The majority of campus' telephone needs can be met by installing a software client on an individual’s computer or laptop. Given the change, you should carefully consider what device, if any, will work best for you. Below are some technical and personal points to consider when moving forward and making purchasing decisions regarding devices for UC at Illinois.
CITES does not recommend or endorse any device for use with UC Voice services. However, CITES has tested specific devices for integration and functionality with UC Voice. The testing results can be found on the results page of CITES Wiki - Device Testing Results. For more information regarding the CITES Device Test Plan, including a device iBuy pricing matrix, and special iBuy form instructions, please see the device matrix on UC Device Pricing Matrix.
NOTE: In order to make full use of UC at Illinois' various Unified Communications services, you must use a UC-certified phone device (for instance, video calls are only possible on Lync between UC-certified devices). For more information about UC-certified phone devices, see Phones and Devices Qualified for Microsoft Lync . For CITES' recommendations, see Devices & Equipment for UC at Illinois.
WARNING: If you choose a device that is NOT on the Equipment for UC at Illinois list, it may violate campus policy. All campus-owned computing equipment bought after January 1, 2012 that will be used to make phone calls must be able to support 9-1-1 services as provided by the campus VoIP solution. For more information, see 9-1-1 Service As Used For Emergency Response.
It should be noted that getting a device meant for use with UC Voice is not required. Depending on how you use your phone, your personal preferences, and the type of operating system running on your machine, a device may not even be necessary. You access the UC Voice service through a software client known as Microsoft Lync installed on your computer or laptop. Using a software program and a computer to make telephone calls over the internet is commonly referred to as a softphone. Since almost any computer has an audio card with microphone and speaker capabilities, your existing computer should be sufficient.
If you believe that using a softphone alone isn't the best option for you, other options are available. Some devices for UC Voice connect to the computer itself while some other devices for UC Voice connect directly into the campus network. Phone accessories, also known as USB devices, plug directly into the computer through a USB port and use the computer’s network access. Phone accessories include headsets, handset and desk phones. Generally speaking, phone accessories are meant to enhance the softphone experience. There are certain situations when an IP phone is needed. In these situations a network data connection is required.
- Stand-Alone Phones - If phone service is needed in a location where a computer is not available, a hard phone for UC Voice will be needed. These devices are commonly known as IP phones and they connect directly to the network by using a wired campus network connection. IP phones look, and many times function, very similarly to campus’ current desk phones.
- Conference Rooms - When it comes to UC conference room devices, there are both phone accessories and hard phone options to consider. When considering USB only conference room phones for use with UC at Illinois, please keep in mind that a computer will be needed for the UC Voice service to work. If you wish for the conference room phone to stand-alone, an IP phone will be required. IP phones connect directly to the network by using a wired campus network connection.
NOTE: Some IP phone come with two Ethernet ports. Those devices with two ports allow the user to connect the device to the wired connection and also connect the device to the computer to provide the computer with network connectivity as well. This situation may require additional support from departmental IT.
The majority of the UC Voice functionality comes from the software client installed on your machine, not the accessory or phone chosen. Just because an IP phone greatly resembles that of traditional desk phones, it does not mean that it itself has more functionality than that of the softphone alone or a phone accessory used in conjunction with the softphone.
Since UC Voice services use a software client known as Microsoft Lync, it is important to consider the operating system on your computer or laptop before obtaining a device.
- Windows – The UC Voice software client for all Windows (7, Vista and XP) machines is Microsoft Lync. All accessories for UC Voice should work just fine with this operating system and software client.
- Linux - There is not a UC Voice software client currently available for Linux operating systems. Linux users will require an IP phone that connects directly to the network by using a wired campus network connection.
- Mac - The UC Voice software client for Mac operating systems is Lync 2011 for Mac. All accessories for UC Voice should work just fine with this operating system and software client. However, early testing indicates that while some devices provide full integration and functionality with Windows operating systems, they do not for Macs.
Your office space may dictate whether or not using only a softphone is an option. Many people share their office space and find that using a phone accessory such as a headset an economical choice that allows for more privacy options.
Any headset that can currently be used with a computer should work with UC Voice. However, you should consider the other uses of your computer and how you control the volume. Using a headset that plugs into your computer’s built-in audio connections, should work but you may not be able to control the headset volume independently. For example, if you mute the Master Volume of your computer to avoid distractions from system alerts and beeps, you could also be muting your ability to hear when a call comes in. USB phone accessories allow you to hear through the headsets or handset and not just the computer. In addition, many USB phone accessories engineered to be optimized for Microsoft Lync come with easy access volume controls.
USB phone accessories attach to your computer. One type of phone accessory, USB headsets, come either corded or wireless. You should consider the distance from the USB port to you. You might find that you need to move around while you work and talk on the phone; therefore, being tethered to your computer through a USB cord might not serve you well. Or if you have a laptop and frequently take it with you, you may find a cord cumbersome. However, if you chose a wireless headset you should be mindful of your working space as there might be issues if your cubicle partner also has a wireless device.
The use of Bluetooth with UC Voice might require more support from departmental IT and are still being evaluated at this time.
If you wear glasses or hearing aids, you might find a headset to be uncomfortable, or possibly find that you are unable to wear a headset at all. In this case, it might be a good idea to look into a phone accessory for UC Voice that is hand-held such as USB corded handset. This kind of phone accessory is generally similar in size to a cell phone but with a cord attaching it to the computer’s USB port. This is a portable option that is not a headset. If privacy is not an issue but something other than a headset is still desired, another option is a USB personal portable speakerphone.
It should be noted again that getting a phone accessory or an IP phone for UC Voice services is not required. If you use your phone infrequently one may not even be necessary. Keep in mind, through the use of the UC Voice service software client your computer will become a softphone. If privacy is an issue, headsets are recommended for the general use phone users because they are generally less expensive.
With the UC Voice service software client you will have the ability to see other’s presence. Presence is simply the current availability status of a user. Using the software installed on your machine, you will be able to find campus faculty and staff who are also provisioned with the UC Voice service using the software's on-line directory. Therefore if you currently have a mult-line phone to determine if someone you need is on a phone call, this functionality is inherit in the software client. With UC Voice services, availability status for a particular user you are searching for can range from “on a phone” to “in a meeting” to “away from desk”. By knowing their status, you can determine the best form of communication with them at that time. For example, you could decide to send them an instant message instead of placing a call.
A softphone is a software program (Microsoft Lync in our case) for making telephone calls over the Internet using a general purpose computer, rather than using dedicated hardware, such as an IP phone. A softphone is usually used with an computer audio accessory such as a headset connected to the sound card of the computer, or with a USB phone.
Computer audio accessory is a device that plugs into your computer to carry audio, usually in both directions (speaker and microphone). Examples are headsets that connect to the sound card or USB port of the computer, USB phones. These accessories are meant to be used in conjunction with the softphone and not alone.
An IP phone is a hardware-based phone for making telephone calls over the Internet. IP phones need to be plugged into a network / data jack instead of the traditional voice jack. Please work with your department IT Professional before installing an IP phone. Any hardphone purchased for use with UC at Illinois MUST be E911 compliant.