Do I Need VoIP Phones to Use a VoIP Phone System?

Posted on: 2016-11-25 | Categories:VoIP Services

This is a question that often comes up for organizations that are interested in setting up VoIP phone systems. It is quite a big change for companies that have been purchasing landline services from carriers for decades. Naturally, you will have a lot of questions, especially if you are not operating in a high technology industry. So do you really need VoIP phones to use a VoIP phone system? The short answer is no. The long answer – the one which no one wants to hear – is maybe or probably yes.

Businesses come in a variety of sizes and types. As such you would rarely find a solution that fits every organization operating in a specific industry or even a particular market segment. While software is perfectly adequate for one company, another might struggle without VoIP phones.

How VoIP Works

Both VoIP and the PSTN network have the same goals – which is to deliver voice data from one user to another. The difference between the two lies in how each performs the same function. The PSTN carries the voice signals along copper lines. From the earliest phone conversation, the PSTN infrastructure has been expanding continuously in order to connect more users and households to the network. Physical cables have to connect each phone in order to make a call.

VoIP does not need a separate physical infrastructure of its own. VoIP protocols convert the voice signals into data packets and they are transmitted over the Internet via fiber, cables or even satellite. After conversion into data, the protocol can handle it like any other form of media such as a picture, a song or a text document. As such VoIP is more similar to how email works rather than any existing telephony standard.

This is why users can make VoIP calls through any client of their choice, just like email. It doesn’t matter if you use Outlook or a web client, you can view and manage your email from anywhere. VoIP operates on pretty much the same principle. VoIP uses a number of IP based protocols such as SIP, UDP, RTP, SDP etc.

Using VoIP with Softphones

Once we understand the similarities between VoIP and other Internet-based systems, we can see how software plays an important role. Before VoIP became a part of the mainstream, the only way of using it was with a computer. Before IP phones, there was the VoIP software application. Users could download and install the softphone application and use it to make free or inexpensive calls.

Once it became more popular and businesses started adopting it, manufacturers rushed to make VoIP phones for enterprise use. Now there are hundreds of models from dozens of different companies. Organizations face a bewildering array of choices and there is often very little to distinguish between the various models.

Are Soft Phones Sufficient for VoIP Phone Systems?

Many of us have used softphones for making VoIP calls in a personal capacity. Skype is an extremely popular VoIP client (although it is closed source) and most of us are familiar with how it works. It also means we know its limitations. The voice quality can vary substantially based on many variables and reliability is always a concern. How often have you tried to make a Skype call and it simply refuses to connect, even though the Internet is working perfectly well? Such a situation is manageable for personal use but unacceptable for enterprises.

Phone applications have their place for personal communication and even for enterprise use albeit for smaller companies. A business with three or four employees can easily get away with not purchasing expensive (to them) VoIP phones. But as your organization grows and its requirements become more complex, the ability of software to handle it reduces.

The Advantages of VoIP Phones

The biggest difference between using a softphone application vs a dedicated VoIP phone is the hardware. IP phones have hardware that is dedicated to the single function of transmitting voice calls. So even a basic model will provide better audio quality than you can get with the built-in speakers of a laptop or even a pair of earphones. The more expensive and sophisticated models will have multiple speakers or microphones in order to enhance audio quality.

Apart from this, they also have small screens to show additional information and dedicated function buttons that you can map to specific tasks. You can perform actions like putting a caller on hold or transferring them to another extension with the touch of a button. Of course, you can do the same thing with software but you have to be looking at the screen and it takes several clicks.

For the vast majority of companies, VoIP phones are a necessity. But you can also use softphones to supplement desk phones. This way employees can share phones, instead of striving for a 1:1 user to phone ratio.