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Softphone

What is a softphone?

A softphone is an application for the computer or smartphone that enables Internet telephony.

The software is installed on the relevant system. This can be a computer, a PC or a laptop, but also an Android smartphone, an iPhone or other mobile phones. Softphones are actually available for every available operating system.

With softphones you can make phone calls via your Internet connection, so you use VoIP (Voice over IP, Internet telephony). Most of the time, the surface has a keypad with which you dial the number you want to call. With mobile softphone apps, the interface is similar to the keypad of the normal phone app of the cell phone. If you use mobile VoIP with your cell phone, you usually make calls via a WLAN connection or the mobile data network.

The softphone is integrated into the telephone system using user data from the telephone provider. It is then a fully-fledged extension, because you use the usual landline number.

Other expressions for softphones are "VoIP client" (since telephony is implemented via Voice Over IP) or "SIP client" (since SIP is not an important standard protocol in VoIP telephony). Sometimes the softphone is also simply called a “call app”, especially with regard to smartphone apps.

On which operating systems do softphones work?

Softphones are available for almost every operating system. For laptops and computers, you can install them on mac OS, Windows, Linux and many more. Softphone apps are available for Android smartphones, iOS smartphones (iPhone), Windows phones and much more.

Of course, not every softphone is available for all operating systems. However, the popular softphones often offer more than one supported system. If the desired softphone is not available for your system, there are usually good alternatives.

Examples of softphones for the different operating systems:

Softphones for Windows

Softphones for mac OS

Softphones for Linux

Softphones for Android

Softphones for iPhone (iOS)

Which free softphones are there?

There are a number of free softphone clients for the various operating systems. One of those softphones that supports multiple operating systems is the Zoiper. Zoiper is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS. Zoiper already integrates a large selection of different VoIP providers, so that you only have to tap on the respective provider and enter the access data. Zoiper also offers a variety of functions in the free basic version. If you want even more functions, you can buy the pro version of the app for € 7.99 or the pro version of the desktop application for € 39.95.

Other well-rated free softphones are, for example, Media5fone and Sipdroid. The software "Telephone" is preinstalled on most Apple computers. Telephone doesn't offer many features: there's not much you can do other than making and receiving calls. Still, it's slim, fast, and free.

We have written in more detail about some of the softphones mentioned on our blog. For more information, read the article "VoIP mobile".

For whom does the use of a softphone make sense?

Softphones, especially free ones, have the advantage that there are no high acquisition costs for hardware. This can be an advantage, especially for startups that are just getting started. And even in companies with several employees, investing in VoIP telephones comes at a certain price. With softphones on computers, all you need is a headset to make calls. If you use the softphone on your mobile phone, you don't even need that - even if it could certainly be advantageous in terms of convenience.

The advantage of using a softphone on the smartphone is obvious: the independence of location. With a softphone, the cell phone becomes an additional extension. It can be reached under the usual landline number and can use this number to make calls - even when on the move. Provided, of course, that you have an internet connection. For employees who are often on the go or in the home office, the integration of the smartphone as an extension (also called FMC - Fixed Mobile Convergence) has the advantage that it can also be reached via the internal extension without incurring extra costs.

Nevertheless, we would like to issue a small warning at this point, which we will explain in more detail below: If you make a lot of phone calls in everyday business life and have to be available at all times, you should use a real, stationary IP phone. For example, if you don't have a proper mobile data connection, mobile accessibility is difficult. Other programs can also interfere with softphones on computers.

Softphone or IP Phones: Which is Better?

The changeover to ALL-IP means that more and more connections are VoIP connections. Many companies decide to migrate to the cloud and opt for a cloud telephone system in order to save on hardware investments in expensive telephone systems. With these considerations, the question naturally arises as to whether IP telephones or softphones should be purchased. To make a realistic decision, you should understand the pros and cons of softphones.

Advantages of a softphone

  1. Save costs: When using freeware, there are de facto no costs for installing a softphone. Only a headset is required for telephony. In addition, you can also be reached with a softphone on the landline number / extension, so that there are no costs when colleagues call or you make a call yourself (flat rate required).
  2. Regular updates: The softphone is updated regularly by the provider. In addition to security updates, there are also function updates that fix problems or provide additional functions.
  3. Scalable: By downloading and installing a softphone with just a few clicks, employee situations can be dealt with flexibly. If a new employee joins, he can make calls in a short time - without having to order and configure hardware.
  4. Large range of functions: Even the free versions of the softphones offer extensive functions. Those who “just want to make a phone call” are often well served. If you want even more functions, for example things like connecting etc., you can switch to the premium version cheaply in most cases.
  5. Location-independent: With softphones, you can be reached from any location via the landline number and can also make calls via this number. It doesn't matter where you are, you can always reach your colleagues, even without knowing that you are not in the office at the moment.

Disadvantages of a softphone

  1. Stable internet connection necessary: ​​A stable internet connection with sufficient bandwidth is necessary for accessibility and telephony via VoIP. At least 100 kbit / s in the upstream and downstream should be available per call. In the case of softphones on computers, this may not usually be a problem, especially if they are connected to the Internet via LAN cables. But especially with softphone apps on smartphones or laptops that are connected via WLAN or the mobile data connection, there can be limitations. In particular, if you have no network and therefore no mobile data connection, you can no longer be reached with a softphone.
  2. The PC must remain switched on / the app must be active in the background: In order to be accessible via a softphone, the PC must be switched on or the app must be active in the background. This can affect the end device's battery life. In particular, if you use battery saving settings that shut down the softphone in the background, you can no longer be reached.
  3. Interference from other applications: A softphone is software on a terminal device that serves many other functions and is not just designed for telephony (such as an IP telephone). These applications, settings or even firewalls can interfere with the softphone. It can happen that calls do not reach the softphone because the data flow is blocked by a firewall. If the working memory of the computer is full, the softphone can no longer function either - the computer must therefore be well equipped depending on the application.

Advantages and disadvantages of softphones in comparison

Advantages of softphonesDisadvantages of softphones
  • Save costs
  • Regular updates
  • Scalable
  • Large range of functions
  • Independent of location
  • Stable internet connection necessary
  • PC must remain switched on / app must run in the background (battery)
  • Interference from other applications possible

If you cannot do without the use of softphones, it is worth setting up a backup forwarding to your mobile number. So you can be reached via your normal cellular network, should it not be the softphone. At fonial, we generally recommend installing hardware IP telephones for everyday, professional use. These are simply designed for the purpose of IP telephony. If errors occur, the error patterns can be read out and resolved better here than with softphones.

Conclusion

Softphones offer a good solution for mobile VoIP telephony, provided certain requirements, such as a stable Internet connection with sufficient bandwidth, are met. Nevertheless, when using softphones you should always keep in mind that the solution also has major weaknesses. As an example, it should be mentioned that the reliability of softphones is significantly lower than that of stationary IP telephones. The reason: In contrast to IP telephones, the hardware on which softphones are installed is not only designed for telephony. Correspondingly, other applications can severely impair the reliability of the softphone. So if you make a lot of phone calls in everyday business life and have to be available at all times, you should think about using a stationary IP phone.