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The rule of thumb in the old PBX world was that an enterprise should expect one-third of the total cost of a system purchase to go toward telephone sets. Given that expense, everyone hoped that when things moved to IP, you’d be able to get cheap, non-proprietary, relatively dumb IP phones whose lower price would significantly bring down the overall procurement cost. Save several hundred bucks per phone on tens of thousands of endpoints, and you could be talking some real money.

The good news is that this option does exist; SIP phones are widely available, and the business case for giving people expensive proprietary phones with dozens of buttons has largely disappeared. The bad news is described by Ovum UC analyst Brian Riggs in his latest No Jitter post, “UC Headsets Can Cost a Pretty Penny.” Namely, if your big idea was to get rid of phones altogether, the endpoints you’ll likely need to replace them with -- decent-quality headsets -- could wipe out the savings you’d hoped to achieve.

“Sure, you could install UC clients on all desktops, laptops, and mobile devices and tell everyone to buy a $20 headset from Staples,” Brian wrote. “But make sure you have plenty of helpdesk staffers around, because they're going to be busy. Sound quality will be spotty, lifespan will be short, vendor support will be limited to non-existent, and seamless connectivity to the UC software may be haphazard.”

Brian included a price comparison chart showing how SIP phones can actually be cheaper than high-end UC-compatible headsets. This makes his point, but what are you supposed to do? Give IP phones to people who not only won’t use them, but may barely recognize what they even are -- and then tell those users that’s what they get, take it or leave it? You’d probably wind up with people buying the cheap headsets anyway and then doing the complaining that Brian mentioned in the quote above.

And endpoints aren’t just a lingering issue at the desktop. I’ve been at the InfoComm AV show in Las Vegas this week, and I’ve heard quite a bit of talk about the issues that can arise as enterprises start upgrading conference rooms with the next generation of microphones and cameras, at the same time that the IT/communications teams are migrating to collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex Teams. It gets back to all that voice engineering stuff like echo cancellation. The same problem that Brian talked about in his phone/headset article applies to conference room microphones as well -- the endpoints need to be compatible with and optimized for the system you’re using.

“You definitely don’t want to mix and match different audio, video, and applications,” Nic Milani, director of commercial product marketing at Crestron Electronics, said in one session.

A lot of enterprise decision-makers hoped to be freed from the shackles of proprietary telephones running vendor-specific signaling protocols. But it turns out that whatever the endpoint is, it needs to be, if not proprietary, at least compatible – and that’s pretty much the same thing, insofar as it means that the endpoint in question won’t be cheap.

Oh, and just as you’re getting ready to sign off on a big UC-headset buy, pause and consider: When was the last time one of your end users lost or stepped on a desk phone?