You thought IP Phones were very expensive? And the ones from Cisco, particularly so? We have analyzed two Cisco IP Phones – SPA 301 G1 & SPA 303 G1 to see what features and functionalities they support for business/ SOHO users. The main criteria of selecting these two phones is their price – both are around $100 (USD) or lesser. Read on, and you might be surprised…
Cisco Small Business SPA 301 G1:
If you were waiting for the price of quality IP Phones to come down for implementing VOIP System in your organization, now is the time and this might be the phone! The SPA 301 IP Phones are quite very affordable but have limited set of features (but enough for basic call handling operations). Some features that we found interesting/ to be noted in this model are –
- The Cisco Small Business SPA 301 IP Phone is a One Line IP Phone meaning, at a given point of time you can either register it to your IP PBX or an ITSP – Not both. If you are using an IP PBX in your office, then the ITSP connection could be terminated there and accessed by this phone.
- 1-Ethernet port – This is a limiting feature (as you will see in the description for SPA 303) but if you have provisioned enough switch ports, you can directly connect the SPA 301 to the network switches.
- Web-based GUI – If you set up a static IP address for this phone and then type it out in a web browser (from a computer connected in the same network), you get a Graphical User Interface which makes the phone configuration very easy. You can also retrieve information like call start time, duration etc, from this web based GUI (as there is no display).
- SIP – the open standard VOIP protocol is supported, so you can use this with any make IP PBX (IP PBX should support SIP protocol too).
- There is a separate button for Voice Mail Message Retrieval and a Voice Mail Message Waiting Indicator is there too (LED).
- Separate Re-dial, Flash buttons and Standard 12 Key Numeric Keypad.
- Optional Wall Mount Bracket – if you want to hang it in the elevator or next to the security room.
- Speed Dialing (Up to 8 Nos)
- Multiple Ring-tones (You can also set unique ring tones for each incoming number). Supports up to 10 down-loadable ring tones.
- One Year Limited Hardware warranty with optional 3-Year Support.
- There is a Power Adapter provided and you need to hook each phone to a power source (This phone doesn’t support POE, but if one is looking for a cost effective IP Phone, the chances that they may have the expensive POE switches are less, anyway).
Cisco Small Business SPA 303 G1:
This is more like the enterprise IP phone that you always wanted at a low price. For a small increase in price (over the SPA 301 G1), this IP Phone from Cisco – SPA 303 G1 not only includes all the features offered by the SPA 303 G1, but comes with a lot more features that makes it a truly enterprise class entry level phone. Do read some of the features that we found interesting/ to be noted with this model –
- The Cisco Small Business SPA 303 G1 is a Three Line IP Phone (Meaning, you can have one account registered with the PBX, two more accounts registered with Internet Telephony Service Providers – Yeah, in each case you get a separate number / extension.
- Built-In Speaker Phone, so you don’t always have to answer a call by lifting the headset and the voice is audible to people around you too…
- There is a small pixel based LCD screen display (128 x 64) – Its a monochrome display, but it offers you a menu driven user interface to change the settings right from the phone. It also enables you to look at the caller ID number and name (if stored) before you pick up the call! You can also see which line is active at any moment by looking at the screen too.
- There are small LED lights for indicating Audio Mute On/Off, Handset On/Off, Speaker Phone On/Off so that you can always be sure!
- For the menu navigation on screen, Cisco’s easily usable four way directional knob might be very handy!
- There is a separate hold button so that you get to attend to more urgent affairs without the caller knowing what they are.
- There is a 2.5 mm head set jack. So, even if you run a call center or a small help desk, this feature would be very useful for them.
- There is a call timer that is displayed on the screen to display how long you have been on a call and there is also an address book to store up to 100 entries.
- You can see the call logs on screen (up to 60 entries) to indicate missed calls, answered calls and dialed numbers.
- This model from Cisco – The SPA 303 G1 comes with a built-in Two Port Switch. The main advantage with this is, you can reduce the amount of cables and switch ports needed for VOIP Implementation by connecting both the Computer and IP Phone using a single network switch port. This is explained in more detail below.
How the Two-Port Switch built in to IP Phones help reduce UTP Cables/ Network Switch Ports:
Most of the companies place the IP Phones next to the computers used by the employees. Generally, the computers are already present and they are connected to the LAN network through a Cat 5/6 UTP cable from the network switch.
The IP Phones are also like computers (but having a different functionality) and they have the same RJ-45 ports to connect to the UTP Cables and each IP Phone needs a separate connection going to the network switch too. So, if you are planning to implement VOIP in a network setup where the computers are already present and already wired in, there is no need to have additional cables/ switch ports to connect these IP Phones that have a built-in two port switch. You just need a 3 feet/ 7 feet patch cords for each phone! The connectivity is explained in the below diagram.
So, as you can see, the cables that were previously going from the network switch ports to the Computers, now go to the IP Phones and a UTP Patch cord connects the additional switch port of the IP Phone to the computer. The computer now accesses the network through the IP Phones! This saves a lot of switch ports and cables/ passive components that might otherwise be needed for a VOIP (Voice over IP) implementation.
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