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July 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 7
Inside Networking

Why the Desktop Phone Isn’t Going Away Anytime Soon

If you’re a very mobile knowledge worker, you may have a Blackberry and a laptop equipped with a telephony or unified communications (UC) client. The laptop with a headset is effectively your phone wherever you have broadband connectivity. When in the office, your desk phone’s primary use may be as a speakerphone. So why not connect a USB speakerphone (e.g. LG-Nortel (News - Alert) USB phone 8501) to your docking station, and use your PC click-to-call capabilities? If you get a call while your PC is (re-)booting, many UC systems allow you to concurrently ring your cell phone, so you won’t miss any calls. It’s business as usual. This is a perfectly workable solution for highly mobile knowledge workers like myself.

Here’s my three reasons why this may not be for everyone:

#1 Ease of use: users are comfortable with the familiar look and feel of a phone, including use of a handset, hands-free operation, and numeric key pad. IP phones with multi-line (and even color bit-mapped displays) and USB ports have taken this to new levels. IP phones can support corporate dashboards; directories with click-to-call; conference managers with simplified chairman controls; push-to-talk capabilities; zone paging; and visual voicemail. They can support security, weather and IT alerts, travel advisories and company announcements. Finally, the phone, whether wired, cordless or wireless, can be converged with the desktop PC to provide a unified experience.

#2 Reliability/quality: Users want to avoid voice quality impacts during PC background activities, booting and rebooting (e.g. due to security patches) and lack of operation during power failures. They may say, “I want/need a phone to do my job”. While the PC platform is getting better every year, we’re not there for many environments! That said, the PC is a critical business tool – answering the phone while your PC is not available doesn’t necessarily allow you to conduct business in any meaningful way.

#3 Cost: A traditional phone’s TCO is about a few dollars/day, orders of magnitude less than a PC. Basic SIP phones have brought the cost points close to those of analog sets. Also, the costs of moves, adds and changes come down with IP telephony. But, isn’t the incremental cost for IP telephony on a PC close to zero? The answer is not necessarily – what about the cost of headsets which have a relatively limited life expectancy?

So the question is generally less about ‘should you invest in phones?’ and more about what’s the right functionality/price, given UC, mobility needs, PC functionality and most importantly job roles and the people that do these jobs. IT

Tony Rybczynski (News - Alert) is Director of Strategic Enterprise Technologies at Nortel ( He has over 20 years experience in the application of packet network technology.

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