With the vast number of Unified Communication (UC) products on the market today, finding and choosing the right cloud-based phone solution can be daunting. UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service) systems need to fit the company in terms of cost, scalability, support, and available features. Tools for voice and video calling, fax, SMS text, and chat, conferencing and presence, are just a few of the features savvy users are looking for today. Evolving workplace trends, like cloud computing, BYOD, and mobility are also fueling the increasing demand for new mobile UC applications. Think about it: By 2020, millennials will make up over 50% of the global workforce. And, according to recent surveys, 78% of those think access to comfort with modern technologies makes them more productive – and that includes mobile UC and mobile collaboration tools. (Source: inc.). So what should companies be doing to support their employees in this new mobile-first world? It starts with getting an understanding of various UCaaS options and components and deciphering how each can empower teams.

‘Hard phone vs. softphone’ – What’s the difference?

In the world of UCaaS, hard phones generally resemble the ‘traditional’ office phone which we’re all familiar. However, instead of running over an analog telephone line, hard phones dial out over an IP network. While they are designed to look like a conventional ‘desk phone,’ under the hood, VoIP hard phones are more sophisticated. Often hard phones have an integrated display, an operating system, and the high-end systems also include capabilities for controlling your phone from your computer with integrations and call control.

Softphones, on the other hand, are UC mobile apps that keep employees connected using mobile devices, such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets. These are called softphones because they require installing software on computing devices for placing calls over the internet. A softphone replicates a feature set of a PBX on the user’s device screen. It also provides more flexibility because it uses built-in features on the installed devices, such as microphones and cameras.

Asking the right questions – the pros and cons of each

While UCaaS systems come in all shapes and sizes, understanding the benefits of platforms and their components can help companies make smarter decisions about their options. Let’s review some of the common questions to ask when considering hard phones vs. softphone, or possibly using both.

What can I expect in terms of the call experience and reliability? Hard phones have the potential to have higher uptime and to deliver a consistent user experience because the device deals with VoIP calls only, compared to laptops or smartphones which are continuously running a variety of other applications in the background. Also, it’s important to note,  individuals using softphones often place calls over public Wi-Fi – because they’re mobile – which can impact call quality.

What are the cost differences? Hard phones are generally more expensive than softphones considering physical equipment and implementation is needed. The benefit of softphones is that there’s no extra equipment to purchase, besides the software license for the mobile phone app (if applicable), meaning its ideal option for many businesses looking to keep costs low, while also keeping employees connected on the go. That’s why this type of model is especially attractive for startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses.

What about scalability and installation time? Setting up softphones requires installing the application on existing infrastructure. This distributed model is in contrast to hard phones that require deploying a new physical phone at each desk. Scalability is also another consideration; because UCaaS is a subscription-based service, adding new employees is as simple as assigning an account and having users log into the softphone software application.

Are there security considerations? Legacy phone systems run on a separate network that operates in parallel to a data network. UC systems, however, combine voice and data networks. With a UCaaS model, phone traffic is seen as one more data stream, which needs to have secure access set up on your network. UCaaS customers should look for partners that house critical UCaaS technology infrastructure in a tier 1 data center, so it provides the highest levels of security and reliability. Voice traffic within the corporate phone system should also be encrypted in transit and at rest to prevent data breaches. Look for cloud-based UC systems with enterprise-grade secure voice protocols to safeguard traffic between all endpoints, including hardphones and apps running on mobile devices.

The future is now! We can help!

In addition to ‘basic’ UC features, modern UCaaS solutions today are delivering fully integrated mobile capabilities that turn nearly any internet connected device, into an ‘office phone’. As remote working and mobility trends continue to shape our work-life preferences, technology leaders need to weigh the pros and cons of new cloud-based UC services. If you want help mapping out your UCaaS plan, talk to Crexendo! We’ll evaluate your custom project priorities, compare hard phones and softphones vs. costs, security needs, and more. Don’t wait! Start riding the cloud to your next-gen communications system today!