Death of the deskphone

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“Is the deskphone dead?” is a question that has been asked frequently over recent years, as digital technology, mobile devices and unified communications (UC) have continued to mature and gain stronger footholds in the enterprise.

More and more UC apps and social media tools are available, giving end-users more ways than ever to make calls over the IP network.

The changing nature of workplace comms

Digital transformation and UC have had a pretty dramatic impact on the way the average office or knowledge worker communicates. Enterprise mobility and the rise of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) have also had an effect, with workers getting used to carrying out their communications on the move, much as they do in their personal lives.

For a time, UC struggled to gain traction on mobile devices, which was perhaps more down to ingrained end-user habits than anything else. UC developers have generally always created apps that at least replicated if not enhanced the functionality available to users of desktop UC tools, so it was only a matter of time until UC made substantial inroads into enterprise communications. The logic behind the shift has always been along the lines of ‘why spend money on expensive deskphones when every worker has a mobile phone with them anyway?’

Using a mobile to make phone calls has become cheaper through large buckets of call minutes and data plans. Alongside improved mobile network speed and coverage, using a mobile to make Skype of Whatsapp calls or use video collaboration tools like Google Hangouts, is a lot more credible.

This has had a knock-on effect on the workplace, where the softphone has grown in usage. Available on any device, and integrated with corporate systems like instant messenger (IM) or calendar, softphone apps like Skype for Business from Microsoft or Jabber from Cisco have been widely adopted. To use them, infrastructure costs still exist, but the trade-off for companies is that there is a reduction in monthly service costs and even more attractive, huge savings in hardware costs.

The case against the deskphone

A lot of research has been done on this subject. There are real benefits to sacrificing desk phones and replacing them using a mix of desktop and mobile UC clients. One of the main defenses of the deskphone was quite simply that it has always been there.

Over time businesses realized that a deskphone is a relatively expensive piece of hardware that needs installation, feeding cables into cubicles and comes with operational costs to support and maintain it. In contrast, employees already know how to operate mobile UC and softphone apps, so they make for a cost-effective alternative.

There is also a simple generational factor. Most workers below the age of 25 would hardly have used a desk phone – whether that is at home or in an office. The deskphone would be as unfamiliar as a fax machine.

So what future for the phone call?

Despite the rise of instant messaging and email, voice is not dead.  However, many organization will not need to replace their on-premise PBX with like for like when it reaches it’s end of use. Increasingly companies are looking to the cloud to provide voice-as-a-service e.g. Office 365 E5. When doing so, they can also replace a majority of their deskphones with softphone clients. Only a handful of hardcore users – such as reception – would benefit from keeping a feature phone. CIO magazine last year forecast that the end of 2017 would see as many as 30 percent of enterprises no longer supporting deskphones for all staff.

To read more about how Orange is helping organizations transform their ways of working using unified communications, please visit: http://www.orange-business.com/en/unified-communications

Steve Harris

I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.