Why the smartphone won't replace the business landline just yet

As more employees make work calls on their smartphones, employers may consider ditching their landlines, but that can lead to unforeseen problems.

When employees use their smartphones instead of business landlines for work, it can be cost-effective for some organizations, but there are downsides to cutting the cord, including problems with call quality and issues around organizational control.

The traditional desktop telephone persists in most enterprise settings today, despite the rise of smartphones. Most telecom managers assume that every desk needs a phone, whether it's based on IP or private branch exchange connections. But everyone has a wireless handset now, and it's unusual to find people in an organization who don't carry theirs with them at all times, whether it's personally or company-owned. For many, personal handsets are the new enterprise phone. Some people even use Wi-Fi to make calls, with services such as Skype and Google Voice.

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But before you unplug all your business landlines, think about some of the problems you may encounter. Do you want important customers, clients and other contacts to have access to your users' personal phone numbers? So many employees use their personal phones for business already, but a policy regarding who owns the connection to a customer might be in order.

Cellular coverage is often a problem as well. Cell signals can be weak indoors and can result in poor call quality or dropped connections, which are unacceptable in a business setting today. Distributed antenna systems and related approaches to improving indoor coverage are available, and a discussion with your cellular carrier can yield cost-effective solutions to coverage problems.

Mobile phones are essential for many corporate activities, but employees whose jobs tie them to a fixed location -- finance departments, call centers, help desks and many more -- really don't need mobile access. In these scenarios, employers will appreciate the lower costs of wired services, and employees will appreciate the improved reliability.

Another problem familiar to employees who use smartphones is that battery life is never sufficient and mobile phones go dead at the worst possible moments. This problem is compounded by the fact that many mobile devices lack user-swappable batteries. If you replace desktop phones with charging stations then battery life becomes less of a problem, but power will remain the weak link in mobility for some time to come.

If users truly benefit from mobility and can reliably depend on their smartphones, there may be no reason to keep spending scarce corporate dollars on business landlines. There are some show-stopping reasons to replace landlines with smartphones, but doing so without evaluating the above considerations could do more harm than good.

This was first published in April 2013

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