IP Phones vs Digital Phones

Time was when phone technology was all the same. We all knew that when we picked up the phone, we’d get a dial tone, right? That dial tone was provided by the phone company over copper wire, and there was some analog magic that happened in between your premises and the person you were calling in order to make the right connection.

Those days are gone, though. The telephony landscape is much more complex these days, especially when it comes to the world of business communications. When it comes to broad categories of phones, however, there are still only two broad categories: IP phones and Digital phones.


Digital Phones

With these types of phones, the name is misleading. These phones may have digital attributes, but they still make their calls through the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). You may have heard this kind of network referred to as POTS, or Plain Old Telephone System. PSTN is a circuit-switched type of network, relying on a number of switches between the caller and the callee. There are many points of failure between here and there; if any one of them goes down, the call may be lost.


This is the “magic” I was referring to above.


IP Phones

These phones convert analog voice data into digital signals, which are then sent over the Internet using more robust packet-switched protocols. Also referred to as VoIP phones, or Voice Over Internet Protocol, this type of phone is actually more digital than the aforementioned digital phones.


Digital Phones and IP Phones Couldn’t Be Further Apart

Although they both fulfill the same basic function, the two types of phones are actually quite different. How they accomplish those tasks is different, of course, but also with how the phone system and the user interact.


Digital Phones

Layered on top of analog copper wire that businesses have relied on for decades, digital phones are have good voice quality, are pretty reliable, and offer a group of basic features like redial, speed dial, mute and hold. Business systems typically also enable transferring between extensions as well. Typically, though, that’s the end of the line for features. There are no more to be had without investing in an expensive digital (and typically proprietary) PBX system.

Another upside to digital phones is that they are typically inexpensive, if only due to their limited expandability and inherent simplicity. They are, however, not as easy to work with or change the configuration of, due to this lack of modularity.

It’s also worth considering where you will be officing. Since the network that digital phones run on is completely separate from Internet networking, you’ll require twice the cabling if you go this route.


IP Phones

The initial outlay for IP phones may be higher, as compared to digital phones. Yet when taken over the long run, IP phones have the potential to save you a lot of money, depending on how much calling your organization does. The communication medium is the Internet, so calling rates is are essentially free. You just have to make sure you have enough bandwidth on your end to handle all the calls stutter-free.

IP phones do also consume a little more power than do digital phones, so you may see a raise in your electric bill. They’ll each require a wall adapter, or you’ll need to get a centralized Power over Ethernet switch.



Much more portable than digital phones, IP phones can be shifted from one office, room or table to a different one without altering the extension number. So long as there is an Internet connection where you are moving the phone to, the phone will start up with the same number and programming that it had in its old location. If you were using a digital phone system, you would have to call the phone service provider, then wait a week or two for their first available appointment slot.


Author: Michelle Patterson is excited with the new technologies that are threatening to change the way we stay in touch and communicate, particular in business. She works with companies that are introducing these technologies to make understanding them easy for regular people.