Like most modern VOIP voice products, Microsoft’s Lync communications product supports both soft phones and physical phones (aka Lync Phones). Soft phones are the phone client, running in software on your pc, laptop, or device. I personally have my Lync client on my phone, Surface tablet, laptop and desktop.
The physical phones are free standing devices that look like your traditional feature phone, with different models having different features. With Lync, these phones are devices with an operating system that runs the Lync client. From a Lync Server point of view, they are just client end-points, with an IP address and a user logged on. that way, should you get an incoming audio call you can answer it just like you did with your old PBX phone. Lync phones.
Under Microsoft's Unified Communication Open Interoperability program, 3rd party solutions are tested and qualified for interoperability. Qualified devices such as phones gateways, load balancers, etc. are an important aspect of any Lync deployment. The vendor process makes interesting reading. There’s a lot to it, but having qualified solutions is important all the way around.
Telecom Reseller magazine features an interview with Nir Pardo from AudioCodes where he discusses some of the aspect of IP phones. Nir notes two categories of Lync phones:
- Optimized for Lync – these are devices that in run the Lync Phone Edition client on some specialised hardware devices produced by a third party. These devices provide full support for all Lync functionality.
- Compatible with Lync – these devices run OEM software and support most, but not all of Lync’s function.
As an example of the difference between these two categories, Lync Optimized devices handle call parking, malicious call tracing and the ability to search Lync’s contact list. Having said that – ‘compatible’ phone devices from Snom do handle both call parking and contact searching.
But does this distinction matter much – are these terms just marketing jive? Well at one level there does seem to be a pricing difference – Optimized for Lync phones seem to be more expensive.
In my view they do matter – to get the most out of a Lync investment you want your users to be able to use all the features of the product. And with some compatible devices may not provide access to Lync’s full features set, you end up with a sub-optimal implementation. While devices in both categories provide presence and a range of other features, the Optimized devices do offer more. Having said that, in many cases, your users are probably not going to really need all those features – and some compatible phones do offer most of them. At the end of the day these two categories enable you to find phones that fit some users at a cheaper price point while providing those who really need it with slightly more expensive hardware.
Snom have developed a short white paper on choosing the best phone for Lync. Naturally the paper is a little biased in terms of the products covered, but it does provide some additional background on Optimised vs Compatible devices that is probably worth reading.
This certainly under lines the need to plan devices carefully in terms of what the users need, what they want and what the budget allows. For many users, the Lync client will be their preferred way to interact with Lync and other Lync Users. The Lync Phone device gives you options – but make sure you do the planning and read the fine print! And be prepared to test carefully and thoroughly.