What did I want? I wanted a Skype virtual number that worked with the Skype client on my iPhone, my laptop and importantly – with a desktop phone that would function without the need to be plugged into my computer.
Easy. Google Skype desktop phone and you’re presented with an array of options. But here’s the rub. They don’t work. Skype – the consumer version – is just not wired to work properly with a stand alone desktop phone (VoIP) – so you’re going to have to try something else. I now have a virtual Skype number that calls through on my various devices as well as a desktop phone – this is how I managed it – it took me the better part of two weeks of on-and-off work to get this up and running – there is so much contrary information on various websites that I hope this offers a clear path for new users.
1 – Skype wont work for you.
The personal version of Skype is not up to this task. Yes, you can buy a USB phone for your computer but it’s barely better than a bluetooth headset and it still requires your computer to be up and running and signed in. You need Skype For Business. It’s designed to work with more robust VoIP systems and will integrate with a number of desktop phones – most easily with this range from Polycom. Be aware you need a very specific version of the Polycom phones that come with the relevant firmware pre-installed. This is important. Without that firmware the upgrade process for these devices is a pain – a REAL pain. I know.
2 – It wont work with JUST Skype for Business
Skype for Business is an awesome stand-alone tool. It’ll ring your devices, is far more robust than the personal version and offers good value for money. You could stop right here with a simple subscription and forget the desktop phone idea.
3 – I really want a desktop phone
This is where things get hugely confusing. In order to use a desktop phone you are going to need a full-on VoIP server, a PBX server and a phone plan of some kind. What does that mean in practice? It means you need a Microsoft Office Enterprise Licence. The easiest way to get up and running is to sign up for an Office 365 E5 Licence. This gives you everything you need to be up and running with a desktop phone – including the Cloud PBX service for Skype For Business. You’ll just need to add a domestic calling plan. So now you have:
- Office Enterprise Licence
- Cloud PBX (included in E5, needs to be added for other enterprise licences)
- Calling plan
You are set to go – you need ALL of these things. Skype For Business will not work on a desktop phone without this set up.
4 – What’s the cost?
An office E5 licence sets you back £25 per month. But for that you get the entire Office suite of apps and a bunch of other things that made it worth while for me.
Cloud PBX is £5 per month (but is included in the E5 licence)
Domestic call plan is about £7 per month – but can vary depending on your Office Licence.
You can chop and change these licences depending on your needs as long as you have the three items listed above in some form or another.
5 – Setting up the phone
Buy a Polycom phone. It arrives with the firmware installed and you just log in via the web interface, insert your Skype For Business credentials and it just works – honestly, this was the easiest part of the whole thing. There’s a bunch of help online if you get stuck – but it really is straight forward. My phone calls just like a real phone, it receives calls easily and as Skype For Business becomes more integrated into the Office suite of tools it becomes ever more useful as a desktop device – contacts, calendar, diverting and transferring to other members of my team etc.
6 – Do you really need a desktop phone?
If you really need a desktop phone this painful path is worth it – because you’re essentially setting up a small commercial set up with Microsoft. It works really well once set up but a lot of it is for IT pros and not for the likes of you and me. If you don’t really need a phone, you may well find the cost and set up just too much – stick with your iPhone and a bluetooth hand-held for your desk.
7 – It works REALLY well
Now I’m set up I have incredibly robust email, access to Microsofts Office Enterprise tools and software and integration across all of those tools. I can easily manage my own email server and my own phone server. This is such a good tool.