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July 6, 2018

What The Heck is a Softphone?

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If there’s one thing that businesses can get caught up in, it’s the process of keeping up with the latest developments in telecommunications, especially in regards to cloud-based technology. Perhaps you’ve heard about softphones and their usage. Using cloud-based computing technology, phone calls can be routed instantly from one phone number to another instantly. In this article, we’ll explore what a softphone is, how they work, common problems with softphone companies, and an alternative solution that can make your business and personal life run more efficiently.

What is a Softphone?

A softphone is a catch-all term for software that aids in making telephone calls across the Internet. Essentially, softphones use VoIP (“Voice over Internet Protocol”) to convert an analog audio signal from the caller’s device, convert that into digital packets sent through the cloud, and then reconvert the packets into an audio signal to the recipient’s device (and vice versa). Nearly any Internet-compatible device that can transmit audio can be used for this purpose, including smartphones, laptops, desktops, tablets, and other specialized devices.

Perhaps the most widely-known softphone is Skype, but there are a multitude of other options on the market, including:

  • Zoiper
  • Cisco
  • Yealink
  • yTech
  • WhatsApp
  • Acrobits
  • Mitel
  • Panasonic
  • Csipsimple
  • Viber
  • Xlite
  • Counterpath
  • Ekiga
  • Grandstream
  • Microsip
  • Polycom

 

Softphones May Not be Your Best Option

The problem with many softphones is that it’s tough to sort out which ones suit your needs, both business and personal. For instance, Skype typically requires the recipient to also have Skype enabled on their devices to complete a call. Additionally, lower-tier softphones may bundle their services and require users to purchase devices that can aid in making calls.

Some companies even charge higher-than-market-rate for per-minute call services to phone numbers that don’t use the same softphone. Small businesses and startups may be tempted to use softphones’ free service, only to realize that once it’s been integrated into your operations, the rates are substandard and its functionalities are limited.

For instance, one particular function that softphones may not have is “outbound calling.” This means that when you call a customer or client, they will receive a string of numbers on their caller ID — which recipients are more likely to deny when they mistake it for spam callers. With “outbound calling,” a phone number will be displayed, making the caller more likely to trust an unfamiliar phone number.

Using Virtual Phone Numbers with Softphones

Virtual phone numbers (local, toll free, or mobile) can be configured to be used with softphones like the ones mentioned earlier in this article.  Softphones can be installed on computers or smartphones, giving users the ability to make incoming and outgoing calls with the correctly associated caller ID’s.  

Call Forwarding as a Softphone Alternative

If a softphone is not available, most providers of virtual phone numbers give the ability to have calls forwarded to another phone number.  In this case when a virtual phone number is dialed, the call is instantly routed to another phone number, referred to as the “destination phone number.” This means that you can forward inbound calls to a phone number that your business already uses; however, your virtual phone number can be located anywhere in the world. Best of all, virtual phone numbers are identical in look and function to “normal” phone numbers, avoiding some of the hassle involved with typical softphone services.

Virtual phone numbers are best illustrated by an example:

Suppose your US-based business decides to penetrate Dubai-based markets and subscribes to a Dubai virtual phone number. When Dubai customers call your virtual phone number, that call can be routed to your already-established call center located in the United States. Callers can be unaware of where their call is routed, but as long as your business takes measures to ensure that calls are handled in the same way other local businesses handle them, there’s no way to easily distinguish your business from a local one.

Additionally, virtual phone numbers allow your prospective customers to reach your business without restrictions. For instance, some callers don’t have service plans that can call outside of their country. With virtual phone numbers, you bridge that gap. Furthermore, virtual phone numbers can also be toll free numbers, where the caller isn’t charged to reach your business. Plus, these toll free numbers, known as ITFS numbers, can give your business a professional sheen; a must when you’re trying to do business in new markets.


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Tom Senkus is a writer that specializes in helping startups and small businesses leverage the newest technology to acclimate to the 21st marketplace. Visit www.tomsenkuswriter.com for a full list of his service and published work.

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