OnSIP Recommends Polycom

Family is curious thing. The people closest to us we often regard with a complex mixture of both affection and disdain. Such is the human condition. Emotion, passion especially, arises in so many forms, like matter and anti-matter, energetic yet opposite.

Your family might include doctors, lawyers, poets and astro-physicists…even Nobel laureates. But they’re still your family. You know them really well, and for all their legitimately wondrous attributes there are times that they’re still just a pain in the….well, you know.

When you make use of a particular companies products for long enough they become a bit like family. You appreciate their better qualities, but you also get to know their idiosyncrasies. You know what you’d change if you had some influence.

I recently read an E-week article called, “How to Choose a Quality IP Phone for Your Business.” It was written by Charlotte Oliver of Junctions Networks. It’s a good piece, you should go read it.

I find myself in agreement with much of what Charlotte presents. She makes a solid case for selecting Polycom Soundpoint SIP phones for use in business. She lays out some sensible criteria for the decision.

I’ve been down this path myself. My desk has been home to a Polycom phone since 2003, although not before trying snom’s model 200. As new and interesting phones appeared I have tried them on for size; Pingtel’s Xpressa, Zultys’ 4×5, Aastra’s 480i CT, snom’s 820, Yealink’s DP-28…but I keep coming back to Polycom.

I’ve examined various of their products over the past few years and written generally favorable reviews. I work to maintain some perspective, and not merely gush about their wares. There are no perfect products. A good review finds both good and bad in a product so that reader can make their own decision about it. I try to be more than just a Polycom fanboy.

To some extent I feel like my Polycom device are members of the family. I really admire them for their many fine qualities, but like family, their quirks are plainly annoying. This is the aspect of Charlotte’s article that I’d like to highlight.

Charlotte does a nice job of pointing out some of the nicer features of competitive products. In this she does Polycom a good turn. It’s often very difficult for the leader in a space to continue to evolve a product line. Often the success of a product leads to a certain kind of paralysis.

Perhaps some manufacturers just don’t see the potential of return on R&D investment. As there are no ideal products being offered, any time being idle leaves an opening for someone else to sneak up and steal the crown. The king must be ever vigilant.

Long have we heard people rant about how long it take Polycom phones to boot. The frustration this causes is exacerbated by the requirement to reboot repeatedly when using the web GUI to configure a phone. I know that the web GUI is not the preferred approach to configuration, and the remote configuration scheme is very nicely implemented. However, there are times when you need to bring up just one or two phones at a site, and the web GUI could be more convenient in this regard.

Actually, the web GUI on my IP650 reminds me a bit of the little forearms on a T-Rex. They were there for a reason at first, but the beast has evolved such that they now seem out of context. Just vestigial appendages reminding us of an earlier time.

Happily, I’ve heard a rumor that the latest software release for the Soundpoint series makes some dramatic changes in the web GUI. If it’s true I certainly applaud that effort.

It’s also true that snom makes excellent use of the web interface as a tool for the use of the phone beyond mere configuration. You can dial by SIP URI by way of the web GUI, which is a model of convenience. You can also access call lists, provision contacts, etc. These are all good ideas.

In contrast, Polycom has put much of their effort into offering an XML-based service on the phone such that other systems can access the various functions of the phone. This leaves the door open to third party development, but also means that little can be done for smaller sites that are not likely to have such systems in place.

The various XML application examples that Polycom has demo’d at shows like Astricon 2009 target deep vertical niche’s in large enterprises, like pharmacy services for hospitals. It seems that the XML API idea is purely in the domain of the enterprise. What about SOHO/SMB users?

Perhaps such XML interfaces are an opportunity for companies like Junction Networks to extend their user portals, ala My OnSIP, to include remote integration with Polycom phones? My sense is that supporting phones from multiple vendors implies that such close integration with specific hardware is not likely to happen.

There are some conveniences that I’d like to see in future Polycom phones. For example, a built-in Bluetooth radio supporting a wireless headset. Please make certain that it supports HDVoice, too. This is one thing that would have me reaching for my wallet to replace my beloved IP650.

In point of fact, the BT radio doesn’t need to be built-in. It could be a USB attached interface as long as I can use a USB hub to keep my call recording capability.

If we have a BT radio why not support a wireless keyboard while we’re at it? That would make it easier to handle issues of SIP URIs, bringing the Soundpoints more into line with the VVX-1500 given its on-screen touch keyboard.

While we’re thinking about that USB port, what about a Wifi interface? Snom touts the ability to go wireless for the network connection on the 820 and 870.

Snom’s recent release of firmware that’s both SIP and MS OCS compatible is particularly impressive. It makes me wonder how much sense there is in sustaining different SIP vs OCS product lines? Especially with regard to freestanding phones vs USB attached audio devices.

Since the inception of MS OCS most of the hardware offered in support of it was actually just USB attached audio devices. Polycom and Plantronics both offer such devices, although Polycom has more recently offered the CX700, a freestanding phone for use with MS OCS.

Oh, yes. The VVX-1500 needed a plain vanilla NTSC/PAL video out. Some of us want to put the output on a little larger analog TV screen, or record it. I know that there are other means of achieving this through video conference infrastructure or more substantial end-points, but those are outside of the scope of my SOHO/SMB circumstances.

I can say from personal observation that Polycom is full of very smart people. Nothing that I’ve offered here is likely to be any news to them. The question is how do they decide how to deploy their R&D resources? To what extent will they take input from SOHO users like myself?

Like various other members of our family, the Polycom devices around my home office are occasionally annoying, but you won’t find me giving them up and time soon.

  • warmbowski

    Heck, if they put in bluetooth for pairing headset devices, they might as well just ship the actual handset as a bluetooth device and lose the coiled wire that connects the handset.

    • The problem with that would be someone leaving the handset off the case for a long time and it’s battery running dead, rendering the phone potentially unusable. It could also complicate the handset construction, requiring charging terminals, local volume control & mute/pairing button. I suspect that these things would drive costs up. The phones are dear enough as it stands. Adding the BT radio on its own need not be such a big cost factor.

  • Michael – Thanks for reading Charlotte’s article and the mention. I like your family analogy a lot. Charlotte, our Systems Engineer, wrote the article based on her experience in testing many many phones, as you have. And, yes, as we make an effort to keep open SIP phone standards, we don’t engineer towards any one phone as you mentioned (with the exception of our Polycom boot server; but, we do welcome the prospect of boot servers for other manufacturers.) Thanks again!

    • You’re very welcome. Charlotte’s article was pretty good. Only one factual error that I could see; some Polycom phones have large LCD displays…but some don’t. It would be interesting to know the breakdown of models that OnSIP see’s registering. Do most people spring for the nicer IP550/650 models? Or the cheaper IP335/450 models?