The death of the desktop telephone has been predicted for decades. Technology has steadily advanced, business processes and communications needs have grown, and yet the “desktop phone,” that stodgy old friend, has prospered. Look at its challenges: first, the Palm Pilot, cellphone and the Blackberry, then on to Skype, mobile iOS, Windows and Android devices, teleworking, personal video calling, open-air workspaces, and the internet itself. There is an always-growing need for specialized applications and consistent, efficient globalization.
Still, the desktop phone remains firmly in place. What has actually happened is one of those things that many didn’t see coming, yet is obvious in hindsight. The question was never really about when the desktop telephone would disappear, but rather how changing work needs and new technologies would shape its evolution. The fact is, the desktop phone is becoming even more critical to business success as it has evolved into a rich integration of essential capabilities known as the Business Media Phone.
What is a phone today?
The modern business phone exists in many forms, but the most basic requirements they all share are durability and reliability. They are always on, ready to be used, unlike cell phones that require batteries to be charged and wireless connectivity. A phone is one thing we expect to always work; that is why they have traditionally been built like “brick houses,” never knowing who might slam down the handset, douse them with tea or drop them off of a tall table. Any phone is designed for a tightly defined set of uses, and performs those flawlessly. Whether a particular phone today supports only voice or a full bouquet of functions and applications, it is expected to do those jobs with unblinking confidence. As we will see, any device that might hope to take its place must be measured against this simple but essential standard of absolute reliability and responsiveness, one which we might call the “phone’s prime directive.”
Major leaps in technology have allowed business phones to serve a rapidly growing range of needs. The adaptations to serve these can be broadly categorized in three directions— extensibility, unification, and media.
Whether PSTN, SIP, or some proprietary network, the most basic analog phone needs only a handset and a phone cable. The underlying vision usually supports a much larger assortment of abilities, though, and different models within the same family will express different combinations. These can take the form of additional interfaces to support Bluetooth, wired, and DECT headsets, memory stick hosting to preserve conference audio, additional Ethernet jacks, “sidecar” accessories to provide one-touch selection of additional lines, and even add-on interactive HD video. Each of these extends the usefulness of a phone, by enabling future enhancement without burdening the initial purchase. The extent to which a phone can support this kind of evolution is one measure of its suitability for an organization.
Although the range of abilities, environments, and platforms that might be supported by a contemporary phone is much broader than it was just a few years ago, the user still expects them to work together simply and reliably. This means that functions must tie together transparently, and any complexity has to be neatly and efficiently concealed. The functions performed by the desktop phone must be able to connect to a wider set of networks; but more than that, the user’s experience has to remain consistent—a user cannot be confronted with wildly different behavior. For this reason, one essential requirement of a properly-implemented phone is that it retains compatibility with existing infrastructure.
Today, a conversation can happen among almost any combination of styles and environments—HD or narrowband voice, accompanying charts and presentations, HD video, small-screen video from a handheld device, or even Immersive Telepresence rooms. A conversation can be between two people in only two places, or among a gathering of groups and individuals everywhere—at airports, desks, homes, workspaces and conference rooms.
Although there is a growing expectation that participants will join meetings with video, a phone must give its user a clear perception of the meeting and also present its user as a competent, efficient participant in that meeting, whether the user has joined with video or only audio. This means that whether it sits in an open space or a quiet office, a phone must reject surrounding noise while letting its user speak clearly. Further, if it is video capable, it must send a clear, high-fidelity image even if its own display is compact.
The traditional voice-only phone still has a strong following because, by incorporating HD voice, that is almost mandatory these days, it provides excellent communication at an attractive price. A basic IP phone with HD voice, such as the Polycom® VVX® 300 and VVX® 400 series is an excellent solution.