Real Time Communications Featured Article

Rumors of the Death of the Desktop Phone Continue to be Exaggerated

July 02, 2015

About a decade ago, the concept of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) in combination with the "officeless office" came into vogue.   Businesses wouldn't assign office space, people would work from home and the rare times they came into the office they would be assigned a cube at random.   The desktop phone, it was asserted, was a thing of the past, to replaced by BYOD and a software system capable of automatically routing phone calls between PBX business numbers and personal mobile phones.  But the desktop phone continues to live and still has plenty of life ahead of it.

Why hasn't the desktop phone disappeared into oblivion? Many businesses have specific requirements for providing voice while cellular infrastructure, even if supplemented by WiFi, has its own limitations unless greatly supplemented. 

At the top of the list for desktop phones are call centers or anything that looks like a call center.  Desktop phones linked to headsets and everything united through software provide a call center agent with a seamless experience in dealing with customers.  While call centers can be distributed, many businesses prefer to keep agents at close hand for monitoring and training purposes.

Any business with regulatory and/or privacy requirements, including legal, financial, and medical professions, are sticking with desk phones at the

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moment as solutions for compliance are easier to implement and keep monitor in a wireline environment.  BYOD devices, even if they have a downloadable client, can provide an unintentional or deliberate evasion path for monitoring solutions.

Receptionists are definitely sticking with a desktop phone for the moment.  The equipment may evolve a bit from the current device with 48 dedicated function keys to a more flexible touch-screen interface, but businesses still need someone in the lobby to greet and screen visitors.  The same can be said for any place that has a secure lobby and needs to have a phone for people to "call up" in order to be admitted.

Government agencies are going to stick with desktop phones for the near future.  The wired phone offers a combination of security and reliability, while BYOD doesn't (yet) fit well in civil service.  Given the controversies with officials conducting business using non-government email services, it is unlikely that the desktop phone will go the way of BYOD anytime soon.

The other painful truth is cellular doesn't work everywhere without careful engineering, making it much more difficult to put calls through.   Radio signals don't carry into basements, elevators and the inner core of buildings unless there is hardware to do so.  Newer construction can include repeaters designed to carry cellular service throughout a building, but doing so requires planning, capital expenditures, and maintenance, since repeaters occasionally break just like everything else. Older buildings can be retrofitted, but pulling cable and breaking through walls adds to the cost of deployment.

WiFi is often touted as a work-around, providing voice on smart phones with the proper PBX and software support, but engineering to support quality of service on a wireless network has to be sharp.  If there are pre-existing problems with the WiFi network to begin with, such as too many users and/or not enough access points, running voice over it is a non-starter.

Cell phones are built to be carried.  They aren't optimized for hands-free operation, such as talking to someone while looking up things on a desktop workstation.  They require power, which means providing or bringing a charger for the phone.  Leave the charger at home and work stops until the employee runs out and buys a new one.  Drop the phone into the pool or otherwise kill it, and the employee is not effective until they get a new one with all the software reloaded

 A desktop phone simply works and is maintained by the corporate technical support staff.  It is an additional expense, but the phone just works and is available for use anytime picks up the handset.  The simplicity involved makes it an attractive tool even in the era of BYOD.

It's going to take some time before desktop phones start to significant decline in businesses.  Consider that fax, a technology that should have been phased out years ago, continues to be sold and used today, with many service providers supporting fax over IP (FoIP). Given the survival of fax, it's hard to be optimistic about the death of the desktop phone.

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