VoIP Softphone

Definition of a VoIP Softphone

A VoIP softphone (software phone) is a program that essentially turns your computer into a phone — think Skype or iChat. VoIP softphone software will convert your voice into signals to be delivered over the Internet. Using VoIP service is cheaper than using traditional phone lines and can save you a considerable amount on your monthly phone bill.

VoIP Softphone Software

VoIP softphone software is programmed to have a user friendly interface for making calls. The call process on a VoIP softphone is designed to be more efficient for callers as well. The setup can look like a traditional handset with clickable numbers. Alternatively, you can choose to display call lists or contact lists for one-click dialing.

VoIP Softphone Hardware

You will need speakers and a microphone for the VoIP softphone. You can use the standard input and output devices on your computer. However, a decent headset with a microphone will probably give you better sound quality. Good headsets start at $20 and a high quality one can cost up to $100.

Advantages of Using VoIP Softphones

There are a variety of cost-saving benefits of using a VoIP softphone, including:

  • Low international rates
  • Free calling in the continental 48
  • Low monthly rates
  • Reduced hardware costs
  • Portability

VoIP softphones are much more affordable than IP phones, which are $100 and up. In fact most of them are free. Avoid the large upfront cost of purchasing desk phones by using a VoIP softphone instead. VoIP softphones generally provide free in-network calling as well.

Your VoIP service is instantly portable when used with a VoIP softphone on a laptop. Use your laptop to make low-cost VoIP calls anywhere there is an Internet connection. Telecommuters and mobile users can access the call features of the office with a VoIP softphone to easily work on the go.

Call Features of VoIP Softphones

Softphones also provide more call features than a traditional handset:

  • Text, IM, and video capabilities
  • Contact lists
  • Conference calling
  • E-mail integration

VoIP Softphone Compatibility

VoIP softphones are easy to use and install; however, there are two technical specifications to understand before making your choice.

Protocols

The VoIP softphone will only work correctly if it is compatible with the communication protocol of your VoIP service. A protocol creates the connection between the devices to transmit the voice signals.The most common protocol used is the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP).

Other softphone protocols include:

  • H.323: one of the original protocols that was implemented and is still used
  • Media Gateway Control Protocol (MGCP): an older VoIP protocol that is being used less
  • Skinny Client Control Protocol (SCCP or Skinny): Cisco’s proprietary protocol
  • Inter-Asterisk eXchange (IAX): Asterisk’s proprietary protocol

SIP softphones tend to dominate the market because SIP is the most popular protocol. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of softphones available that will support non-SIP protocols. You can also consult with your VoIP service provider or their website to see if they have a VoIP softphone available.

Codecs

The audio codec is another specification that needs to be compatible. The audio codec converts the analog voice signal to a digital version that can be relayed across the network. VoIP softphones tend to support multiple codecs and may shuffle through them to optimize performance.

The codecs for VoIP softphones have variable sound qualities, bandwidth requirements, and processing speeds. Codecs producing high quality sound will generally need a larger amount of bandwidth. While codecs that use less bandwidth can have reduced sound quality.

Some of the VoIP softphone codecs in use are:

  • G.711
  • G.722:
  • G.729
  • G.723.1
  • GSM
  • Speex
  • iLBC