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Five Considerations for Buying SIP Phones

Jon Arnold, Principal, J Arnold & Associates

Moving your business to VoIP (Voice over IP) involves two distinct decisions, and each has its own set of considerations. One is for the VoIP service and the other is for the SIP phones you’ll need to take full advantage of VoIP’s rich feature set. There are cases where circumstances dictate keeping your legacy phones, but the VoIP benefits won’t be as strong. This article addresses the more common scenario where the business gets both at once, effectively deploying a VoIP solution.

The topic of how to choose the right VoIP service warrants a separate article; the analysis below provides concise guidance on the SIP phone aspect. While you may not have given much thought to these rather utilitarian endpoints, your SIP phones have a lot to do with realizing VoIP’s full value. That’s because this is where employees will most often experience VoIP. The key message is that not all SIP phones are created equal. To further explain, this article draws from the findings in my latest White Paper, Key Considerations for Choosing SIP Phones, sponsored by VTech Communications, Inc., which [you are encouraged to download] for additional analysis.

Five Key Considerations

My White Paper identified a broad set of considerations; I will address the top five below. The first two pertain to the SIP phones and reflect what you absolutely need to look for in making a good buying decision. Following that are three considerations for the vendor behind those phones. If all SIP phones were simple commodities, this wouldn’t matter. But the vendor landscape is in fact quite diverse. Subsequently, these companies bring an important and distinct set of elements that impact VoIP’s ultimate value to your business as well as your employees.

Key consideration #1 – Features

This may seem like an understatement, and at minimum, SIP phones need to provide a comparable feature set to the phones you have now. The basic experience will be very similar, but SIP phones will also help you take advantage of VoIP’s enhanced capabilities, which will be new. As a starting point, make sure the programmable keys are easy to use. VoIP offers greater flexibility than legacy systems for both managing and customizing features, and this is a key part of how employees create and personalize their user experience.

Other important features to consider include the number of lines the phone can support; the size and quality of the display screen; call management keys for routine tasks such as hold, redial or conferencing; ease of managing caller directories; support for headsets as well as speakerphone mode; and connectivity support – namely PoE (Power over Internet), GigE (Gigabit Ethernet) and support for wideband audio.

Key consideration #2 – Range of Models

This may not matter much if your plan is to give everyone basic no-frills phones. But the more you understand how VoIP is different from legacy systems, the faster you’ll come to see that choosing from a variety of SIP phone models will make your VoIP solution better in many ways. All businesses will have multiple use cases for fixed-line phones; by considering a range of models, you can put together a plan that truly works for everybody.

Some employees just need a basic SIP phone for everyday work at their desk, but others – such as team leaders or executives – will need higher-end phones to manage groups or project a more professional image. Furthermore, for employees who are on the phone all day long – such as contact center agents – SIP phones can add value with headset support, either wired or wireless. Another key use case would be for employees who often work away from their desks but are still onsite, such as those based in a warehouse. For them, the ideal SIP phone is a DECT-based cordless handset, especially one with a long range and does not interfere with your WiFi signal.

Key consideration #3 – Supply Chain

When it comes to evaluating the SIP phone vendor, few things are more important than understanding their supply chain. To get the right balance of price and quality in your SIP phones, the vendor must have a tightly integrated supply chain. Since it’s a given that these phones will be made overseas, strong consideration should be given to how much control the vendor has over things like production, quality control and shipping logistics.

By doing some basic research, you will learn that SIP phone vendors have varying degrees of control over these things. Not only will that impact their products, but also their reliability as an ongoing partner as your business grows into VoIP.

Key consideration #4 – Customer Support

Customer support is an extension of supply chain and speaks to how well the vendor supports you once the phones have been shipped and provisioned. You may not be thinking about this now, but some employees may have challenges with their new SIP phones. IT may have their own issues that call for customer support, so it’s important to understand what this looks like for each vendor under consideration.

For starters, they should have a toll-free number that employees can call wherever they are located. This will be especially important if you have home-based workers. In terms of the support itself, it’s best if their help desk is located in your region. Most of all, the agents should be product specialists who really know your SIP phones, rather than generalists who have no hands-on product expertise.

Key consideration #5 – Solution Focused

This really reflects all of the considerations addressed in the previously mentioned White Paper, and speaks to whether the vendor is producing a commodity product or is focused on adding value to the overall VoIP experience. If your sole criterion for buying SIP phones is price, then this consideration is not relevant. However, because you’re likely buying these phones in tandem with a VoIP service, you’ll get more value by thinking in terms of a business solution.

For the vendor, then, you need to determine whether they think this way or consider their phones just a point product anyone can buy off the shelf. If a vendor’s messaging is mainly about price and how many features the phones have, they are not really solution-oriented. You’ll be better served with a vendor that focuses on the overall experience and the value their phones bring to help employees be more productive.

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