Will 'Hard' End Points Ever Go Away?
Will "hard" end points ever go away? In a word – no, not in my opinion.
I read a very interesting article recently regarding the decrease in ebook sales by 18.7% in the U.S. and down 17% in the UK, as paper book sales have climbed in 2016, according to CNN. There appears to have been a resurgence in reading physical books, where sales grew during the same period.
In the U.S., paperback sales were up 7.5% over the same period, and hardback sales increased 4.1%. In the UK, sales of physical books and journals went up by 7% over the same period, while children’s books surged 16%.
There appears to be a trend back towards physical books, which just over 48 months ago showed a significant decline in physical book sales due to the introduction of ebooks and tablets with ereader apps. Barnes and Noble has survived the onslaught of online and ereader-ship while others such as Borders went out of business.
There is also another interesting trend that runs parallel to this: younger book buyers want to spend less time on digital devices (see chart).
What Does All This Have To Do With End Points?
So what does this all have to do with UC end points, a.k.a., hardphones/end points. There has been discussion going back and forth at major trade shows for over 60 months that physical phone end points would eventually be replaced by softphone and UC clients. Yes, CIOs have toyed with the idea of going purely mobile and replacing entire telephony infrastructure with mobile smartphones. The issue, simply, is that mobile networks cannot provide the SLAs or infrastructure associated with a commercial environment and therefore poses greater risk to the enterprise. We have yet to see any commercial enterprise migrate towards a full mobile environment.
There has also been interest in reducing the number of end points, and possibly eliminating them altogether. Eliminating some can be practical, for example, most student dorms in most university campus environments have migrated from a hardphone/end point in every room to one per floor, eliminating the majority of end points while students use their mobile devices. A survey of a client of an existing infrastructure, in one case, resulted in a reduction of end points by 3%.
Our experience, as independent consultants to mid-to-large enterprise clients, has been that users want to keep and have a preference for their hardphones/end points (a.k.a. paper books) for the following reasons:
- Hardphones/Physical End Points are Tactical and Easier to Use – There are no membrane keys or soft keys on the laptop/desktop to replace the computer. This, in my opinion, parallels the idea of electronic ebooks to paper books
- Hardphones are More Reliable than Softphone Clients – Generally speaking, hardphones are more reliable and do not require any reboots. They are "always on" and available 24x7 and do not require loading any softphone software to make active. Hardphones typically are less prone to QoS issues related to the end point/laptop as well in our experience. The digital world comes from a five9s "always on" model and hardphones help facilitate that in the IP-centric world
- Hardphones are not Dependent on a PC – Including other applications running on the desktop, amount of RAM used, etc. as with a softphone
- Hardphones can be Integrated Seamlessly with the UC Client on the Desktop – making it seamless to use an either or feature if one is used to using both
- There are Hardphone Choices not Available with a Softphone – Hardphones come in various "flavors" - single line, multiline, black and white displays, color displays, sidecars can be added for BLFs (Busy Lamp Fields) and speed dials, and video capabilities on some. Softphones just offer one type of interface, and offer AD integration, desktop mobility, mobility twinning, move a call in progress to a mobile device and visa versa, and other features from the hardphone
- Most Hardphones can be Programmed for G.722 Wideband CODEC – And thus increase the call quality dramatically, similar to what is now being experienced over VoLTE on cellular networks
- Physical End Points are an Individual’s Right Of Passage – think of an end point as a piece of furniture in your office, like a laptop, desk, credenza, chair, etc. It’s a part of your landscape
- Desktop Mobility is Available with Most UC Systems – Which creates the availability for less real estate for visiting colleagues. This can be easily programmed
- Hardphones, Including GB, can be Integrated Easily with a LAN and do not Require Additional Cabling – Most hardphones include NIC cards (10/100 or GB) connecting the PC to the phone, then the phone and PC together on one cable to the wall. VLANs segment the voice and data traffic for QoS and voice prioritization purposes
- Hardphones are Relatively Inexpensive – The features and functions of hardphones have increased significantly over the last 60+ months, yet most have stayed flat in price at around the $200-$300 range discounted. Features and functions now standard include speakerphones, displays, encryption, G.722 CODEC, GB integration, and more
- An End Point is no Longer Just an End Point – it is an integrated device that extends to anyone’s PC and enterprise servers as a means of communication among users in the enterprise
- People Still use the Phone, Period - Yes e-mail has surpassed calling as the main way to communicate in today’s world, and now workflow communications is going mainstream, however, there is nothing more personal and relationship-building than a live call between two or more individuals
Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for softphones only, including road warriors working on the road regularly or those occasionally working from home. This becomes a valuable tool working on the phone from anywhere and very portable. Softphones can also be a valuable addition to the hardphone for users who are semi or very mobile.
We encourage our clients in many cases to purchase both hardphone and softphone for anyone in the enterprise who may have some level of mobility in the organization. Pricing has reached the point where the add-in of a softphone and UC client is relative inexpensive at less than $100 per device, and in some cases are "given away" with a single UC/Telephony license as a part of the vendor’s technology offer.
From my vantage point, I see end points as a key physical component for UC in any enterprise. It’s an assumed necessity by most users and over the years the numbers and types of end points have actually created "phone envy" as a possible status symbol.
In my opinion, as paper books are beginning to make a comeback and resurgence, I believe that any enterprise moving forward will also take that same path, employing hardphones/end points as a part of its UC strategy for quality, reliability, ease of use, and as a part of the "furniture" suite. It’s difficult to replace all those advantages with a softphone client, period.