6 min read
What is a Softphone? Advantages, Features, and More
As business communities become increasingly virtual, the need for physical devices in on-site office spaces is becoming sparse. Nowadays, people want easy access to communications on devices they already own. As such, softphones are making the rounds for their cost-efficiency and convenience.
If your business is new to softphones, this guide is for you. Learn what a softphone is, how it works, and why you should use one to enhance your communication systems.
What is a Softphone?
A softphone (software telephone) is a computer program or application that enables users to make voice and video calls over the Internet using a computer, smartphone, tablet, or other compatible devices.
It functions similarly to a traditional telephone, allowing users to dial phone numbers, receive calls, and engage in conversations. However, it utilizes Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology instead of the traditional Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).
How Does a Softphone Work?
Upon installation and setup, the user’s softphone connects to a VoIP service provider’s server using provided login credentials, registering the user’s presence on the network.
When a user initiates a call, the softphone converts audio and video streams into data packets and compresses them using codecs. These packets transmit over the Internet, are routed through various network components, and end up in the recipient’s softphone.
The recipient’s softphone then decodes the packets, enabling playback of audio and video streams, facilitating a two-way conversation. Call management features, such as call hold and transfer, enhance the communication experience.
At the end of the call, the softphone deregisters from the VoIP server.
Advantages of Using Softphones
Using softphones offers several advantages, making them a popular choice for communication, especially in modern business. Below are a few reasons why softphones are becoming popular.
- They are cost-effective: Softphones use VoIP technology, often more affordable than traditional phone services. Calls made over the Internet are typically cheaper, especially for long-distance and international calls. These savings can be significant for businesses with a global presence or individuals with frequent long-distance communication needs.
- They work seamlessly across platforms: Softphones are available for operating systems and devices, including computers, smartphones, tablets, and even smart TVs. This cross-platform compatibility ensures that users can communicate regardless of their device.
- They integrate with existing systems: Many softphones can integrate with other software applications, such as email clients, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and collaboration platforms. Seamless integrations streamline workflows and allow for seamless communication within existing software environments.
- They are ideal for remote work: Softphones facilitate practical remote work by providing remote employees with the same communication capabilities as in office settings. This connectivity ensures continuous collaboration regardless of physical location.
- They are quick to deploy: Installing and configuring softphones is often quicker and more straightforward than setting up traditional phone lines, making them an efficient solution for rapid communication deployment.
Disadvantages of Softphones
Like most new business technologies, softphones come with some inevitable cons. Below are a few things you should be wary of when using softphones for business.
- They depend on the internet: Because they function using VoIP systems, softphones rely on a stable and high-quality internet connection for optimal performance. Poor internet connectivity can lead to dropped calls, audio/video quality issues, and disruptions. Network congestion, bandwidth limitations, codec usage, and other Internet problems can also lead to latency and compromised quality.
- They consume a lot of power: Using mobile phone softphones can quickly drain battery life, especially during lengthy calls. Continuous use of the application can lead to more frequent charging or reduced device usage time.
- There are security concerns: VoIP and softphones can be vulnerable to security threats like eavesdropping, hacking, and unauthorized access. Without proper security measures, sensitive conversations and data may be at risk.
- Emergency services are limited: Softphones are limited when providing accurate location information to emergency services (911 or other local emergency numbers). This lack of emergency connectivity can be problematic when precise location information is crucial.
- Data privacy standards can be tricky: Depending on the region and industry, there may be legal and regulatory requirements for maintaining communication records and ensuring data privacy, which can be more complex with softphones.
- They don’t always integrate seamlessly: While softphones can integrate with various software applications, ensuring seamless integration and compatibility with specific platforms or business workflows can be a technical challenge.
Top Softphone Features
Softphone features and architecture vary across different service providers. However, most share the following features:
- Voice and video calls: Softphones are primarily for high-quality voice and video calls to other users with the same or compatible softphone applications.
- Instant messaging: Many softphones enable users to send text messages, images, and other media to their contacts.
- Contact management: Softphones have contact lists or address books, allowing users to easily store and manage their contacts.
- Call management: Users can typically manage calls with features like call hold, call transfer, call forwarding, and conference calling.
- Presence information: Softphones may show the availability status of contacts, indicating whether they are online, offline, busy, or away.
- Multi-platform support: Softphones are available for various platforms, including Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and Linux.
How to Set Up a Softphone
Setting up a softphone involves selecting a softphone application, choosing a VoIP service provider, configuring the software, and testing the setup. Here’s a general guide to help you get started:
- Choose a softphone application: Research and choose a softphone application that suits your needs and is compatible with your device’s operating system (e.g., Windows, macOS, iOS, Android).
- Select a VoIP service provider: Sign up for a VoIP service provider that offers your required features, such as call plans, international calling, and additional services. Well-known VoIP service providers include ULTATEL, RingCentral, 8×8, Vonage, Google Voice, and Microsoft Teams (for business use).
- Install and configure the softphone: Download and install the chosen softphone application from the app store or website. Launch the application and follow the setup wizard, which usually involves providing your login credentials from the VoIP service provider.
- Configure audio and video settings: Access the application’s settings or preferences to configure your audio and video devices (microphone, speakers, webcam). Test your audio and video settings to ensure your microphone, speakers, and camera function properly.
- Set up contacts and presence: Add contacts to your softphone’s address book by entering their names, phone numbers, and other relevant information. Some softphones also support presence status, indicating your availability to other contacts (e.g., online, busy, away).
- Test the softphone: Make a test call to ensure your softphone is functioning correctly. Review audio and video quality.
- Secure your setup: Enable security features, such as encryption, to protect your calls and data. Regularly update the softphone application to ensure you have the latest security patches.
How to Choose the Right Softphone Provider
Choosing the right softphone provider can be tricky, especially with so many to choose from. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you make an informed decision.
- Identify your communication needs: Determine the specific communication features you require, such as voice calling, video conferencing, instant messaging, call recording, and integration with other software applications.
- Evaluate compatibility: Ensure the softphone provider offers applications compatible with your devices and operating systems, including desktops, laptops, smartphones, and tablets.
- Review call plans and pricing: Compare the provider’s pricing plans, including subscription costs, per-minute rates for local and international calls, and any additional fees or charges. Most providers can give you a quote.
- Check international calling rates: If you need to make international calls, verify the provider’s international calling rates to ensure they align with your budget.
- Evaluate call quality and reliability: Research the provider’s reputation for call quality and reliability. Look for reviews or testimonials from other users to gauge their experiences.
- Explore additional features: Some providers can go the extra mile to provide additional features important for your communication needs.
- Review security and privacy measures: Prioritize providers that offer robust security measures, such as end-to-end encryption, to protect your calls and data from unauthorized access. Ensure the provider adheres to relevant regulations and compliance standards in your region or industry, primarily if you handle sensitive data.
- Review customer support and resources: Check if the provider offers reliable customer support, including methods of contact and response times. Look for resources like FAQs, tutorials, and user guides to help you troubleshoot issues or set up features.
- Request a trial period or demo: Take advantage of any trial periods or demos offered by the provider to test the softphone’s features, call quality, and user interface.
- Review contract terms and flexibility: Review the provider’s contract terms, including contract duration, cancellation policies, and contractual obligations.
Top Softphone Providers
Don’t settle for the first option you come across. Compare the offerings of multiple softphone providers to make an informed decision. Below is a table of the top VoIP-based softphone providers for your reference.
|Virtual Phone Number||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes at $3.99/mo||Yes|
|Support Hours||24/7||24/7||N/A||8:00 am – 7:00 pm||8:00 am – 7:00 pm|
|International Calling||Yes||Yes, with charges||Yes, with charges||Yes||Yes, with charges|
|Free Trial||Yes, varied||15 days||N/A||No||30 days|
What is the difference between VoIP and a softphone?
VoIP is a technology that enables voice communication over the Internet, while a softphone is a software application that uses VoIP to make and receive calls on digital devices.
Can softphones receive calls?
Softphones can receive calls just like traditional phones. They use VoIP technology to handle incoming calls over the internet, and users can answer these calls using the softphone application on their devices.
Can I connect a softphone to a computer?
You can connect a softphone to a computer to make and receive calls using a headset, microphone, and speakers.
What’s the difference between a softphone and a hardphone?
A softphone is often installed on computers, smartphones, or tablets, while a hardphone (or desk phone) is a physical device that resembles a traditional telephone and connects to a network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, typically used for VoIP calls.
Softphones are an intuitive digital solution for businesses with international presence and global talent. They are cost-effective, easy to set up, scalable, and versatile.
If your business is expanding its global reach and is looking for a reliable virtual phone provider, ULTATEL can be your go-to source. We offer solutions for dozens of industries and boast capabilities for small businesses and enterprises.
Konstantine is the Head of Digital Marketing at ULTATEL. With a decade of experience in leading marketing strategy, he understands the importance of consistently adapting to the ever-changing digital landscape.