I'm always on the lookout for new and innovative products for Lync (one day I'll stop saying Lync) and Skype for Business. Whether it is applications that extend the capability of Skype for Business such as Call Recording and Contact Center. Hardware, such as Load Balancers and Session Border Controllers that connect it to the outside world. Gadgets, such as the Busylight, that help the user display their presence to passers-by. Or endpoint devices, such as Headsets, Handsets and Webcams.
Endpoints are one of the most important components of Skype for Business. Without an endpoint, the Skype for Business client is an IM tool with sharing capability (albeit a good one). An endpoint turns the client into a truly Unified Communications tool. An audio endpoint, such as a headset or a handset, is what turns the Skype for Business client into a telephone.
When I demonstrate Skype for Business I often, if not always, skip ahead and show the dial-pad tab.
I say that the familiar number and letter arrangement is just like the dial-pad on a telephone (not that you'd use the dial-pad to dial a number). I am showing them that the Skype for Business client, with the addition of an audio endpoint, is a telephone.
Regular readers of my blog will have seen several reviews I have written for headsets. I have several. The one I use as my daily driver is the Plantronics Voyager Focus UC. I'll leave you to read by blog post to help you decide if it is right for you. The point being, that the right headset can make all the difference to the user experience.
Regular readers and those that know me will also know that I am a headset user. I tend to steer clear of telephones if I can. There are several reasons. One of the biggest reasons not to use a telephone to talk is because I have a great headset. And I don't need a telephone to dial because I can use the Skype for Business client.
But even before I used Skype for Business as my PBX, whether or not I had a phone, I always found a way to use a soft phone to do call control. I'd build up a list of contacts in a personal directory and I would dial by name, not number. The reason I never wanted to use a telephone was simple, because the user experience on the phone was terrible.
The Lync and now Skype for Business client is a very good soft phone. From the perspective of finding a contact and placing a call to that contact, it is really quite good. Call control could use some improvement, however. Transferring calls is still only geared to blind transfers. Attended or announced transfers is still somewhat cumbersome. Of course there are applications that add additional functionality or make the existing functionality easier to use, but why should you have to add software to improve software? A subject for another day.
Some users like handsets
Ever since OCS 2007 R2 added the capability for a user to call the PSTN the focus has been on the user experience of the client and you were encouraged to use a headset. Mostly because there was little choice. Fast forward to Lync 2010 and this changed, suddenly we had been given a small choice of handsets. Microsoft gave us Lync Phone Edition. This came in two flavors, Aries and Tanjay. Both flavors were "Optimized for Lync". That is to say that they were phones that ran a special edition of the Lync client designed for telephones. The Aries phones were produced by Polycom, Aastra (now Mitel) and HP. Perhaps the best known of both is the Polycom CX600 Aries phone and the CX700 Tanjay phone. The Tanjay was pretty short lived and disappeared. The CX600 is still a pretty popular choice for users.
User experience is key
Whether you use the Polycom CX600, the Mitel (formerly Aastra) 6725ip or the HP 4120 the experience was the same. Lync Phone Edition was in control of the user experience. Microsoft simply developed an OS and told the vendors what hardware would be required. All three phones were essentially the same, but with different cases. The operation of making and taking calls is really straightforward. The phone also "tethers" to your Lync/SfB client using a USB cable. This is known as Better Together. It allowed the user to sign in to the phone using credentials entered into the Lync client. It gave some additional features not available using extension pin authentication, such as calendar view and Outlook directory search.
A good start
While the user experience on Lync Phone Edition phones was pretty good and simple enough for almost any user to figure out, it did have its problems. Lack of a dedicated transfer button is, in my opinion, chief among them. Going through menus to find transfer and consult transfer keys during a call soured the experience a little. I guess if you never have to transfer a call it doesn't matter. There were/are other issues, but I'm not here to review Lync Phone Edition. The fact is, Lync Phone Edition was a good start and I think if it could be developed a bit more and put into different/better handsets it could be around forever.
Lync Phone Edition's days, however, are numbered. Mainstream support finishes in April 2018. Basically, two years from now.
The door is open
Microsoft recognizes that some users prefer a handset and since they aren't focusing on Lync Phone Edition, they are relying on other vendors to innovate in this area.
Enter the 3PIP
While the Aries and Tanjay phones were known as "optimized for Lync", there are also phones that are "qualified for Lync". These are known as 3rd Party IP Phones (3PIP). This is where a vendor can either design a phone that can register to Lync or take an existing phone and make firmware that makes the phone work with Lync/SfB.
Polycom was one vendor that stepped up and developed a Lync/SfB edition of firmware for their existing VVX range of handsets. Starting with version 4.1.x, the VVX phones could be registered to a Lync 2010 server. Version 5.0.x or better can be used with Lync 2013. At the start it was voice only, but as time has gone by Polycom have added features and functionality. I have to say, however that I'm not the biggest fan of VVX as they are at the time of writing this post. Once again, I'm not here to review the VVX.
Who else is there?
Currently there are 6 vendors with phones which are Qualified for Lync and Skype for Business.
For the full list of qualified handsets Click Here.
Qualification is a process vendors go through with a Microsoft program called the Unified Communications Open Interoperability Program (UCOIP for short). The vendor submits some phones with specific firmware to Microsoft for testing and Microsoft either grants it or doesn't.
Audiocodes have a small range of phones for Lync and SfB. HP and Mitel are carrying the torch for the Lync Phone Edition along with Polycom. Spectralink has a couple of DECT phones.
Snom is another vendor that made a range of phones for Lync. For a brief time they were qualified.
Last but not least, is Yealink
Yealink is a Chinese vendor that has been around since 2001. They have a range of IP Phones (and other endpoints) which work on a range of IP PBXs. In March 2015 they received their first badges from Microsoft for two IP Phones, the SIP-T22P and the SIP-T48G. Once again these were existing phones and Yealink developed Lync specific firmware. For the T22 it was version 22.214.171.124 and for T48G it was version 126.96.36.199.
There have been several versions since the first version qualified a little over a year ago. I gather Yealink have taken a lot of feedback and suggestions from the community, including some MVPs, which has helped shape the current version of the firmware as well as the road map.
On with the show.
The Review - Yealink SIP-T48G Skype for Business edition
Image Source Yealink.com
What is it?
Why do you need one?
If you are the type of person that has to have a phone on your desk to go with your Skype for Business PBX, this is the phone you want.
Now you have it
It supports both Skype for Business Server and Skype for Business Online. It supports both PIN auth and user credentials when signing in to Skype for Business.
It supports in-band provisioning and can be managed via Skype for Business including firmware distribution and QoE reporting.
As for the experience with Skype for Business, it is sublime. It has a dedicated favorites tab and supports one click dial to your favorites.
One really nice touch is that it displays your phone number in the upper right corner of the screen along with your photo and status. Click on the photo and it opens the status menu so you can change your status.
It has a dedicated call history tab with alerting for missed calls, a contacts tab with filters for your contact groups (synchronized with your SfB client).
Within the contacts tab, clicking on a contact opens the contact card so you can choose the number to call.
Additionally, it has Exchange Calendar support which displays your "online" meetings.
One nice touch is that it pops up a reminder when your meeting is starting with click links to view the detail, join, snooze and ignore.
It has group sync with your SfB client and supports Global Search with Exchange compatibility. The best feature of all is what they call Smart Dialing. This was the best feature of Lync Phone Edition. From any screen you can start dialing a number or a name and it will start the search function. Rather than dialing 2, 3 times to get a letter C, it has T9 text and uses built in intelligence ("Smart" dialing) to figure out what you meant. For instance, to search for Randy, you key 72639 and it will display all of the Randy's in your global or local directory or SfB contacts list.
Click on the one you want to open the contact card and click a number dial.
Alternatively, you can dial a number using the keypad and either click dial in the top right or the # send key to dial.
It also has a handy built in QWERTY keyboard for when you need to type something. This keyboard automatically pops up when you need it rather than having to go through additional menus or buttons to select it. For instance, on the auth screen if you click into a field where text is required.
It has a companion BToE application which pairs to the phone either automatically, if your workstation is plugged in to the PC port and on to the wall, or (a really nice touch) manually via IP.
It can be made to start automatically with Windows and automatically pair to the phone when it runs.
This is a particularly nice touch and opens the door for opportunities for customers that have VDI environments from Microsoft or Citrix, use Skype for Business and want to pair the client with a desk phone.
The built in Web UI is superb. Just browse to the phone's IP address and login. It has a well organized tab structure and reveals settings for just about everything you can think of and probably more.
Additionally, the phone itself has both basic and advanced settings options within the menu screen.
The Advanced functions will prompt for a password.
One of my big bugbears with other phones is the transfer experience. When you're in a call, you get dedicated keys for both blind and attended transfer as well as conference. If call park is active in your deployment you also get a Call Park Soft Key.
Hitting one of the keys places the call on hold and takes you to the contacts tab. Either dial to search as normal or click one of the groups to find the person you want. The transfer button you select sets the transfer mode. If you hit blind, when you click on the target you click on the transfer icon to complete the transfer.
If you hit Attended Transfer, when you click on the target it places a new call to the target and takes you to the attended transfer screen. You can toggle between calls, hang up the new call, place the new call on hold or click on the transfer button to complete the transfer.
Additionally, there is a dedicated transfer key on the phone. Hitting this key during a call sets blind transfer mode.
So, transferring calls is very straightforward.
Changing the subject. Another cool thing is that you have the ability to hand off a call to and from the phone if you're paired using BToE. For instance, when you receive a call, you get call toasts on your screen and also on the phone. Regardless of whether you answer on the phone or on the PC you still get the full call control/monitor on the PC. If you answer using a headset connected to the PC you can open the change device dialog to switch to the phone. Call control stays open, but the call changes to your phone. If you want to switch back to the headset you can open the device dialog and choose the headset.
I mention this because I tried this using a VVX phone recently and I couldn't do it. Once I answered the call by clicking the toast I had no ability to hand it back to the phone.
One thing to mention, however, is that if you do answer a call using a headset connected to the PC and you have it off to the phone, you don't get the call control soft keys on the screen other than End Call. If you want to transfer, you need to use the client. This seems like a bug and therefore fixable.
What else can it do?
It is big phone, so it can also take up a lot of space on your desk. And it is heavy, so it can weigh down a pile of paper with no problems. ;-)
But seriously, it is a phone. The only thing I can think of is that when you open a contact from a search, you have a button for add to local. This creates a contact in the local directory on the phone itself. You can also edit this contact independent of the original contact from which it was created. So you can add numbers. You can also add this contact to your favorites screen as a special contact in addition to your Skype for Business Favorites. You can also add and edit local contacts from the Web UI. You can add contacts one at a time or by XML or CSV import.
Another really cool thing about the local contacts directory in the Web UI is that you can make a phone call the contact. Yes, you heard me. You can remotely control the phone and make it place a call. You need to add a trusted IP to the Action URI allow IP List. This is the IP Address of the PC you want to use to remotely control the phone. When you click on the number in the directory tab it displays a prompt on the phone to "allow remote control". Click allow. Once you click allow on the phone, the phone places the call to the number. To hang up, either use the phone to hang up or click the Hang Up button in the Web UI.
Obviously this is used in an admin or testing scenario primarily. Much the same as auto answer, which it can also be made to do.
Is it any good?
Put simply, yes. It is the best phone I have used with Skype for Business by a long way. The UC edition of the firmware is not just an edit of the standard firmware with a way of logging in to Skype for Business, but a purpose built operating system for the purpose. It is as though the designers have thought long and hard about how someone with Skype for Business would use a phone either standalone or in conjunction with the client. It is the best things from Lync Phone Edition with a lot of improvements thrown in for good measure.
The thing that surprised me most is that it is so well though out and easy to use that I (soft phone and headset guy) am encouraged to use it to make calls.
What's wrong with it?
I have done a lot of testing for the last couple of weeks with the intention of trying to find flaws that would stop me recommending it. While I haven't found anything that would prevent me from recommending it, I have found flaws. I am reasonably certain that the flaws I have found are bugs and they can be fixed by the developers.
So here is a list of issues I have found so far. I hope that Yealink will take notice and resolve the issues. If they do with later versions of the firmware I will edit the post and indicate the version required to resolve it.
At the time of writing I am on phone firmware version 188.8.131.52 and BToE version 184.108.40.206.
- Calendar Sync - The time of the meetings is an hour back from what is in my calendar. If I have an online meeting that starts at 9am in Outlook, it displays as 8am on the phone. The reminder also pops up at five minutes to 8:00.
- Two call toasts on PSTN calls - When running the BToE application, paired and signed in to the phone I get two call toasts on the PC. The first is to answer the call on the PC, using an attached headset. The second is to answer the call on the phone. However the two are indistinguishable. Strangely, I only get one toast on Skype for Business calls whether internal or federated.
- BToE stops auto answer on Plantronics headsets - In addition to getting two call toasts, if I answer a call using a Plantronics Voyager Focus UC with auto answer (that is answer when you put it on) stops working. If I click on the correct toast, it answers. Again, for Skype for Business calls, where I only get a single toast, auto answer doesn't work. Weirdly, however, I get the familiar "Answering Call" in my ear on the headset, however it continues to ring until I click on the toast.
- It doesn't always display numbers - It doesn't display phone numbers in External Contacts even if they exist in Outlook and the Skype for Business Contact Card. In fact, it only displays contact details for internal contacts. That is those that are enabled in your SfB organization. So if you want to call them, the only option you have on the phone is a Skype call. Alternatively, you must dial the whole number.
- It fails to call numbers with spaces - If you try to call a number which contains a space, the call will fail. This is true of numbers within contacts and is the same if you enter a number and deliberately enter a space using the keyboard.
That's what I have found so far. If you have any please add a comment. Let's see if these can get ironed out soon.
What would I change?
Apart from the above issues log, there are a few things that I'd like to see changed or improved.
- Inline help in the Web UI - In the Web UI there are a LOT of fields. Which means lots of options. Not a bad thing. Next to most (not all) of the fields there is a question mark icon. Clicking on this icon simply opens a popup with the field name. Would be nice if this displayed a field description so you know what you're changing, especially when the name alone isn't self explanatory. And the admin guide doesn't have a complete list of fields.
- USB Headset Support - As handy as it is that the phone supports RJ9 headsets, it would be nice if it also supported USB headsets. It would also be nice if the phone supported the USB Bluetooth dongles that came with the headset.
That's all I can think of at the moment. If you have any suggestions please add a comment.
The verdict is wholly positive. There are a few issues, but I think these are bugs and can easily be resolved by the developers. This phone, or more specifically, this phone operating system, is a massive step in the right direction and will certainly help cement Skype for Business as a viable PBX.
PBX people all love to talk about the lack of "decent" IP Phones for Skype for Business. You know who you are. And while I haven't tested all of the phones from Yealink I am definitely encouraged by this one.
Yealink tell me that they hope to have 5 phone models qualified this year. Including the T48, T46, T42, T41 and T40.
Additionally, they say that all 5 phones should be qualified for Skype for Business Online before the end of H1 2016.
If you want information about this or any of the other Yealink Skype for Business phones visit Yealink.com.
For detailed information on the entire range including resource downloads click here.
Thanks for reading.
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