VoiceCon: Softphone Debate Continues
At the VoiceCon 2009 conference in San Francisco, there was growing buzz about softphones potentially replacing standard hard land-line phones. Here’s a quick overview on the opportunities and challenges awaiting VARs and MSPs in the next-generation unified communications market.
First, a tip of the hat: InformationWeek is reporting some interesting information from a VoiceCon panel about the death of the hard land-line phone.
The biggest ‘selling’ point for doing away with the traditional phone was the money problem. Everyone’s looking to save a buck, and companies are continually evaluating whether their workforce can still be productive without spending cash on desktop phones. Hardware isn’t exactly inexpensive, and it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore cheaper software technology when trying to justify a large landline purchase.
The proponent of the ‘softphone’ would point to the fact that cellular technology has increased so much over the years that it has become a reliable alternative. A lot of companies provide phones and Black Berries to employees already, so upgrading existing hardwired infrastructure isn’t a priority.
Not Dead Yet
Allan Sulkin, president of TEQConsult Group, weighed in with some points. He’s not only opposed to eradicating the landline, he had some good arguments in favor of it. He pointed to cellphone faults including unreliable cellular coverage, limited mobile convergence offerings, and questionable battery life during heavy use. So maybe the cellphone isn’t a replacement. Sulkin gladly noted that advanced desktop phones have touchscreen, application support and web browser, but more aren’t even aware these features exist.
But what about the softphone? All those fancy features could easily be duplicated with software. So the argument comes down to not whether the cellphone will replace the landline, but if the computer will. Notably, InformationWeek covered a little on Microsoft’s big push for unified communications and the idea of a ‘softphone’. This, of course, this lends credence to The VAR Guy’s article. The VAR Guy was tipped off that Microsoft was gutting their phone system in favor of Lenovo machines running Microsoft’s Office Communicator.
But it still seems like despite the big push, there isn’t really a shove. And people aren’t looking for a shove either. Business Communications provide Avaya says they’re constantly ramping up R&D in their products for the future. They cited a survey that shows 70% of people don’t really want to give up their traditional phone. It’s undeinable that voice communication isn’t going away, but people have an attachment to the style and perhaps, simplicity of the receiver and dial pad.
It was evident that this was the vibe from the panel audience. IT departments aren’t ready to now be maintaining phones on top of their existing duties. One member was quoted saying his company spent 80% of their time managing softphones because the devices were immature and not ready for enterprise load use.
For the time being, it looks like the argument is a stalemate, but when software matures, will the hardware do the same? Time will tell. For now, it looks like the softphone strategy will be on a case-by-case basis, and maybe Microsoft is a big Guinea pig.