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What is a VoIP Softphone?A VoIP softphone is a program that installs to and runs from your computer. A VoIP softphone enables you to make calls with just your computer using a VoIP service. Skype, iChat, and GoogleTalk are some of the more popular services, but there are many different ones available for you to choose from.
A VoIP softphone is accessible wherever you have a computer with you and there are both paid and free VoIP softphones. Companies often offer their own proprietary softphones that are configured to work with their service like Cisco and Counterpath.
The VoIP softphones are designed to be intuitive to use and most resemble an actual phone handset. Or you can choose to have the layout show your contacts if that makes calls easier. You can either click the buttons on the interface to dial or use the number pad on your keyboard.
VoIP softphones are only a program on the computer, so a headset with a microphone or an internal microphone and speakers are also needed to make the calls. Headsets prices start at a very affordable $5-$10 for a standard configuration and can get up in the $100-$200 area for a high-quality wireless headset with a long battery life and interchangeable ear pieces.
Who Can Benefit From VoIP Softphones?Softphones can be used by anybody with a computer. There are a few types of users who can really benefit from the features of a VoIP softphone:
- VoIP beginners
- Heavy travelers
- Call center employees
- Small businesses
- Frequent long-distance callers
VoIP beginners can quickly and cheaply explore how the service works by downloading a VoIP softphone to make free computer-to-computer or computer-to-phone calls. Heavy travelers can avoid racking up large bills on their mobile phones or at hotels by using a low-cost VoIP service with a VoIP softphone. Telecommuters can register a VoIP softphone with their office PBX system to enjoy the same call features available to them at the office while they are on the move. Call center employees and small businesses can save on costs by pairing a VoIP service with a softphone to avoid purchasing and maintaining desk phones. International and long-distance rates are much lower when using a VoIP softphone, so those making regular or frequent calls out-of-state or country can cut some major costs.
VoIP Softphone FeaturesVoIP softphones offer the same features that traditional phones offer and more:
- Call forwarding
- Call conferencing
- Hold capabilities
- Call transferring
- Greeting capabilities
- Text, IM, and video capabilities
- Echo cancellation to improve sound quality
- Contact list/address book
Softphones also use less energy than phone and phone system hardware, which saves on costs and is useful for green companies.
VoIP Softphone ProtocolsVoIP service uses different protocols to determine how the data is processed and transferred over the network. Your VoIP softphone needs to support the same protocol your VoIP service uses.
Softphones like Skype and Gizmo are pre-configured with a VoIP service, but most other softphones support the SIP protocol and can be used with any SIP-based VoIP service. Other protocols supported by softphones are H.323, MGCP, Cisco’s proprietary skinny protocol SCCP, and Asterisk’s proprietary protocol IAX.
Examples of VoIP Softphones
Free VoIP SoftphonesVoIP softphones that are free to download and use:
- XLite by Counterpath
- QuteCom by Wengo
- ExpressTalk by NCH
- MizuPhone by Mizutech
Paid VoIP SoftphonesSome of the free VoIP softphones have paid versions that have more functionality:
- Eyebeam by Counterpath, $33.95
- Bria 3 by Counterpath, $49.95
- MizuPhone by Mizutech, $50.00
- ExpressTalk Business Edition by NCH, $60
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