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What Is a Softphone?

Updated Jul 31, 2023

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A softphone is a software application used to make phone calls over the internet. You can install softphone apps and software on internet-connected devices – such as mobile phones, tablets and computers – so you and your team can make and receive calls without a traditional desk phone. 

Softphone communications technology is typically used in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) business phone systems and requires a subscription with a VoIP service provider. Softphones are an increasingly popular tool in unified communications systems that deliver advanced calling features and flexibility for remote and in-office teams. 

If you’re considering implementing softphones in your business, here’s what you need to know. 

How do softphones work?

Softphones deliver voice, text and video communications over the web using a cloud-based VoIP service provider. The software works with most desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets and other internet-connected devices that can support a microphone and speaker. 

If you’re transitioning from a traditional phone service provider, you can usually port your existing business phone number to your new VoIP system.

FYIDid you know

To build a sales team that scales as you grow, it’s critical to implement a robust phone system that gives your remote team flexibility and control.

How do you install a softphone?

Installing the softphone application to your computer or mobile device is a simple process that takes only a few minutes to complete. Once you’ve installed the software, users log in with their account credentials to access a full suite of calling features and tools. 

If you’re implementing a comprehensive phone system for a large business, you’ll also need to invest time to configure your call flows, set user groups, integrate one of the best CRM software systems or other productivity tools, and adjust any of the other available features at your disposal. 

Basic installation for making and receiving calls takes only a few minutes, while full integration will vary by your team’s size and the complexity of your call routing.

Editor’s note: Looking for the right business phone system for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

What equipment do you need?

Making and receiving phone calls on an internet-connected device requires a microphone and speaker. You may also need a separate headset if the internet-connected device, such as a desktop computer, isn’t equipped with a speaker and microphone conducive to phone conversations. 

For most softphone users, a headset is the preferred equipment option for conducting phone calls in a clear, professional manner. Headsets help you avoid outside noise from the speaker and microphone.

It’s worth noting that when you’re choosing a business phone system, you can use some desk phones in conjunction with your softphones. Many types of business phone manufacturers produce IP phones that look and function much like a traditional desk phone, but connect via an ethernet cable. 

With scheduling and call routing features, you can set which phones ring at any time or a specific device priority. For instance, you can set up your IP phone to ring twice before alerting you on your softphone-enabled device on the third ring. This may help to avoid missed calls, for example, if front-office personnel are away from their desk a manager can pick up on the third ring.

What software do you need?

Softphone software applications vary slightly with each provider based on added features and pricing. You’ll find that all major VoIP service providers have compatible software for Windows and Mac machines; however, Linux support is limited. 

Most major VoIP service providers include their mobile apps for iOS and Android at no additional cost, while allowing you to turn your existing smartphone into a softphone-capable device in just a few minutes.

What are the technical considerations?

Softphones and VoIP call quality rely on an internet connection with enough bandwidth to support your communications. In fact, your internet connection is the most crucial factor when using softphones because the signal quality directly affects your call quality. Any interruptions to your internet connection will lead to dropped calls. 

>> Learn More: How to Optimize your Network for VoIP

You may require business broadband with a fiber connection if you’re a large organization that relies heavily on video conferencing. However, most companies will handle VoIP communications effectively through any of the best business internet service providers.

TipBottom line

If your business relies on video conferencing, tips for running a successful virtual meeting include carefully planning an agenda, preparing and focusing participants, and creating a welcoming environment.

What are the benefits of a softphone?

There are many great reasons to move from traditional desk phones and PBX phone systems to VoIP services with softphones for your business. Internet-connected phone systems offer many cost-saving opportunities, increased flexibility in many areas, and the ability to build a unified communications system with automated features and tools that increase department efficiency. 

1. Softphones are cost-effective.

Softphone systems are most often implemented to save money in various ways. New companies that want to provide employees with a direct phone line or even build a robust call center don’t have to worry about the upfront purchase – or lease – of desk phone hardware that can cost hundreds of dollars for each handset. 

For any company with a “bring your own device” (BYOD) policy, softphone software and mobile apps function perfectly on most modern computers, smartphones and tablets. While you can find very basic VoIP phone services for just a few dollars a month, most business-class providers and plans charge around $20 to $30 per monthly user for a robust set of features and tools.

2. Softphones are flexible. 

With a large segment of personnel working remotely for at least a portion of the week, the ability to provide a seamless transition from the office to home requires a modern approach to communications.

Softphones serve this purpose well by allowing users to install the software on new computers and cell phones easily, letting them take calls, browse company directories and find other relevant customer information from anywhere at any time.

>> Learn More: Benefits of Business VoIP Phone Systems

From an administrator’s perspective, softphone dashboards make it easy to modify call groups, change an individual’s settings, and add or remove team members on the fly. Administrators can also easily set up or modify their phone systems with many drag-and-drop call flow builders available through VoIP service providers.

Softphones also support a wide range of devices and operating systems, allowing businesses and individuals to use existing internet-connected devices for their communication needs. Most VoIP service providers include free mobile apps for iOS and Android, and support for Windows and Mac machines.

Bottom LineBottom line

Softphones help boost remote work productivity by letting workers take calls and access customer information from anywhere.

3, Softphones help with unified communications.

The ability to manage all of your company’s communications through a single, easy-to-use system might be a softphone system’s most impactful benefit. 

Some VoIP service providers we’ve reviewed – such as Dialpad – offer intelligent tools to compile meeting transcripts with action items and notes automatically into an easily digestible overview. (Read our Dialpad review for more information.) These post-call summaries let employees focus on being present during a call while providing valuable data to improve future interactions. 

Other VoIP services – such as Nextiva – provide complete CRM functionality and the option to integrate call data with many popular third-party CRM tools, allowing employees to make the most out of every customer interaction. (Read our Nextiva review for more details.)

Bottom LineBottom line

Softphones are great for lowering expenses and increasing mobility, but their most significant value may be their ability to unify communications across your organization.

Softphones vs. traditional phones

Softphones and traditional hardphones serve very different purposes for most companies, so it’s not necessarily an issue of one technology versus another. In fact, many businesses will use a combination of softphones and traditional hardphones throughout their organization. 

In many of these examples, businesses utilize VoIP-enabled IP phones in the office, while softphone software supports any out-of-office communications without losing any data or features in the transition. 

One place you might expect to see a hardphone in a softphone-dominant company is a conference room, where specialized hardware does a better job of picking up voices from across the room.

SoftphoneTraditional phone
There are low upfront costs for headsets.There are significant upfront costs for handsets.
A local phone number is not included based on your physical address.A local phone number is included based on your physical address.
Call data is transmitted via the internet from anywhere with a connection.Call data is transmitted via copper landlines from a fixed location.
An internet-connected device can be used with a mic and speaker as a phone to connect calls.A traditional phone handset and landline is required to connect calls.
You get multi-party conferencing and video calling at no extra cost.You get audio-only calling; conferencing may come with an additional fee.
You can still use current software, including CRM tools.It’s a stand-alone phone system.
It can provide useful details and historical data on callers.It provides basic caller identification information.
FYIDid you know

Many businesses use a combination of softphones and traditional-looking IP hardphones to build the best business phone systems possible.

Top softphone features to consider

VoIP service providers offer a long list of standard and advanced calling features for softphones to streamline organizations and improve collaboration through a unified communications platform.

Basic and mid-tier softphone features to consider include unlimited domestic calls, free local and toll-free phone numbers, HD audio and video capabilities, auto-attendant, conference calling, company directory access, 24/7 customer support, voicemail and call transfer. 

>> Learn More: How Often Should You Upgrade Your Phone System?

While many of the basic features and tools go beyond the capabilities of a traditional hardphone system, the advanced features in upper-tier VoIP plans offer the most value for your dollar.

Advanced features that can impact your communication include integrations with programs like Salesforce and Freshworks CRM (read our Freshworks CRM review for more information). Other important advanced features include real-time voice analytics, post-call summaries, call recording and unlimited meetings. 

For sales and customer support teams, consider a VoIP service plan with advanced caller identification that can provide crucial details regarding your last interaction with a customer, past survey results, account value and satisfaction scores. You’ll gain a competitive advantage by providing exceptionally personalized sales and service interactions. 

Jeff Hale
Contributing Writer at
Jeff Hale is a writer and editor based in San Diego with a background in business development and marketing. He has identified new market opportunities for Fortune 500 companies and developed communications strategies and digital branding for tech startups and small businesses. Jeff covers emerging technologies and business solutions with a focus on efficiency and growth. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California, Irvine, and an MBA from Chapman University.
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