Can VoIP softphones replace desk phones? Six ways to make it work

Enterprises looking at VoIP softphones for employees with laptops and mobile devices should follow six guidelines to boost user adoption.

After years of predictions, Voice over IP (VoIP) softphone adoption really is booming. Nemertes Research found

that in 2014, approximately 80% of companies surveyed are increasing their softphone deployments, resulting in an overall softphone growth of 306%. By the end of 2014, nearly 19% of telephony endpoints will be softphones running on a PC, while another 24% will be running softphone apps that integrate smartphones with enterprise telephony platforms.

The reasons for adopting softphones on a PC versus a mobile device vary. One key difference is that one-quarter of companies are planning to replace their desktop phones with softphones, while only 13% of those that are extending telephony to mobile phones are planning to do the same.

Softphone adoption drivers are similar no matter what the endpoint, however. They offer easier support for telework, reduced network infrastructure costs, and meet user demand for access to corporate telephony services, regardless of location.

Guidelines for a successful softphone deployment

But are VoIP softphones and mobile apps truly ready to replace desktop phones? The answer is: It depends. Nemertes offers several key guidelines that make for a successful softphone deployment.

Get a good headset. A high-quality headset or USB phone is critical for sufficient voice quality to meet employee demand. Don't skimp on the headset; IT leaders often tell us they are spending roughly the same amount of money on headsets as they are on desktop phones.

Pay attention to the network. Using a softphone means it is difficult to isolate voice traffic onto its own VLAN. Many softphone vendors turn on SSL encryption by default, which means the network can't recognize the voice traffic and adequately prioritize it over other less time-sensitive applications. Thus, adequate bandwidth -- especially for Wi-Fi-connected devices -- is critical for success.

Pay attention to the desktop. If you still have a large number of Windows XP machines, softphones probably aren't for you since XP can't prioritize voice over other applications. If you are deploying desktop virtualization, make sure your virtualization architecture supports localized processing of voice -- and video -- to ensure you aren't backhauling raw voice back to the data center for encoding. Many softphone implementation efforts fall apart after the voice team discovers the desktop team's virtualization strategy doesn't support real-time application delivery.

More on softphone adoption

Softphone use in the enterprise and beyond

Dumping the desk phone for a softphone?

Softphones offer flexibility in BYOD era

Don't forget about E911. Softphone users are highly mobile and have the ability to make calls from anywhere they can find a network connection. If you are bound by regulation or policy to provide location tracking, investigate solutions that allow for tracking softphone location against a known list of offices or allow workers to update their location before making a call. Pay special attention to development of the Next Generation 9-1-1 Initiative, which will enable endpoints to track and report their own location when calling 911.

Look for integration points. If your unified communications (UC) applications like IM and Web conferencing come from a different vendor than your telephony platform, look at ways to integrate the two at the desktop, preserving the UC/IM application as the user interface, rather than adding another new application that employees will likely shun.

Don't force softphones on your employees. Many workers still prefer traditional phones, especially for new message notifications and built-in speakerphones. If your employees demand their phones back, look at USB devices as a way to provide the features they need without the extra cost of a standalone IP phone.

Adhere to these guidelines for deploying softphones and you may have indeed purchased your last desktop phone.

This was first published in March 2014

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