What Is a Softphone?

The Eyebeam Softphonen App

A softphone is a piece of software that simulates the action of a telephone and allows you to make, to receive and to manage voice calls over the Internet. Softphones normally run on computers, tablets, PC, and smartphones, and are necessary for placing VoIP (Voice over IP) calls and video calls. 

Parts of a Softphone

A softphone has the following parts: 

  • An interface, which acts as a platform for communication between the user and the computer or device. It offers the user a dial pad to dial numbers, and in some cases, a keyboard or keyboard to enter names for new contacts and searches. The interface also includes control buttons to manage calls and presentations. It works with audio input and output of the device in order to play sounds and capture audio during calls. 
  • An engine for processing calls, with modules in a communication API that allow calls to be placed and received in a particular protocol. 
  • A set of codecs that allow voice data to be encoded between analog (as we hear it and as we speak naturally) and digital formats. Codecs also compress the data so that they can easily be transferred over the Internet. 
  • A contact list, which is a list of numbers and names that make it easy for a user to keep track of numbers and management correspondents. 

Types of Softphone 

Softphones have evolved over the years throughout the development of the VoIP industry. In the early days of VoIP, softphone were replications of the traditional phone over a screen. Nowadays, they are incorporated as the basic interface for communication apps. 

Softphones differ based on their functionalities, on the purpose of their use, on the sophistication and complexity of the protocol they are under, and on the features offered. For instance, a softphone that is designed for business purposes is likely to have a bulky interface and a lot of features with rich menus and options. 

On the other hands, smartphone and chat apps have very simple and basic softphone interfaces that require only one or two touches of the finger to initiate a call. 

Examples of Softphones 

A good example of a business softphone is Counterpath's X-Lite which is free but full of features. A more enhanced version is the paid Bria

Besides, Skype has a softphone incorporated in its interface. Given that Skype users are identified through their usernames and not numbers, the dial pad is not often used. But for SkypeOut calls, where users will have to dial the numbers of landlines and mobile devices they are contacting, a very basic interface is used. Likewise all other VoIP apps. 

More sophisticated softphones do not resemble much of a phone, in that they use other methods of selecting contacts and dialing. For instance, some softphones allow users to say the names of the contacts and through voice recognition place the calls. 

Here is a list of the most common popular softphone applications and services.