A lot of people in my company only work from the office part time, so we are considering buying softphones so they...
can take their phones with them wherever they're working. Are there any advantages to buying softphones rather than just having those employees use mobile phones?
This is a good question and a few things need clarifying to provide a helpful response. First, a softphone is not a physical device like a desk phone. Second, it is not something you just purchase as a standalone product.
The first thing you need to know is that, as the name suggests, a softphone is a software application. In short, this application allows you use a broadband-connected endpoint in much the same way as you use your desk phone. Initially, softphones were developed for PCs, but with the advent of mobile broadband, they can now be deployed on smartphones or tablets.
In all cases, the idea is to make these endpoints an extension of your desk phone. Aside from making and taking calls, the feature set of your phone system can be used in these environments. Think about features like caller ID, call transfer, conferencing and putting a caller on hold. While there are lots of free Web telephony options like Skype and Google Talk, they are not tied to your phone system, so those features aren't available. Furthermore, call quality will not be good enough or reliable enough for everyday business use.
There are many softphone clients on the market, with CounterPath being the best-known example. Some are free, but have limited feature sets. Others clients can be purchased outright. Many offerings simply bundle the cost of the softphone client into a monthly service plan along with other communications applications. As such, there is no simple answer about the cost. To get a high-quality softphone experience, you usually need to invest in peripherals -- namely, headsets and speakers.
While using mobile devices is convenient for business telephony, they are usually not integrated with your phone system and don't project a professional image to customers. Softphones address that problem, as well as provide a richer feature set to make your employees more productive wherever they go.
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