A softphone is a phone that runs on your computer as a program. In order to use a softphone, you will need a VoIP service provider (like the one of the ones below) and you will need a VoIP headset (or a microphone and speakers).
A softphone is a cheap (or free!) alternative to an IP phone or an ATA adapter.
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IP Phones vs ATAs vs Softphones: A phone is a phone is a phone, right?
IP phones and ATA adapters (analog telephone adapters) are hardware solutions that allow you to use VoIP. Because they're hardware, ATAs and IP phones require manual installation. They also cost money.
Softphones, on the other hand, are usually free. They're the software part of a phone - softphones can peform all the functions of a phone but without the hardware body.
Sometimes, a VoIP provider will develop a special version of a softphone that can perform more features than usual; VoIP providers will also charge for this type of softphone.
Technically, an auto attendant, attendant console or call center technology is a type of softphone.
So softphones are free. How do I get one?
You can usually download a softphone from your VoIP provider. You should be able to find it underneath your provider's equipment tab.
How can I use a softphone?
To use a softphone you'll need:
- A microphone/speaker combo OR
- A USB/VoIP Headset
- A high speed Internet Connection (you're using VoIP here)
- A VoIP subscription
Sometimes, you can install the softphone as a plug-in or add-on to your browser (that's your Internet Explore, Firefox or Google Chrome) or you can install it alongside Microsoft Outlook (then you can use it to call your contacts).
To call with a softphone, you can dial with your keypad or you can use your mouse on the simulated touch pad.
Why should I use a softphone?
With a softphone, you can make it easier to call people on your network for free.
Think about it: if people have to buy a phone, they may not get one. But if people use a softphone, which they can download for free... it makes it a lot easier to use the free in-network calling feature that so many VoIP providers offer.
CallCentric is one such business that has capitalized on the use of residential softphones. So long as you're using CallCentric and its IP Freedom plan, you can make calls for free.
Skype is also famous for its free network - all you have to do is download skype and you can talk to whomever you wish for free!
FYI: CallCentric and Skype do charge you per minute for any call that is off their network. Don't worry, though: they don't charge a lot.
Use a softphone when you travel
Travelling is one of the best times to use a softphone. Since you can install a softphone on your laptop computer, you can take access to your phone with you wherever you go: the geographic location doesn't matter. You keep your number and you can keep getting your calls.
Using a softphone like this is a way you can use Mobile VoIP.
Softphones are good for travelers and very small businesses.
Obviously, softphones are good for travelers. But, since they don't have a capital cost (or because the capital cost is very low), a softphone is a great choice for very small businesses.
Disdvantages of Softphone
1. A softphone can't always perform all the functions of desktop phone.
2. A softphone requires additional equipment (the headset, at least)
3. Your computer has to be on for you to use a softphone
4. Lower capital cost means fewer tax write-offs.
5. You don't actually have a phone. A softphone is software.
These disadvantages aside, a softphone is a good thing to have. It may not work as your primary phone, but it should work well if you're travelling or if you can't afford a brand-new phone right now.