VoIP is an acronym for ‘Voice over Internet Protocol,’ and its software and hardware phones are what make it possible for users to make phone calls over the Internet.
If you are interested in using a VoIP service like Telzio for your business and/or personal use, but are unfamiliar with some of the terms associated with this technology, my previous blog post titled, “VoIP Terminology from A to Z“ will provide you with a quick and easy tutorial in that regard. In this blog, we will focus on the definitions and differences between softphones and IP phones.
Software-based VoIP [aka softphone] requires a computer with an Internet connection. However, the computer must have essential audio equipment, including a soundcard, speakers, and a microphone. In the enterprise, softphones are sometimes referred to as Soft Clients.
There are specialized VoIP softphones, handsets, headphones and other auxiliary devices for a more advanced and reliable experience and Telzio recommends two, one adapted for Windows and the other for Apple Mac users.
X-Lite (For Windows computers )and X-Lite (for Mac computers) are Softphones made by CounterPath. Both enable users to make phone calls from your Telzio number directly from your computer or smartphone.
Although softphones are most often associated with mobile or home users, more and more office workers are also choosing to use softphones as a convenient replacement for traditional desk phones.
Hardware/ IP Phone
Differing from softphones, IP phones plug directly into an Ethernet port on a router and interfaces with a VoIP service, another VoIP phone, or a VoIP gateway. Therefore, they don’t require a transmission through a PC, nor software. Another option is a WiFi IP phone. This connects wirelessly to an Internet connection (access point), so it also doesn’t require a connection with a PC.
There are several different options of IP phones that provide users with varied functionality and capabilities. A basic hardware phone is similar to a traditional home or office desk phone. In that respect, it is a ‘comfort zone’ considered by many who are not quite ready to go full-tilt with a softphone. By taking this route, it offers users the opportunity to send and receive reliable calls over a VoIP network. For those who are looking for more bells and whistles, advanced IP phones with a large screen to include web-browsing options can be considered.
Pros and Cons
Gartner analyst Dan O’Connell estimates that 30% of employees now use softphones, and he expects that number to climb by 10% each year.
I’d say younger people typically don’t like the hardphones,
They haven’t really grown up with it, and they’d rather call with either their cell phone or the mobile device. Some companies just don’t want to spend the extra money on [a hardphone]. But it’s still very popular in many traditional industries, like manufacturing, healthcare and the public sector.
Softphones are generally more popular, according to many tech sources, as they do not require extra hardware and are less of an investment. Counterpath’s Bria Softphones start as low as $7.99 for their iPhone edition and $12.99 for Androids. Hardphones range from $100 to $300.
Hardphones, on the other hand, as has been noted are an easier transition from a standard phone line phone to a VoIP service. Rather than connecting to a traditional phone jack, they plug in the Ethernet.
The sound quality of the IP phone is usually better than a softphone unless very high quality headsets are also purchased for use with the softphone.
The SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) versus POT landline phones of the past is the preferred Hardphone and can provide a better ROI than softphones. This phone does not depend on a PC, laptop or tablet to operate, as has been noted. The hard phone is a physically separate device. They last for up to 10 years compared with two to three years for cell phones, and sometimes only one year for headsets.
End of the Day – Do you go Soft or Hard?
The connectivity architecture for softphones and IP phones is very similar. Both are SIP extensions that can be registered in the (SIP based) VOIP / IP telephony server and can be used to make and receive outbound calls, both over the Internet (SIP Trunks) as well as the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Networks.)
Softphones can call SIP phones directly or indirectly (through a service provider like Telzio) and vice-versa.
The major limitation of an IP phone is that it’s stationary, situated in one location. Since most of today’s small-to-midsize (SMBs) require their staff members to be on-the-go, softphones will continue to grow in popularity where they can be uploaded to any or all mobile devices.
Ron is part of the marketing team at Telzio, covering everything from tips and tech for growing businesses to customer success stories for the Telzio blog. Previously a Director of Advertising and Public Relations at Marriott International, Ron has published several books including the award-winning graphic novel Facebucks.