What is a softphone?
A softphone is a phone that runs as software. Instead of having a phone on your desk or in your pocket, a softphone is a program on your computer, You will need a microphone and speakers (or a VoIP headset) in order to use a softphone.
A softphone is a cheaper alternative to an IP phone or an ATA adapter. Softphones are usually free, while you need to buy an ATA or an IP phone.
IP Phones and ATAs versus Softphone
Usually, to use VoIP, you need an IP phone (that is, a phone designed for VoIP) or an ATA adapter (which allows you to use any telephone with VoIP). Both require manual installation. Both cost money, too.
With a softphone, you just need to install the phone on your computer. Most VoIP providers offer softphones, nowadays. Some VoIP providers offer specially-developed softphones that use extra features; these softphones usually cost more than the free softphones most VoIP providers offer.
Sometimes an attendant console or a receptionist console is a type of softphone. Some call center technology is also a softphone.
How do I use a softphone?
To use a softphone, you will need:
- A microphone and speakers OR
- A USB headset OR
- A VoIP headset (this may be the same thing as a USB headset) AND
- A high-speed internet connection AND
- A subscription or a plan with a VoIP service provider
Basically, when it comes to using a softphone, you need some way to talk to the person on the other line: a microphone or headset is necessary.
The softphone application can be installed as a plug-in or add-on in a program like Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox (these are known as Browsers). Or a softphone can be a standalone application (like Outlook or Microsoft word. You can dial numbers with your keyboard (typing the numbers) or your mouse (clicking on them); most programs are designed to look like your everyday phone and touchpad.
Why Should I Use A Softphone?
You can usually call for free, in-network, with a softphone.
And a softphone is usually free.
We've already been over how a softphone is usually free (it just is). But usually, VoIP providers offer free in-network calls to their subscribers.
When you call in-network with your softphone (or with your VoIP provider in general), your VoIP provider can keep the calls on its network. They don't have to pay an access fee to send the call along the local PTSN or to the network that the phone resides on — so they usually pass that along to you, allowing you to call within the network for free
is one VoIP provider that offers a free softphone and 'subscription' plan to its users. CallCentric offers an IP Freedom plan to users who want to talk to other Callcentric users. Skype is also famous for the free network calls it allows its users. Both Skype and CallCentric will charge you if you call a land-line that isn't within their network, however.
What else does a softphone offer me?
Since a softphone is installed on your computer, you can use a softphone, and the phone number attached to it, wherever you take your computer. Just connect to the internet. A softphone can go anywhere you go.
Using softphone in this way is known as Mobile VoIP.
Who does a softphone benefit?
A softphone is really useful for people who travel a lot.
In addition to not having to use your cell phone or hotel phone for business calls, using a softphone on your laptop allows you to make local calls home. You can also use a softphone to make international calls.
If you don't have business laptop, you can also install a softphone on an smartphone or an iPad.
A softphone is ideal for
SOHO (Small Office/Home Office)
users, too. Softphones allows these business owners to use their VoIP service, wherever they are: at home, on the road, or in the office. A softphone is also cheaper than a traditional desk IP phone; it can help small business owners cut back on overhead.
Softphones cannot always perform all the functions that a desk phone can (these functions vary between providers, obviously).
For instance, conference calling with a softphone is extremely difficult, because there isn't a built-in speakerphone. Obviously, if your phone has a built-in microphone and speakers, you're fine.
Checking your voicemail may also be more difficult than on your desk phone, too. Really, it varies by provider.
Additionally, softphones are not consistent between providers; they're not a phone developed by a third-party phone manufacturer.
You also cannot write off the equipment cost of a softphone (like you can with a traditional phone) — because a softphone is usually free.