest starting with a hosted provider that offers Lync because the call quality has historically been better than Skype.

Ensure that with whatever you choose, you are able to use the client application on all of your devices. This way, when you arrive at the office, your mobile client will become inactive if you decide to launch your desktop client. I do this with my Bria client by pointing it to a hosted PBX.

When I'm out in the field, I use the Bria 3 for iPhone and can call any of the office's PBX extensions, which allows me to avoid using any cell minutes. That way, I can opt for a monthly service plan with fewer voice minutes for my company. You may have a tablet or other devices that you alternate between, and the client you choose should not limit you to one or the other. Plantronics has Bluetooth headsets that will sync with more than one device. Sometimes this can be a tricky if you keep your smartphone, tablet or laptop in your office. Plantronics offers a couple of products to connect and manage calls between multiple devices.

Mobility and quality aren't cheap. You need a good client application, and I prefer both Bria by CounterPath and Lync by Microsoft for different reasons and uses. The headset you choose will be important, too, and price does equate to quality.

This was first published in March 2013

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