A guest post from Brennon Kwok, Polycom Asia Pacific’s regional UC Solution Architect for Microsoft and recognised by Microsoft as a Lync MVP:
We continue to see increasing numbers of Enterprises and SMBs choose Microsoft Lync 2013 as their preferred UC Platform. As such the Lync Enterprise Voice workload continues to gain tremendous momentum as companies seek to replace their legacy PBX with Lync.
Whilst some companies may choose to deploy headsets for selected departments such as the Customer Service Contact Centre, today we find that most users still prefer to use Desktop Phones for their everyday voice communication. This is simply because headsets require that the users’ PC or laptop must always be on, online and logged into Lync, in order to make or receive calls. Our modern workforce today demands not just being always connected, but being always connected instantly. In contrast to Headsets, a Desk Phone requires no PC or laptop, is always on, always connected, consumes much less power than a PC; and more importantly, allows instant communication by simply picking up the receiver to answer call when the phone rings; or just pressing one button to make that important call to a client.
Choosing the right IP Desktop Phone to suit different departmental needs and budget is important to ensure a successful Lync Voice deployment, and there are many choices in the market today. This article discusses five important factors that must be considered when choosing IP Desk Phones for Lync 2013 Voice.
1. Microsoft Qualification
To summarise, two types of Desktop IP Phones for Lync are available today.
The first type is known as “Optimized for’ which are developed according to Microsoft Lync hardware and software specifications. These devices run Lync Phone Edition and Microsoft Embedded OS; and thus are known to work seamlessly in a Lync environment.
The second type is known as “Compatible”, which are phones that run the manufacturer’s own VoIP and OS software but have been tested and qualified for Lync. Phone manufacturers must send their hardware to Microsoft for extensive testing before they can be awarded qualification status. Microsoft maintains a list of qualified phones along with the necessary firmware versions at the IP Phone page on TechNet. Compatible phones that have obtained Microsoft Qualification status ensure that users have a great experience with the phone functionality along with all the various Lync calling scenarios, topologies and manageability requirements. Additionally, note that the qualification requirements do evolve over time, which at the time of this writing are documented in the Microsoft 3PIP specifications v3.0. It’s therefore important the phones are qualified under the latest specifications to ensure the best user experience.
2. Full Support for Lync 2013 Basic and Advanced Features
With the release of Lync Server 2013, Microsoft has made significant improvement in its voice capabilities and feature-set since its humble beginnings nearly a decade ago. Today, enterprises deploying Lync have access to all of the rich collaboration features that the modern workforce demands in a fast changing, geographically diverse environment.
The new collaboration features are part of the Lync Server 2013 Voice deployment and includes Response Groups, Call Park, Group Call Pickup and Manager/Delegate enhancements, just to name a few. At the same time, users are also enjoying even higher availability (HA) and scalability of the UC platform as an “Always On, Always Connected” system. Many of these new HA features are built into the Lync server infrastructure such as Pool Pairing for greater high availability (HA), Windows Fabric for better scalability and M:N Trunk Routing for more flexible call routes and number manipulation. The IP Desktop Phone should support most, if not all, of these new Lync 2013 features. It would be fairly easy to bring up a list of all voice-related features in Lync 2013 and simply do a checklist of supported features to make sure the phone supports them.
3. Additional Handset Features
In addition to supporting the Lync Voice feature-set, there’s ample room for “Compatible” phone manufacturers to build additional capabilities to the Desktop Phone itself, over and above what Lync already offers. This is also the key reason and differentiator as to why Enterprises choose to deploy “Compatible” phones over “Optimised” phones. The former allows greater flexibility and innovation in phone feature-set and design whereas the latter is limited to only the features defined by Microsoft’s Lync Phone Edition (LPE) specifications. These additional desktop phone capabilities can be mission-critical for many enterprises and some of the highlights are shown below:
Boss/Admin Shared Line Appearance – ability for an admin assistant to make/receive calls on behalf of the boss and see status/presence
Better Together over Ethernet (BToE) – ability to pair the phone with the PC over the network for a “better together” experience
Web-based Address Book Search along with rich Contact-Card display
Phone-to-phone video calls with optional USB camera accessory
Phone Expansion Modules for receptionist/admin with large contacts list; presence enabled
Phone Paging and Local Voice Recording to USB Thumb Drive
Below are sample screenshots of a phone with the Boss/Admin feature:
4. IT Manageability
Choosing a Desktop Phone that provides a great user experience is important, but equally so is the ability of IT to easily manage the deployment and provisioning of these devices across a large user base.
This is important to ensure a low total cost of ownership of the overall UC solution. Many organisations also have higher security requirements that “Optimised” phones cannot fulfill or are still using legacy network switches that don’t support LLDP-MED. IT administrators may also need to prepopulate the phones’ contact list before deploying them to user desktops, and this needs to be done centrally. And migration from legacy PBXs takes time, so during the period of coexistence, allowing the newer phones to connect to both systems concurrently can help to ease migration. In some countries, PSTN Toll-Bypass is against government regulations so the phones must support Lync 2013’s new Location Based Routing (LBR) feature. Overall, these are just some of the challenges that IT must face when deploying Lync Enterprise Voice, but there are many more. It’s therefore necessary to evaluate phones based on these criteria, with some of the more frequently encountered requirements listed below:
Static IP Addressing and flexible VLAN assignment via LLDP, CDP, DHCP or static
Automatic LDAP certificate download or manual certificate upload
Local Phone lock which disables dial-out except for emergency numbers
802.1x authentication for increased security
Dual SIP Registration – registering to both Lync and existing legacy PBX for ease of migration
Lync Device Update Service – leverage Lync server for automatic firmware updates
Centralized provisioning of local phone parameters such as contact lists, ringtones etc..
Support for Lync 2013 Location Based Routing
5. Future Roadmap
Last but not least, the choice of Desktop Phones for Lync must be future-proof not only for investment protection but to ensure that as Microsoft releases newer features with every new version of Lync, the phone should have a robust future roadmap to support these new features.
Microsoft is also rolling out Lync Online Voice to their Office365 offering so the phone manufacturer should have a robust roadmap to support this. In evaluating phone manufacturers, first look at the relationship that the manufacturer has with Microsoft and see if they have a strong committed partnership together. Secondly, review the roadmap for the next two future releases of their firmware for their Desktop Phones for Lync and see how that matches up against what Microsoft is planning. These two simple checklists can help ensure the chosen manufacturer can meet the ever changing needs of the modern workforce and provide a consistent user experience moving forward.
If you have any questions or thoughts on this topic, please feel free to leave a comment.
Visit our website here, to see how Polycom and Microsoft Lync helped one organisation with 24,000 voice devices achieve a 98% risk adjusted ROI and payback period of 21 months.