Today I received a call through Skype from a friend at a company in China, except he told me he was not using Skype to call me. His company has successfully reverse engineered the Skype protocol and he wanted to call me in the United States to see how it worked between physically distant IP addresses. We talked for a little over nine minutes before the call dropped. Then I called him back using my Skype and we spoke for another three minutes.
Charlie Paglee, July 13, 2006
A softphone is a software-based VoIP application that runs on your computer or mobile device and lets you make phone calls. Most softphones require the use of a headset or microphone connected to the computer. USB wireless phones are also available that use your softphone application to make calls while giving you the same experience of a regular handset. While the current enterprise VoIP market is dominated by the traditional VoIP vendors (Cisco, Avaya, Nortel , and so on), many of them also offer softphones that integrate with each of their proprietary protocols. Here are just a few:
Cisco IP Communicator http://www.cisco.com/en/US/products/sw/voicesw/ps5475/index.html
Avaya IP Softphone http://www.avaya.com/gcm/master-usa/en-us/products/offers/ip_softphone.htm
Nortel IP Softphone 2050 http://products.nortel.com/go/product_content.jsp?segId=0&parId=0&prod_id=24043&locale=en-US
3Com NBX Softphone http://www.3com.com/products/en_US/detail.jsp?tab=features&pathtype=purchase&sku=WEBBNGNBXPCXSET
Mitel Softphone http://www.mitel.com/DocController?documentId=16380
There are three main reasons that softphones appeal to enterprise customers. First, the price of softphone deployment is negligible when compared to the cost of buying a physical VoIP handset. Second, softphones bridge the gap easily between an enterprise's voice and data VLANs. This means extended features, such as email and LDAP integration as well as inter-and intra-office instant messaging, are possible on a PC phone. Of course, this is potentially dangerous from a security point of view. Third, softphones are ideal for mobile users and road warriors who are rarely stationary in the same office for very long. Simply by turning their laptop on and connecting a headset, mobile users can be easily connected to the office VoIP system regardless of where they are.
Other types of softphones have emerged that operate outside of the traditional VoIP vendor solutions. In the same way that web services have been built in to a variety of devices and mobile applications, so too are similar integrations beginning to blur the lines of VoIP with instant messaging (IM) and P2P clients . A few examples of these types of popular consumer softphones include Skype (http://www.skype.net), Eyebeam (http://www.counterpath.net), Google Talk (http://www.google.com/talk), Microsoft Live Messenger (http://messenger.msn.com), Gizmo (http://www.gizmoproject.com/), AOL Triton (http://www.aim.com), and Yahoo Instant Messenger (messenger.yahoo.com).
While this book focuses mainly on enterprise VoIP environments, the aforementioned potentially disruptive softphone technologies have the potential to break into the enterprise market over the next couple of years .