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What Is a Softphone? How They Work & Top Features

What Is a Softphone? How They Work & Top Features

Need to make calls using your business line? Want the flexibility of working from anywhere?

Then you want a softphone. What was once a luxury is now the standard for business communications. 

In just a few minutes, you’ll get a closer look at softphones and see why they’re so popular, their key features, and our top picks for the best softphone apps for you and your team. 

What Is a Softphone? 

A softphone is an application that lets you make and receive phone calls over the Internet. It provides voice calls along with instant messaging and call-forwarding functionality.

Softphones allow employees to call anyone from their business phone number rather than their personal mobile phone for added privacy. 

Got three minutes to spare? Jessica breaks it all down for you in the video below. 

A VoIP phone service provider such as Nextiva typically offers softphone apps to download. Alternatively, there are standalone softphone apps that require further configuration. 

How softphones work

Softphones use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to manage telephone calls. A softphone lets you make phone calls over the Internet using a computer, tablet, or mobile device. 

Once signed into a VoIP phone service, softphones register themselves to answer or place calls. From there, the provider maintains the connection and other phone system functions. 

Unlike traditional phones, a softphone isn’t a physical device. Instead, it’s software that provides a familiar phone interface on your device. It allows small businesses to make and receive calls using a virtual phone number, send messages, and conduct video conferences from anywhere.

Why Businesses Choose Softphones

When you want to get your team talking, softphones are a great choice.

  1. Cost-effective desk phone alternative
  2. Instant setup and deployment
  3. Access to more features
  4. Easy to use and support 

1) Cost-effective desk phone alternative 

A VoIP softphone is a cost-effective alternative to the expensive traditional phone lines and hardware systems.

Unlike a VoIP phone, you typically get softphone functionality included (or at a low cost) with your existing business phone service. This way, you’re not left paying for equipment you don’t fully use. 

2) Instant setup and deployment 

Downloading a softphone application on your computer or mobile device takes only minutes. Setup usually only requires logging in with your VoIP provider’s credentials.

Softphones work across many devices and operating systems. The best choice is to download a software application, but your web browser can also work well.

Since there’s no physical hardware involved, you can have your softphone ready to use within minutes.

3) Easy to use and support 

Today’s softphone apps offer an intuitive interface, such as a telephone dial pad, tabbed sections, and real-time notifications. There’s usually some consistency between the desktop and mobile app, so it’s familiar for users.

And since they’re software-based, updates can be rolled out to introduce new features without the need for physical system modifications. 

4) Access to more features 

Softphones often come with many more features than conventional phones.

These features can help improve call handling, enhance collaboration, and simplify communications. Examples include call forwarding, CRM integration, video conferencing, and instant messaging. 

Starting a call center soon? The same softphone app offers this functionality built-in for your team. 

So, what are some additional features that softphones provide? We’ve got you.

Must-Have Softphone Features

Despite the name, softphone software does much more than place and receive phone calls. 

  • HD voice calls: Talk to users in richer, high-definition quality. It makes your voice sound clear, crisp, and confident to callers. 
  • Contact lists: Store, access, and manage contacts, improving efficiency and organization. Never frantically search for the best number to reach someone. 
  • Text messaging: Send and receive SMS and MMS messages through your softphone app. This lets you text from your VoIP line.
  • Video calls: Meet face-to-face in a video conference from your softphone app. There are no separate apps or clunky downloads.
  • Visual voicemail: Easily playback or even read voicemail messages, with no confusing pins or keypresses to memorize. You can also get these voicemail transcriptions in your email.
  • Computer telephony integration (CTI): CTI functionality lets you answer, reject, or hold calls with your headsets. Effortlessly manage calls like a pro through a softphone.
  • Presence management: Indicate if you’re unavailable for calls, on a call, or are available to receive incoming calls. 
  • Call transfer: Seamlessly transfer calls to another user or team within your business. This way, callers don’t have to call back again. 
  • Encryption: Ensure your conversations are secure and stay private. Softphones encrypt the telephony data no matter what Internet connection you have. 
  • Conference calling: Conduct a group audio call instantly without a complicated dial-in process. Your team is collaborating in just a click. 
  • Call recording: Record phone calls automatically or on-demand so you can recall past conversations and improve quality assurance.
  • Caller ID: Manage the provided caller ID info, such as your name, company, area code, and phone number. 
  • Call forwarding: Toggle if you need your calls forwarded, such as to another team member or your company’s auto attendant. 
  • Call pulling: Swap devices without any interruption. For instance, if you’re going from a desk phone to a softphone or vice versa. 

Top Softphone Apps for Business Use

So, which softphone should you use? You have many options, but here’s a quick round-up of different voice over IP apps. 

1. NextivaONE

Nextiva is more than a softphone system — it’s an enterprise-ready business phone system. The company includes a free softphone on any desktop (Windows, Mac) or mobile device (iOS, Android). 

With NextivaONE, you can manage calls, send texts, and conduct video conferences from your computer or mobile device. 

2. Zoiper

Zoiper is a flexible softphone app. It supports many types of codes for VoIP calls, making it a versatile choice for businesses of all sizes. It requires IT pros to set up and deploy across your company. 

Product screenshot via Zoiper
Product screenshot via Zoiper

3. Bria Solo

Bria Solo by CounterPath is another great softphone solution. Bria Solo is built for those who need a platform to manage voice calls, video conferences, messaging, and team collaboration.

But more practically, it’s a handy dialer for testing out a SIP trunk or lighter-duty voice communications. 

4. 3CX

This self-hosted PBX also includes its own softphone apps. It’s highly customizable but also requires a lot of configuration in the real world for businesses. Its softphone app is available for desktops, smartphones, and other devices. You’ll want to have a tech pro help you navigate here. 

3CX softphone app screenshot - macOS
Product screenshot via 3CX

Softphones vs. Hardphones

How does a softphone technology fare against a VoIP desk phone? Here’s how they compare. 

Characteristic Softphone Apps Hardphones
Hardware No extra hardware is needed. It downloads to desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Requires a physical IP phone handset.
Installation Download an app, sign in, and begin using it right away.  Needs Ethernet, power wiring, and, typically, additional configuration.
Portability Can be used wherever there is an Internet connection, including LTE and 5G cellular data.  Limited to wiring and physical office spaces.
Flexibility Tailored to user preferences and business needs, such as call routing or call center functionality.  Limited to VoIP hardware functionality and headset connectivity.
Cost Free with an existing VoIP service.  Approximately $130+ each or can be leased for $5+ monthly.

What are the advantages of a hard-wired VoIP desk phone?

Hard-wired phones offer a familiar tactile interface to quickly call people along with dedicated network connectivity (Ethernet). Want to page your team, see if your exec is on a call, or dial an extension quickly? Hardphones handle all of that flawlessly.

VoIP Desk Phone (Nextiva X-815)

Desk phones are designed to be used without additional steps, such as unlocking your mobile phone or finding the icon on your computer. They also aren’t subject to your smartphone’s battery life (we’re looking at you, 20%-ers!).

Browse our pre-configured VoIP phones to see how the features and functionality differ. Not sure which devices to choose? Talk to a communications expert who can build a custom package for you. 

Bottom line: Softphones work hand-in-hand with VoIP desk phones. They give your teams the choice to work and collaborate on one platform. 

The Best Communication Platform for Teams

Whether you opt for a softphone or a desk phone, you need the right communications platform. 

Nextiva provides a unified communications solution to fuel your team’s collaboration and stay in touch with customers. Setting it up is a breeze, and if you ever need some guidance, you get 24/7 customer support included. 

⚙️ Integrate with your existing business tools, making it easier for you to manage your business communications.

💪 Experience ultra-high reliability and uptime, ensuring your team stays connected and serving customers. 

💸 Save up to 60% on communications costs with flexible pricing and more functionality.