Desktop phone vs soft phone – some important considerations


Old callcenterEver asked someone whether the desk top phone was still relevant today? Depending on who you address the question to (e.g. analysts, technology commentators, business people…), you will get answers that really depend on what that person is selling or what they prefer to use themselves. You will also notice how a coherent argument can be made for either side. In our view, this means that both desktop phone and softphone are still very much in needed in the modern communications chain.




The role of mobility and portability


Three out five employees, according to a Mashable study, claim they don’t need to be in the office in order to be productive. The emergence of the ‘Bring your own device’ (BYOD) phenomenon, as well as increased access to softphones and mobile sharing apps enable workers to operate anywhere.

But does this mean that prior to the emergence of these mobility enablers staff already worked outside of the office environment, and actually felt themselves at a disadvantage from not having access to the same communications as in the office? Or is the actual percentage of out-of-office workers up because of mobility communications?

It’s probably a mix of both explanations. Be as that it may, research demonstrates that the mobile workforce continues to grow, but isn’t yet displacing the business as usual 9-to-5 office desk tradition.

The trend to work away from the office desk is really influencing the use of softphones, much more so than the fact that the softphone + headset combination can also be used in the office at your normal office desk.




The desktop phone is alive and kicking


Despite all the talk of mobility and softphones, the desktop phone continues to be high in demand. A Forrester survey shows that 70% of surveyed employees remain at their designated office desk 4-5 days per week and conduct 88% of all calls from their desktop phone. The survey also shows that in access of 50% of work-related calls are via a desk phone. A recent Pew Research Center survey of adults currently employed and with Internet access, 35% stated that desktop phones were “very important” to do their job. Only 24% said the same of their mobiles. Finally, Enterprise Connect Co-Chair Eric Krapf stated that most millennials preferred their desktop phone, apparently because of its symbolism for job security. 



Which one to choose?


The discussion about desktop phone vs. softphone started up again in a Digium Live interview with Rob Arnold, the Principal Analyst for Information and Communications Technology (ICT). “We look at how people are working, and what tools they are working with,” Arnold elaborated. On desktop phones he had to say the following:

“People are not throwing away their existing investments. In fact, our research shows a single-digit increase in the volume of IP desk phones shipped over the last couple of years, and we expect to see that happen with a small incremental increase year-after-year. In 2014, just about 20 million IP phones shipped globally. That has really been driven by the increase in SIP phones and IP media phones. What that is telling us is that the number of devices per user is actually growing. So users do have mobile phones, but they’re not ditching their desk phones. This is also because these newer phones, and the back-end systems behind those phones, are delivering more value to the desktop in terms of functionality.”

Softphones give remote workers access to the same feature set that they enjoy on their desktop phone. This kind of meets needs of something halfway been desktop phones and mobile phones. A survey by Software Advice highlighted the benefits of softphone usage, such as enabling remote work and integration of various software applications. Additionally the survey identified critical desktop phone qualities such as reliability and audio quality. Other findings were as follows:

  1. Among organizations with VoIP service, desk phones are still the most widely adopted phone type, used by 64% of the sample
  2. A majority of respondents (54%) say they’re equally comfortable using softphones and traditional hardware phones to communicate
  3. Desk phones remain popular even among employees who spend half of their week (or more) working remotely
  4. Approximately 74% of respondents who spend at least half their week working remotely use a softphone on a daily basis

Mobility is regarded ever more as a business-critical function. And yet many businesses overlook the fact that mobility features can significantly increase costs. A lot of providers have additional charges for mobility, and oftentimes this charge comes on a per-user and annual basis, which can add thousands of dollars to the cost of communications.

To avoid such nasty surprises, businesses may look for look for providers where mobility is included for all users, and not charged extra.

As demonstrated by the research examples above, all IP telephony and devices can play a role in today’s changing business environment. Those who go for an on-premise unified communications option, can explore mobility functionalities and softphone options to enable some or all employees to be productive no matter where or when they need to, without losing the features of their the office phone system.

To clarify for yourself whether to an ability for remote working sensible, first understand the range of benefits on offer. Working remotely often increases productivity, and can lower total costs. Remote working is also a smart ingredient in any disaster recovery strategy, allowing employees to keep working when your main business site is disrupted somehow.

The amount of diversity and change in today’s workplace probably generates some form of mixed use of desktop- and softphones as a preferred path for businesses who understand their own needs and the technical and communication possibilities. What kind of mix exactly should depend on a carefully planned strategy taking into account the needs of the business, its customers and its employees.