Softphone Starter Guide: Learn the Basics

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If you’re considering switching to VoIP, chances are you’ve heard of softphones or software telephones. But you may not fully understand what they are or how they work. And that’s totally okay—it’s why we’ve created this guide.

Whether you‘re an SMB owner or an IT manager looking to implement a softphone into your business, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to get started, including how it works, its advantages, and potential drawbacks.

The 15 Best Cloud-Based Phone Systems

If you’re looking for a reliable softphone provider, check out our best cloud-based phone system guide to make the right choice.

  • Nextiva — Best All-Around Cloud-Based Phone System
  • RingCentral — Best for Hybrid or Remote Work
  • Ooma — Easiest Setup for Small Businesses
  • Zoom — Affordable Call Monitoring
  • Dialpad — Most Flexible
  • GoTo Connect — Easiest Call Flow Manager
  • 8×8 — Best for Global Companies
  • Avaya — Best for Toll-Free Phone Calls
  • Google Voice — Best for Solopreneurs
  • Grasshopper — Best for the Basics
  • OpenPhone — Best for Multiple Numbers
  • Aircall — Most Unique Call Management Features
  • 11Sight — Best for Sales and Marketing Teams
  • Net2Phone — Best for Reception Management
  • Webex — Best for Hardware Integration

What is a Softphone?

A softphone is an installable desktop and mobile phone app that lets you communicate over the internet. It functions much the same way as a regular phone app.

Users can dial numbers to make calls and access their VoIP features (do not disturb, voicemail, and auto-attendant) and other traditional features, such as mute, hold, and transfer.

A softphone is similar to a traditional phone in terms of functionality but has a more flexible setup and greater accessibility. Depending on the softphone provider you select, you can have an entirely cloud-based solution that gives you anytime-anywhere access, as long as you have a stable internet connection.

Softphone vs. Hardphone

Softphones and hard phones are the two types of VoIP devices. A hard phone is a physical, dedicated device that resembles old-school telephones but works through VoIP.

Here’s a quick comparison between the two:


Hard phones have physical buttons to serve as a dial pad, but they may also have a touchscreen with a full GUI. Softphones are software-based and have GUI elements.

Ease of Use

This depends on your personal preference.

If you’re familiar with traditional phone systems, you’ll find hard phones easier to use. If you’re familiar with software programs, softphones will feel more user-friendly. However, the latter typically involves some level of onboarding or training as opposed to a hard phone.

Call Quality

Both hard phones and softphones need a stable internet connection to work. But the former may have a slight edge over the latter when it comes to calling quality, being a dedicated device for handling calls. A softphone may suffer from sharing system resources with other software.


Hard phones are slower to implement when done on a company-wide scale. Plus, you’ll have to purchase new physical hardware. Contrarily, softphone deployment and maintenance is quicker and easier, and it doesn’t involve purchasing additional equipment.


Hard phones are more expensive than softphones. They require physical hardware (for instance, a handset receiver and a base with a display, buttons, and a camera). On the other hand, the fact that no new hardware has to be purchased, except maybe a headset if needed, makes softphones less expensive.

How Does a Softphone Work?

To use a softphone, you’ll need a desktop computer/smartphone/tablet and a VoIP headset or microphone and speaker on your device for superior audio quality.

Generally speaking, a softphone works like any other phone. You open the app, dial a phone number, wait to be connected to the person you want to call, and that’s it. The only difference is that instead of dialing a physical keyboard, you’ll dial on a virtual one provided on the app on your cell phone or computer.

RingCentral webpage for how to use a softphone
Companies like RingCentral make it easy to record calls using your softphone.

Companies like RingCentral make it easy to record calls using your softphone.

During a VoIP call, your voice is converted into digital data through a codec. This data, known as “packets,” is then transmitted as a binary code between devices. The packets are then “decoded” back into the original voice at the receiving end, which the recipient can hear. 

Another technicality to keep in mind includes the endpoints of both your and the recipient’s devices supporting the same VoIP protocol and each having at least one common codec. Otherwise, the softphone won’t be able to communicate.

What are the Benefits of a Softphone?

If you are still wondering whether a softphone would make the right choice for your business, consider the following benefits to understand why they are growing so rapidly:


For small businesses, making VoIP calls on a softphone is typically (much) cheaper as you don’t have to pay for expensive hardware. You can make international calls at a fraction of the cost of the general fees associated with making an international call.


Being a software-based tool, a softphone runs on many types of devices, including iOS and Android smartphones, as well as Mac and Windows desktops. As long as you have a data connection, there’s no place you can’t stay connected with your team. This makes softphones ideal for businesses with multiple office locations, frequent travelers, and telecommuters.

Offers Multiple Integrations

Softphones offer multiple integrations with various business tools, expanding the capabilities of your teams. 

Because they do not require hardware, you have the option to enhance their functionality through integrations. For instance, integrating the softphone with messaging software allows your employees to send instant messages, and integrating with a CRM can provide access to important customer information like contact details and email addresses.


With a softphone, you can answer calls from a mobile device without having to sync your personal contacts and information. Any calls you make on the app will show your business number and not your phone number.

So if you have a BYOD policy (bring your own device) for your organization, you won’t have to worry about compromising staff privacy.


Softphone apps allow you to take your communication with you, enabling 24/7 employee connectivity.

You and your team can take on calls from any device without being confined to your desk. Further, you can keep tabs on all communications and respond to colleagues quickly through text or video call where ever you go.

What are the Drawbacks of a Softphone?

Like two sides of a coin, you must also deal with certain drawbacks to using a softphone. Here’s a quick list:

Internet Connectivity Mandate

Softphones need an internet connection to function. If your internet connection is weak or drops out, you may experience disruptions in your phone service.

Compatibility Issues

Though versatile, softphones are not compatible with all devices and operating systems. 

Security Concerns

As with any software transmitting data over the internet, a softphone poses a risk of security vulnerabilities. You must ensure to use a reputable softphone provider and regularly update your software to protect your business and team members against potential security threats.

Large Upfront Costs

Softphones are a cost-effective solution for businesses, but they may require substantial upfront costs for purchasing or subscribing to the software. Let’s not forget to account for the ongoing costs of internet service and maintenance.

Overall, while softphones offer many benefits, you should also consider the potential drawbacks against your business needs and budget before deciding if a softphone app is suitable for you.

What are the Key Features of a Softphone?

Softphones provide a variety of features that can be tailored to your needs. Ideally, you will want a mix of basic and advanced features. Some key features to consider in a softphone include:

Instant Messaging

Softphones offer instant team chat messaging to facilitate real-time communication and collaboration, eliminating the need for email. Users can create private and public channels for different teams, departments, or projects and easily transition from chat to audio or video calls with a single click.

File sharing, real-time notifications, and whiteboarding are other collaborative features to improve team communication and productivity.

Call Waiting and Call Holding

Call waiting alerts agents when they have an incoming call while they are already on a call. This can help them prioritize more important calls. If an agent needs to take a second call, they can put the current caller on hold and transfer the call to another available agent. To avoid keeping callers on hold for extended periods, consider additional features like call queuing or customer callbacks.

Audio Conferencing and Call Bridge

Softphone users can participate in conference calls. Typically, 10-40 users can join a single session by clicking a link or dialing a phone number. A call bridge (a phone line that connects all participants) is another way for multiple people to join a conference call, regardless of their location. 

Call Forwarding

Call forwarding allows softphone systems to auto-forward calls to multiple phone numbers if the initial call goes unanswered. This increases the flexibility of the phone system.

For instance, you can get calls forwarded from an agent’s desk phone to their personal cell phone or through their home phone number and then to the department queue to connect them with an available agent.

Call Routing

Call routing directs inbound calls to the ideal agent based on predetermined criteria and calls flow path.

This way, the caller is immediately connected to an agent most suitable to help them out, cutting down on caller wait time. This system also prevents individual agents from being overloaded with calls while other agents hardly attend calls, ensuring an equal division of calls.


Admittedly, voicemail is a standard telephone feature. But modern voicemail offers several amazing features to boost functionality.

For instance, softphones facilitate voicemail audio files, pushing them directly to user emails or as push notifications. You can even request transcriptions, so it’s easier for your team to review and understand content in case making a call isn’t possible.

Contact Sharing

Softphone app users can subscribe to company contact lists and share their own contacts with coworkers. This is a particularly handy feature to boost productivity by allowing employees to find client contact details faster.

Auto-attendant and IVR

IVR (interactive voice response) is a type of interactive call menu that directs calls to the correct agent based on the caller’s answers to pre-recorded questions. Think of “Press 1 to learn more about your current account status. Press 2 to speak to our customer support agent.”

Callers can respond to auto-attendant or IVR prompts via the touchtone dialpad or by simply speaking.

Final Thoughts About Softphones

Softphones are a convenient and cost-effective way for businesses to manage their phone communication. 

By using these apps to make and receive calls, you can save on the cost of traditional hardware-based phones and enjoy advanced features, such as call forwarding and voicemail. That said, don’t forget to consider the potential drawbacks before deciding if it’s the right solution for your business. 

In case you need more help choosing a softphone provider, look at our guides for the best business phone services and the best office phone systems.

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