Speaking Of VoIP Soft Phones and Wireless Phones

VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) phones can be plain-Jane and basic, or they can be full-featured and support videoconferencing and Web surfing. You can find VoIP phones in the following distinct categories:

  • Soft phones
  • Wireless phones
  • Hard phones

Phones in these categories vary by feature and price. This article covers soft phones and wireless phones.

VoIP soft phones

If your computer is connected to a network using transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP), you have the capability to run a VoIP soft phone. Soft is a term that comes from past references that compare printed output (hard copy) to screen output (soft copy). In other words, if something is based on your computer screen, it's soft.

The computer that runs the VoIP soft phone needs to have local area network (LAN) access. The soft phone has a "soft" on-screen dialing pad instead of the "hard" dialing pad found on a physical phone. To dial a number, you use the mouse to point and click. Some versions offer touch-screen dialing.

Basic requirements

Besides the need to have the appropriate audio functionality in your computer (sound card and speakers or a headset), the viability of using a soft phone comes down to three factors:

  • The network. If you're in the corporate world, the network is already established. There are options if you're mobile and working on a laptop, but your workplace is still managed by the company. At home or for consumer use, the Internet is your network.
  • The quality of the software. The software is the application that interfaces with the network using the TCP/IP required by VoIP. At work, your company provides the software. For home or leisure use, you can program your own soft phone software or download one of the many packages now available on the Web.
    Don't give out your credit card information unless you're ready to sign up with a VoIP provider; be particularly wary of giving information to a third-party who claims to be selling VoIP services. As with any transaction of this manner, it makes sense to safeguard your financial information.
  • The type of computer you're using. Fortunately, you don't need a lot of computer power to run a soft phone. If the computer can connect to the network, it should support a soft phone. There are two categories of computers: stationary and portable.

Features supported

Soft phones generally don't provide the same level of calling features that you get with a hard phone. Soft phones run on your computer, and all features are implemented and accessed through the screen. Hard phones, on the other hand, include buttons and software optimized for quick use. The types of features provided with soft phones are generally limited when compared to hard phones.

The better versions of soft phones are generally Windows-based, so the software has a graphical user interface (GUI) that enables your computer to do VoIP telephony over the network. In its most basic form, the software needs to display the dialpad for making calls. It also needs to interface with your network using TCP/IP.

Many versions of soft-phone software are available. Most companies go with a proven market leader and standardize on a soft phone version for all employees.

Consumers, on the other hand, can choose from (and may be bewildered by) a number of different flavors of soft phone software available over the Internet. When you choose a VoIP carrier, request a trial download of its soft phone software. If the carrier requires you to get your own soft phone package and merely sells you the VoIP carrier service, consider using a different carrier.

VoIP wireless phones

Several types of wireless phones are available. The first type is IP wireless phones, which have a limited range and are strictly tied to corporate networks. For example, a hospital or a large construction site may have wireless networking and VoIP available over that network. VoIP wireless phones connect to the network and do VoIP within their specified range. Features on these types of phones are generally limited.

When evaluating IP wireless phones, check to see whether the phone is wireless session initiation protocol (WiSIP) compatible. If it's, the phone can include quite a few features not normally available, such as the ability to connect to WiFi networks and Internet protocol-private branch exchanges (IP-PBXs) without the no-peak or off-peak minute charges. These types of phones cost a bit more, but they make calling other WiSIP phones very easy.

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