In almost every field that involves technology the standard expectations of what’s included changes with time. Whether by popular demand, to keep up with competitors or by legal requirement, what was once a new shiny feature only available to few will most likely become the standard.
Next time you are in a car take a look around it at some of the features that have become pretty standard: seat belts, airbags, radios, GPSs, power steering, cruise control, and the list could go on for quite some time. If a car manufacturer was to release a new model and not have power steering or cruise control as an option, if not standard, I think people would be taken back and confused. While the VoIP Phone industry hasn’t been around as long as the car industry it too has certain features that have become standard.
To get a better idea of how the standard features on VoIP phones have changed over the years I took a trip to the VoIP Supply library to pull some older datasheets. If you’re imagining dust covered shelves of datasheets on rolled parchment you couldn’t be further the truth. How we store things has evolved and now within a few clicks I was able to pull up all the information I needed.
With a few datasheets in hand for both old and new VoIP phone models I took a look through to see how the standard features have changed.
For my side-by-side testing I looked at the Polycom IP300 vs the Polycom VVX 300. I thought they were two good examples of phones from a manufacturer that had a shared lineage that could be used as an example of an entry level phone for the time they were released.
- Wideband Audio – Wideband audio or HD voice is called many different things by different manufacturers but what it boils down to is the G.722 codec and a wider range of sounds. Depending on the datasheet you are reading it will be described in variety of different ways but to sum it up quickly wideband audio enables a clear more lifelike call experience. The older phone models, such as the IP300, usually only supported G.711 and G.729 codecs which limited the range of sounds that could be heard. The range these phones supported didn’t cover the full range that the human ear can hear which compromised the quality of the audio on a call. Wideband audio was usually limited to the higher end phones or in some cases you would have to purchase a separate handset to enable wideband audio. For our side by side comparison: IP300 – G.711 and G.729A vs VVX 300 G.711, G.729AB, G.722 and G.722.1 or in simple terms IP300 no wideband audio but a big yes for the VVX 300.
Electronic Hook Switch (EHS) – If you use a cordless headset with your desktop phone you want EHS. You may not be aware of it but you do . . . but why? EHS allows you to answer/end your call remotely using your headset without having to lift the handset, use a lifter or press the headset button on the phone. It makes phone calls easier. For a while a lifter was a solution there still was a bit of manual work to make sure it worked correctly especially if you were using a Polycom handset with a Plantronics lifter. For our side by side comparison: IP300 – no EHS vs VVX 300 – yes to EHS.
Dual RJ45 Ethernet Ports – This topic is up for some debate. If you make a living running cable you most likely are against Dual RJ45 ports being standard on VoIP phones but if you don’t you probably are in favor of it. Dual RJ45 ports allow a VoIP phone to operate as a one port switch handing off internet connectivity to a second device such as a computer. The advantage of this is with many companies switching from older phone systems to newer VoIP systems they may run into a dilemma of not having two internet drops at every desk. In these situations Dual RJ45 ports can be a huge cost savings eliminating the need to run additional cable or buy additional switches. For our side by side comparison: IP300 – Dual RJ45 ports (I was surprised by this) vs VVX 300 – Dual RJ45 ports
Power over the Ethernet (PoE) – If you want to get an idea of how great support for PoE is in a phone do a quick experiment. Ask all your employees to move their phones from one side of their desk to the other and watch how many power supplies go missing. Like socks in a dryer, power supplies just seem to disappear. In all seriousness the two biggest advantages of PoE are convenience and cost. With a PoE enabled phone you don’t have to worry about being near an outlet or making sure you don’t lose the power adapter. Additionally you don’t have to check the power adapter to see if it will support the voltage coming from the walls when deploying outside the US. The only caveat is to make sure you are using them with a PoE enabled switches. Another huge benefit of PoE phones is the cost savings. If you are deploying 200 phones and you don’t need power supplies that can mean the savings of couple thousand dollars. By my quick back of the napkin math depending on the phone this could be a savings of 8-10%. For our side by side comparison: IP300 – I am going to say no because it required a special cable that still had to be plugged into the wall vs VVX 300 – Yes
I’ll hold my hands up and admit that my findings might not have been derived using the most scientifically accurate processes and that my methods may have been slightly skewed to get the results I wanted . . . isn’t that what all scientist do anyways; but, I think my findings are pretty accurate. In my opinion the features listed make up what I feel should be the minimum requirements for a new VoIP phone.
Now this isn’t the definitive list to end all lists of VoIP phone features that is to be carved in stone and passed down from generation to generation of VoIP phone designers. Far from that it is a small snapshot of where things stand now that is going to change with time. If I was to rewrite this piece in three or five years I am sure the features I’ve listed above would be as standard as a dial pad or handset and I’ll be talking about Gigabit ports, color displays and maybe some features that haven’t been created yet as the new standard features of VoIP phones.