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Future of the Phone: The World According to snom

Their answer was that the phone's not going away, but that maybe it becomes a different sort of a purchase. "In the future, I think IP phones are like laptops," explained Mike Storella, the company's director of business development.

What he meant was that if you walk into an office today, you'll see different brands of laptops, whose purchase was driven by corporate standards that may have evolved over time, or which might have been driven by individuals' preference. Mike Storella believes that, sure, some individuals may opt to have no desk phone at all--which means that those who do get a phone get one because they actually need it, and so there will be choices made about what manufacturer you buy. Of course, everybody won't have unlimited freedom to choose the highest-end, coolest phone, just like you get the grade of laptop your job dictates. But the decision, whether it's made by the individual or by IT, will be more open and flexible for that decision-maker than it is today, when we're still in a world of proprietary phones.

And that's another thing. In these times of price-sensitivity, snom says its phones run 30%-50% the cost of an similar PBX-manufacturer set. It must be said that even snom's new high-end phone, which sports a color display and lists for $419, lacks all the feature/function of a vendor-proprietary phone, as the snom model is a SIP phone.

Still, in these economic times, maybe enterprises might be willing to compromise on the 30% or more of a procurement cost that goes for phone sets. Or they might at least choose to save on a subset of that investment, for workers where the lower feature/function is acceptable. And in this environment, is the PBX vendor going to argue?

Right now, snom is still an SMB company; their typical sale goes to an installation of 20-30 phones; they're hoping that the new model, called the 820, helps get them into larger deployments. Besides the color screen, the other feature the 820 boasts is a USB port that you can connect a WiFi dongle to, enabling the phone to get on the network without a wired connection (assuming you've got the access point coverage).

Bottom line, these guys believe in phones. "I think these exist because they add productivity," Mike Storella told me, gesturing to the 820 model he'd brought to our briefing. "You get productivity out of a worker with a tool that costs $400."