A softphone is a software application that simulates the display and functions of a telephone. It allows you to make, receive, and manage phone calls over the internet using your computer, tablet, or smartphone. Softphones are an important component to VoIP phone services, giving you access to your calls and the service’s call management features without the need for a desk phone.
RingCentral, our recommended full-featured VoIP provider, offers a softphone application as part of their RingCentral for Desktop service. We’ll discuss the features in more detail below, and you can click here to view a demo.
How Softphones Work
Softphones are applications that you run on your computer or other internet-enabled device that generally consist of these two components:
- An interface that connects the user to their phone service and its features, usually through a numerical keypad for dialing phone numbers, control buttons to access call management features, and a contact list
- Internal software that processes calls in the protocols required by your VoIP phone service provider and codecs for compressing and decoding voice data as it’s sent and received over the internet
Softphones generally include the following core functions:
- Make and receive voice calls
- Make and receive video calls
- Track incoming and outgoing calls and store them in a call history
- Receive, listen to, and store voicemails
- Manage a contact list and sync it between devices
- Dial by clicking on a contact
- Transfer calls to other extensions within your business
Benefits of Softphones
Some of the benefits of softphones include:
- Economical — many businesses use softphones to save money since no additional hardware is required beyond the computer you’re already using
- Flexible — with no wires to run or hardware to install, simply install the application on your computer to begin making and receiving calls
- Portable — softphones move with you, so if you’re on the road, working from home, or change offices you’re always connected as long as you have an internet connection
Where to Get a Softphone
Two of the most common, and free, softphone applications that you may already be familiar with are Skype and Google Voice. These provide basic functionality, such as the ability to make and receive calls, but any additional call management features are limited. To have access to more advanced features, such as adding phone extensions, call routing, and third-party application integrations, we recommend looking to your VoIP phone service provider first.
VoIP phone service providers often include access to their own softphone applications free of charge. One example of this is RingCentral, which offers softphone apps for Windows, OS X, and iOS platforms as well as Google Chrome extensions.
Some of the more convenient features it gives you access to include:
- Make and receive calls from your extension
- Sync your contacts from your mobile device
- Send and receive SMS messages
- Let colleagues know if you are available, on a call, busy, or set to do not disturb
- Set call routing rules for your extension
- Access voicemail
- Import contacts
- Control basic call management features, such as hold, transfer, and conference
As well, RingCentral’s softphone can be integrated with common third-party business applicatons. For example, if someone on your sales team receives a phone call from a client, that client’s record in Salesforce could automatically appear on their screen. This gives your team immediate access to the client’s account information and their history of communication with your business.
Other VoIP phone service providers, such as Vonage, Nextiva, and 8×8, include their own softphone applications with their service and there are third-party applications like Bria X-Lite, iSoftphone, and Zoiper that can integrate with and support your VoIP phone service provider.
The Bottom Line
If your business takes advantage of VoIP technology for your phone service, then a softphone is an excellent supplement. You can use them to replace the need for traditional hardware phones or alongside them for greater convenience. Either way, a softphone is an easy way to extend the functionality of your VoIP phone service, save costs, declutter your workspace, and support your employees who telecommute. It’s likely that your VoIP phone service provider already includes a softphone application with their service, but if not then there are many third-party options that you can choose from.