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The nightmare of desktop softphones

With years of expierence in the telecommunications business we noticed that recommending softphones as part of a service or just recommending softphones as a service comes with a costs. Especially softphones which run on a desktop computer or laptop. Let us explain why we, and I think many other VoIP companies starting to get tired of it.

In the first place, selling ‘free’ and opensource softphones sounds like an reasonable solution. There are free softphones like Counterpath Bria Solo or Zoiper. Users can install them on their computers and softphones pretty easy. But then the administration and support nightmare is starting.

Problem 1 – The first the step

When the users starts the application for the first time, they are overwhelmed with all the settings and don’t know what to enter where. So they need assistance with configuration. Also mind that most users are too lazy to read the manual and start calling you for a remote desktop session. For most systems they need to enter only a few registration details like SIP username, password and SIP server and the application should be working fine. And there we are approaching problem #2.

Problem 2 – Entering the wrong registration details by users

Most of the times the SIP credentials generated are too difficult. Some users are smart enough to copy and paste these from an email sent by the telco. Although, when copying sometimes, don’t ask me how, a hidden space or line break comes with it. So then, the wrong details are entered. Even worse, I remember those, are retyping these key by key from the e-mail received because they don’t know how copy/paste works.

Most PBX systems use algorithms for security reasons like Fail2ban, so when the details are entered and saved, beneath the surface, the softphone application starts to register a couple of times with the wrong details and then the (customers) ip-address is banned for minutes or even hours. So then the users tries to register using the softphone and immediately start complaining that the service isn’t working and they receive registration timeouts. I’m being honest, this truly happens this way.

Also notice that when an office with 1 ip-address is using a softphone application, and accidentaly one user enteres the wrong details and the ip-address is banned. All users are banned the same time.

Problem 3 – User and device administration

When there are lots of users, how are you dealing with supplying all the right registrations details to users? And how are you managing all the devices? Some may use Windows and others use Apple. And there’s another group which use Linux. When you have more than 1000 users, it’s really hard to manage all those users. If one users forgets it’s password each year, or reinstalled, then you have more than 3 calls a day administering users and softphones.

Problem 4 – What happens with personal settings?

This is a mostly unforseen screnario. Most softphone application save settings and user data locally. Like contacts, call history and busy-lamp-fields. What happens when the computer is crashed, reinstalled or whatever? Most frequent scenario:

Angry user calling: are all contacts gone?
Support: Yes, didn’t you make any backups?
User: I thought the phone system runs in the cloud?
Support: Yes, it does, but your softphone is running locally with your contacts.
User: <angry and frustrated>Uhmpf, and my call history?</angry and frustrated>

Problem 5 – After a while

Some users start to use those free softphones and suddenly they receive an e-mail or pop-up: “You trial has ended” and now they have to pay. Or “You exceeded your free calling limits for today”. Seems that the softphone is only for personal / non-business usage. If the user wants more minutes, they need to upgrade.

Problem 6 – Updates and licences

When the free softphone providers are pushing and forcing software updates: a user will get notified and start calling you what to do because it’s really annoying. And you don’t know what happens and say “I think it should be no problem to update” and when the update was applied, they suddenly need to buy a new licence to continue, or even worse; some system packages needs to be upgraded and you have to upgrade the whole user system to continue.

Problem 7 – Never recommend a free softphone

In the past, when the VoIP was barely a mature technology, we recommended free softphone applications. Just to make clear; We didn’t sell them, we didn’t install them, we didn’t force them to use them. Only a free advise. Users are really happy with it. But after a while, the softphone businessmodel changed. And from now on, users are forced to to pay for a subscription. The users came back to us complaining and screaming why this happened. And how we can solve this issue for them…What do you do then?