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Enterprises mull software-based business phone alternatives

Cellphone usage has outpaced POTS in the home, so why are enterprises still using desk phones? Business phone alternatives can save companies time and money.

The way we communicate in our personal lives has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Yet, from a telephony perspective, not much has changed in the office. Most businesses continue to deploy hardware-based desk phones and assign individual direct inward dialing numbers from their phone carrier to each user. In many cases, this model is wasteful. There are both cheaper and more practical ways to provide voice communication services to employees.

Let's look at how the voice communications landscape has changed, and examine some business phone alternatives to traditional desk phone and DID unified communications (UC) deployment models.

Businesses finally catching up to changes in voice communication

Prior to cellphones, households used plain old telephone service (POTS) lines coming into the residence as their primary form of voice communication. As cellular penetration rose, however, many consumers abandoned POTS in favor of mobile-only connectivity. This was especially true once carriers began offering low-cost unlimited calling plans. The transition to cellular-only communication makes complete sense as POTS quickly became redundant and inflexible compared to modern cellular alternatives. The death of home phones came quickly as households dumped them as a cost-cutting measure.

Most mid- to large-sized businesses, however, continue to use the enterprise equivalent of the home phone. Typical UC models are still based on physical desk phones being placed in every employee cube or office. Additionally, the phones are often tied to individual DID numbers for public switched telephone network (PSTN) access. But, if businesses were to take a closer look at desk phone and PSTN usage over time, they would undoubtedly notice a significant drop. This shift should alert businesses to rethink how voice services are deployed. Not only will employees likely use software-based business voice services more effectively, but their adoption of new services can also cut down on UC Capex and Opex costs.

Not only will employees likely use software-based business voice services more effectively, but their adoption of new services can also cut down on UC Capex and Opex costs.

Popular enterprise alternatives to desk phones and DID

Enterprise-grade desk phones typically cost between $100 and $500 each. When this number is multiplied by the head count a business employs, the dollars spent add up quickly. The most common tactic that IT departments are using to cut these hardware costs is to deploy softphones on company-owned PCs. The softphone provides the same functionality of a business desk phone -- but emulated in software.

The softphone applications also commonly integrate chat and video functionality. Many enterprise voice vendors also offer apps that can be installed on Android and iOS devices, increasing the portability of a business line. As a result, among business phone alternatives, softphones enable companies to pack voice, video and IM services in a software package that is more portable than ever before.

Eliminating the need to assign a DID number to each employee is another area where costs can be cut. Instead of relying on individual DID numbers, businesses are beginning to rely on a combination of UC services, such as automated attendants, interactive voice response, hunt groups and internal extensions. This framework gives employees access to PSTN services but without the cost of a dedicated DID number. The amount of money saved by eliminating large blocks of unnecessary PSTN DID numbers can exceed hundreds to thousands of dollars each month.

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