Desk Phone Extinction? Not So Fast

Are reports of the death of the desk phone, to steal from Mark Twain, greatly exaggerated? In a new survey, one virtual PBX vendor would you have believe the answer is no – the desk phone will hit dodo status, and soon. But the findings raise more questions than answers, and do not seem to jibe with everyday reality. In other words, partners, don’t fret about those desk phone sales yet, even as you also focus on mobility and UC services that contain softphones.

On Tuesday, Kansas-based AccessDirect Inc. said the results of a survey it conducted show that desk phones face “extinction” as younger employees, who prefer mobile alternatives, take over the workplace.

That’s a bold statement, and it’s not the first time it has been made; ever since mobility and the softphone hit the market, people have forecast the demise of the desk phone. Ask yourself, though – how often do black-and-white predictions come to fruition in business technology? Almost always is there room for everything.

Regardless, AccessDirect believes the end of desk phone days is nigh.

The company, which makes cloud-based PBX systems for existing phones, said 42 percent of people it polled use their mobiles as the primary business phone, prompting founder John Kinskey, to declare, “The desk phone faces extinction with upcoming generations.”

Now, let’s break down some areas before partners assume their desk phone sales are about to evaporate, before you’ve mapped a strategy to add more mobility and UC services to your portfolio.

First, AccessDirect also said that 48 percent of respondents said they still rely on their desk phones. Second, the company polled a mere 100 small businesses in North America. Those organizations only had 10 or fewer employees. On top of that, two dozen of those respondents were, according to AccessDirect, other phone systems providers – not typical channel partner customers. In addition, realize that the United States and Canada together boast hundreds of thousands of small businesses with few staff. A hundred respondents seems a small sampling, and 76, when removing the other vendors, comes off as even smaller.

Let’s apply even more pragmatism. The desk phone cannot wholly give way to the mobile phone, or even the softphone. Why? The pitfalls. For example, if a company doesn’t have mobile workers, why pay an average $100 wireless bill per person – and that may be a low estimate – when they could lay out twice that amount, once? An April 2014 ShoreTel price list shows a basic IP phone going for about $200 before tacking on licensing options. Annual software fees can pile up, sure, but the total would be far less than paying for workers’ cell phones each month.

Think, too, about drawbacks other than cost. Regulated industries such as finance, government and health care, for instance, must be sticklers about security. The mobile phone and softphone arguably are more prone to hacking and eavesdropping than their IP phone counterparts. That’s not to say that some manufacturers such as Motorola haven’t built encrypted mobile devices for security-conscious sectors – they have. But the price tag edges out smaller businesses on a budget. And how about basic issues such as power? Leave the charger at home and your iPhone may not last the day. Or, if the office loses power and your computer can’t connect to the Internet, there goes the ability to make calls over a softphone. (Of course, the same would happen to IP desk phones that don’t have a backup power source.) Finally, there’s simple human habit. The presence of a desk phone just makes some executives and employees feel more comfortable. The force of that kind of psychological comfort can keep a technology around longer than expected.

All in all, there’s little “there” there to support the argument for the impending annihilation of the desk phone. And, in some cases, among certain clients, partners may see even more desk phone adoption as compared to mobile or softphone. Back in 2012, Cisco released on a whitepaper on this very topic. Cisco cited stats from Frost & Sullivan showing that IP desk phones, in particular, will experience more than 5 percent growth from 2017 to 2018. “Desktop phones will remain the main enterprise endpoint at least until 2018,” Frost noted.

Granted, the phone market does legitimately appear to be splitting into a desk phone versus mobile and softphone environment, as BYOD and services such as Microsoft Lync attract more users. The desk phone does stand to lose its grip on the business world. But there will always be buyers who want a phone on their employees’ desks. Were that not the case, companies such as Mitel, ShoreTel, Yealink, ESI, Digium and the like would not continue to release new models, exhibit at trade shows and lure channel partners to their programs. Note, at the same time, that they also are adding capabilities including HD voice and touch-screen displays, and software that allows for seamless transfer to other devices, in efforts to accommodate users’ changing wants and needs.

So, yes, the world is growing more mobile and virtual. Desk phones, however, are nowhere near extinct. Someday? Maybe. But partners have plenty of time to plan for that occurrence as they work on other, more pressing aspects of their own evolutions.

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