The first difference is the price. VOIP phones range from less than $100 to over $800 for a fully tricked out executive model.
Part of that difference is bells and whistles, just as the difference in analog phones. However much of the difference goes much deeper. There are huge differences in quality between inexpensive and not-inexpensive VOIP phones. If you’re selecting VOIP handsets, it pays to understand those differences.
A VOIP phone does much more than an analog phone. One of the most important things is does is to assemble incoming voice packets into a coherent stream of sound. Of course it packetizes outgoing voice as well.
The difference between doing this acceptably and do it well enough to give you superior voice quality is one of the primary differentiators in VOIP quality.
This isn’t a simple job and even inexpensive phones have a lot of electronics dedicated to this task.
Among the things involved in this is getting the packets in order and on time to turn them into speech. This usually involves buffering the packets with bigger buffers being better. It also involves some fairly elaborate processing to provide the audio in as steady a stream as possible. One of the ways the more expensive phones justify their price is by the quality they deliver. At least that’s the theory. Don’t pick a handset without listening to it in use on a VOIP network.
The more expensive phones do a better job of handling multiple lines as well and letting the user switch seamlessly among them. These “multiple instances” make it easier for the user to manage as many as six lines at once. A cheaper phone may only handle one line.
Keep in mind that unlike voice quality, there is a much greater range of acceptability in ability to support multiple lines. Some phones only need to support one line and only very busy workers who spend a lot of time on the phone need five or six lines. A poor quality handset is a questionable bargain. A six-line phone on the average office worker’s desk is overkill.
This is one of the areas where careful consultation with your service provider will pay off. Not only does the cost of the phone increase, but so does the cost of the lines to service the phone. By choosing wisely you can save considerable money.
Incidentally don’t believe the hosted services that promise you free phones. What these companies are actually doing is rolling the cost of the phones into your monthly bill for services. Not necessarily a bad choice, but a far cry from getting truly free phones.
Then there are the communications protocols your phone uses to communicate with the switch and other parts of the VOIP network. The most common and popular protocol is SIP, which is open and nearly universally used in new installations. It is rapidly replacing the last vestiges og MGCP, which is an older protocol. There are also proprietary protocols such as Cisco’s
SCCP. In spite of using a proprietary protocol ,SCCP (or “skinny”) still holds market share because of the size of the company and the perceived quality of their products. In general an open protocol is preferably, although there are a lot of Cisco systems being installed.
Clearly there are a lot of choices involved in picking a VOIP handset. Given the cost and the effect on the overall performance of your system, it is worth while to select carefully.
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