What’s the Best VoIP “Phone”?
by Nate Rand
Moving to a VoIP PBX is a significant investment if it requires replacing a lot of phones. The SIP phone offers a lot of convenience but also costs the most. The alternatives include USB phones, analog phones with analog telephone adapters (ATAs), and mobile devices. These each offer different tradeoffs, but they’re all viable alternatives.
The standard phone for VoIP private branch exchanges is called the SIP phone. SIP stands for Session Initiation Protocol, which is what lets the phone originate and answer calls. It uses other standard protocols to convert between voice and digital data. An RJ-45 Ethernet connector or a Wi-Fi connection lets it access the network.
SIP phones can plug into almost any Ethernet network with VoIP service. The service can use either SIP trunking or an IP PBX. With SIP trunking, the phone connects to a server which puts it on the public telephone network. It’s just like having a regular phone with a number people can call. An IP PBX connects the phone to a private branch exchange, making it an extension within the business’s phone system. the PBX hardware can be either on the premises or remote. A SIP phone works equally well in all these cases.
The phone puts the system’s features at the user’s fingertips. Its buttons make it easy to access call forwarding, voicemail, conferencing, and any other available options. Its main disadvantage, for the wired version, is that it’s tethered to the Ethernet network.
The USB phone is a more economical alternative to the SIP phone, but it requires a connection to a computer with “softphone” software. The phone is effectively a USB audio input and output device to the computer. It’s like using a speaker and microphone with the computer, but with a touchpad and fewer echo problems.
The software recognizes touch tones, so it’s possible to make outgoing calls directly from the phone. Other VoIP functions are on the computer rather than the phone, or they’re accessible through voice commands. Since the phone is just an audio device to the computer, text messaging has to go through the computer rather than the phone.
This approach can save money compared with SIP phones, but the phone is tied to the computer, and accessing features through the computer rather than the phone may be less convenient.
Analog telephone adapter
The ATA accepts an ordinary RJ-11 phone jack and converts between analog signals and VoIP data. Just as there are VoIP phones which connect directly to the network and phones that use a USB connection to a computer, there are ATAs that work both ways.
A simple ATA with a USB connection costs as little as $20. It offers the same functionality as a USB phone. This is the most economical alternative, especially if analog phones are already at hand. As with a USB phone, the combination has to stay with a computer that has softphone software, and access to features is through the computer or by voice commands.
An ATA with an RJ-45 Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection is also known as a VoIP gateway. It connects to the local network like a SIP phone.
The more elaborate ATAs can handle more than one phone, with an RJ-11 jack for each one. They have RJ-45 connectors to plug directly into the local network, and very often a second RJ-45 connector so the user can configure them from a computer.
Smartphones and tablets can serve as VoIP phones, with the appropriate software. A variety of applications are available, some of them free or included with the service.
Making and receiving calls is sometimes less convenient that making cell phone calls. Depending on the software, it may not be possible to answer calls as smoothly as answering a cell call. If people use their own phones or tablets, access to the network depends on the business’s BYOD policy. On the positive side, it can be very convenient to handle all voice communications from the same phone.
With so many options available, any business can find a way to give all its people VoIP access without exceeding its budget.
Is your business planning a move to VoIP? Contact us for a free consultation.
October 2, 2018