HN Blog: What good is SIP device support for PBX users?

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by Jeremy Vignaux, VP Technology

Several years ago the industry news was buzzing about the prospects of third-party telephone handsets being supported by the major PBX manufacturers. It was reported that telecom managers and CFOs were fed up with paying exorbitant prices for proprietary telephone handsets.

The future of a new standard protocol for VoIP, known as SIP (the Session Initiation Protocol), promised that you would be able to use any third-party handset on any PBX, thus leaving the shackles of manufacturer tyranny behind. (OK, so I am exaggerating just a bit).

So, here we are many years later. What have we found?

  • All current VoIP PBX phone systems support SIP handsets in some form.
  • Prices for feature-equivalent third-party SIP handsets are not that much less expensive than their proprietary cousins. Usually the price is within 15 percent.
  • Feature parity between PBX manufacturer-supplied and third-party SIP handsets is terrible, to say the least. On many PBXs, support for third-party sets is barely above that of an analog telephone set (like the one you use at home)
  • Centralized administration of third-party SIP handsets on your PBX is a nightmare! Firmware updates, configuration changes and other items handled automatically with the proprietary handsets are many, many times more complicated. Most systems require you to reboot the handset to accept programming changes. Reboot a phone? Who does that?

So has the SIP support exercise been a total failure? I say No, and here's why:

There are lots of specific use cases for telephony that simply don't have the prospect for selling in enough volume that a PBX manufacturer would bother offering it. Some examples are:

  • Door phones (outside your front door or maybe on the loading dock).
  • Special use wireless phones (healthcare nurse call or how about one that alerts security if you suddenly go horizontal – think prison guard!).
  • Biotech laboratory "clean-room" phone.
  • External ringers (in case you can't hear the phone on the plant floor).
  • Harsh environment telephone (explosion-proof phone anyone?).

Additionally, other solutions connect via SIP:

  • Fax servers.
  • Conference bridges.
  • Speech-activated IVR systems (auto attendant, check your balance etc.).

PBX manufacturers have been offering - and will continue to offer - proprietary handsets for a long time. The centralized management, control and features offered will always outweigh the short term savings for most enterprise users. There is a place for SIP device connectivity.

You just have to use it in the right place.

Download our eBook: "5 Signs You Need to Upgrade Your Phone System"