With the inexorable rise in the popularity of VoIP communication solutions and the impending demise of the PSTN, many businesses are now considering a unified communications strategy with VoIP as a key element. So what handset equipment is involved?

Adapt or Replace?

A significant percentage of modern phone handsets now have built-in VoIP capability whereas older handsets used with traditional PBX systems are less likely to offer compatibility and may require replacement. Much depends upon the nature of your business. If your team are primarily based remotely, there may be no requirement for a centralised office system and everyone can work from smartphones.

It is entirely possible to use VoIP with existing hardware. Whilst you cannot simply take an analogue phone and connect it to a broadband router, an ATA (Analogue Telephone Adapter) can be introduced which utilises CODECs to convert analogue voice information into the digital packets required by VoIP. The ATA also generates the standard line voltage required to operate (and ring) a traditional handset.

Clearly, the functionality available on an analogue phone is a subset of that available on modern digital handsets and some cost-benefit analysis will be required in determining whether the investment in new digital hardware may deliver sufficient business benefit to justify the capital expenditure.

It is worth considering that modern IP phones may also include a decent screen which can support video conferencing; together with programmable feature keys. Since VoIP offers a plethora of additional functionality including call blocking and IP fax, in addition to rather more advanced digital versions of PBX functionality including call forwarding, voicemail and caller ID, fast key access to these functions can be provided by a modern, configurable, handset in a way that simply isn’t possible with older equipment connected via an ATA.

Physical connections

Most IP phones come with both network and PC ports. An RJ-11 port provides the ability to connect directly to the ADSL line; an RJ-45 port enables Ethernet connectivity and, in the case of some handsets, multiple RJ-45 ports can prove invaluable for connecting with other Ethernet devices.

The presence of a headphone jack varies somewhat on older handsets. Most IP phones will include a standard headset jack.

Software phones

As the name suggests, rather than investing in additional hardware, many organisations choose to utilise existing computer equipment. Since the majority of desktops and laptops will have cameras, microphones and speakers, the addition of a softphone application provides keypad, call management and configuration capabilities. This will be familiar territory to any users of Skype and other similar applications.

Regardless as to your final decision on handsets, it is essential that the underlying VoIP solution is reliable and that, particularly for any business working internationally, that the provider has strong connections and wholesale VoIP termination agreements in place to ensure the best possible rates.

Specialists such as IDT Express are ideally positioned in this regard and can provide further advice and information as to the other key system components, in addition to handsets.