- Softphones are a cost-effective, easy way to make and receive phone calls over the internet.
- They may not be right for every business, especially businesses that do not have a strong, reliable internet connection.
- To determine which softphone app is right for you, compare costs against features for multiple providers.
As technology becomes more sophisticated, businesses are using softphone apps instead of landlines to ensure their business phone systems are more accessible and cost-effective. But softphones may not be the right choice for every business. Here is everything you need to know about softphones and how to determine if they are the right solution for your business.
What is a softphone app?
Despite its name, a softphone is not, in fact, a phone. A softphone is software that allows you to use a computer, phone or tablet to place internet-based calls. Softphone software is typically provided by your Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) provider, and functions as a familiar, user-friendly interface that operates similarly to a traditional phone – users can dial numbers and access their VoIP features (voicemail, auto attendant, do not disturb, etc.). Softphones also have features such as mute, hold and transfer.
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How does a softphone app work?
To use a softphone, you need a computer, smartphone or tablet that can access the internet and either a VoIP headset or access to a microphone and speaker on your device. While an internal speaker and microphone will work, a proper VoIP headset ensures the best possible sound quality by diminishing ambient noise.
Softphones function much like a traditional phone, allowing you to
- Make, receive and transfer calls
- Manage contacts
- Set up call waiting and do not disturb
- Assign rules for call forwarding
Is a softphone different from VoIP?
No. VoIP is the service that enables you to make and receive calls, and the "softphone" is the software that provides a user-friendly interface on your smart device.
Pros and cons of softphone apps
Softphones offer many benefits, especially as business owners have increasingly high expectations for phone systems and require flexible, reliable solutions that allow their workers to be available by phone at all times, no matter where they are.
The biggest benefit of softphones is their low cost. They are software-based, which means minimal equipment is needed – just a smart or internet-enabled device and a headset – and maintenance is included in your monthly service fee. Most services include video calls and multiparty conferencing, meaning you won't have to pay extra for those services. Softphones help you cut costs on hardware, phone service and maintenance, since upgrading your system is as simple as updating your software.
Choosing a software-based business phone system also gives your business scalability – your softphone system can easily adjust as your business grows.
An additional major benefit of softphones is their flexibility. Because you can use your softphone from any internet-enabled device, you can make and receive calls from anywhere in the world from your phone, tablet or computer. This makes softphones ideal for businesses with multiple locations, telecommuters or frequent travelers. Softphones also protect one's privacy; you no longer have to use or give out your personal number.
Integrations are increasingly important, too. For example, many softphones can integrate with customer relationship management (CRM) platforms so that every call that comes in calls up the correct contact in your system.
Softphones may not be the right solution for every business, though. They aren't a feasible option for businesses that do not have a reliable internet connection. Softphones are entirely internet-based – they don't function well (or at all) without a strong internet connection. Make sure your connection is reliable and secure and doesn't cut out. Second, check that your employees' devices are up to date and function well, since softphone access also heavily depends on the device used for the call.
Third, you'll need to determine how you and your employees will make and receive your calls – i.e., whether you will use the speaker and microphone included on your device or if you will purchase headsets. Softphones may not always offer the same call quality as traditional phones, especially when using your device's internal microphone and speakers.
How to choose a softphone
When choosing the best softphone app for your business, weigh features and cost. While softphones are largely considered a low-cost option compared to other phone systems, monthly service costs and features vary by provider.
When evaluating the cost, think carefully about which features you can and cannot do without. Many providers offer free, limited versions of their software, which may work for you, depending on your needs. Do an analysis to see how each provider compares in features and costs to ensure the best bang for your buck. Features you should look for include voicemail, call forwarding and transfer, redial, hold, auto answer, and call ignore.
You should also look at how many phones, or lines, you will need. Choose a provider that can easily support the number of lines you need.
Next, consider the operating system. Not all softphone apps are compatible with every operating system, so it is vital to choose software that works with your operating system, be it macOS, Windows, iOS or Android. Also, check to see what other systems the softphone app integrates with, such as a CRM, Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) or Outlook.
You must also ensure that your softphone supports the same protocol as your VoIP provider. Protocols determine how data is processed and transferred over the network. There are multiple protocols supported by VoIP services and softphones, including SIP, H.323 and MGCP. [Read related: What Is SIP Trunking? Do You Need It for Your Business?]
Call providers to see what kind of customer support they offer. Do they provide 24/7 troubleshooting support? What steps are taken if something goes wrong? How can lines be added or removed?
Finally, see what kind of security measures your provider offers. Softphone apps are susceptible to hacking or malware because of their internet-based nature, so it's critical that your data is protected against breaches.
Where to find softphone apps
There are many options for where you can get a softphone app. These are some popular providers:
- 8x8: 8x8 includes its virtual office softphone in its Virtual Office package at no additional cost. Users can manage features such as call forwarding, call transfer, call waiting and three-way calling.
- RingCentral: RingCentral includes its softphone app with its RingCentral for Desktop software. It integrates seamlessly with contact management programs and easily transfers calls between devices.
- Ooma: Ooma's mobile app works on any iOS or Android device. It offers an intuitive, easy-to-use interface on your smartphone. Features include extension dialing, call transfer, conference calling and do not disturb modes.
- Jive: Jive offers easy integration with contact management apps like Outlook, and has plenty of features, such as presence monitoring, call analytics, E911 and ring groups.
- Cisco: Cisco is a great option for large or enterprise businesses, as it can support many employees and has flexible management options.