Thursday, June 05, 2008

All I want is a decent telephone handset

The AT&T telephone handsets we bought three years ago are starting to fail. One of the chargers died already and another is showing signs of sickness.

There are plenty of replacements on the market but every one I have looked at is deficient in major respects. I don't think my needs are particularly unusual but none of the products seem to serve. Lets start with the basics:

  • Must not interfere with WiFi on either the 2.8GHz (B/G/N) or 5.0GHz (A) band.
  • Must support at least two lines.
  • Display Caller-ID name if present, number otherwise.
  • Speaker phone, earpiece socket
  • Ability to access voicemail from the handset, base station or externally.

So far, so good, you can get these features but you have to pay extra. Now for the harder ones:

  • Must support at least 10 handsets, preferably having no upper limit.
  • Must maintain a single address book across every handset automatically.
  • Must have at least a NiMH battery, preferably Lithium Ion.
  • Store at least 24 hours of recorded messages.
  • Handsets must not become obsolete, older handsets guaranteed to work with new base stations from the same manufacturer.

These features are all easily implemented using existing technology. But finding more than one of them is pretty difficult. The address book limitation is particularly irritating if you have a lot of handsets.

Ten handsets may sound a lot but with four people living in the house and a guest room you need five phones just to have one handy in the bedroom. I do not like being woken up in the night to pass the telephone. Add in the kitchen, office and living room and you are already at 8.

Now for some pretty simple but currently non-existent features:

  • Mains adaptor built into base station, not a fat plug.
  • Range expander station to provide coverage all around the house and/or garden.
  • Ethernet connection to allow connection to a PC to sync the address book, initiate calls, etc.
  • VOIP base station - if the box has an ethernet it might as well be the VOIP gateway to boot.
  • Double up as a remote control.
  • Open standards based.

These last features might sound somewhat extreme but they are perfectly logical and moreover they are probably more likely to arrive than the second set of requirements. At the moment we have VOIP on the PC and we have the telephone handset plugged into the VOIP box. The two could be the same but they are not. A headset plugged into a PC does not provide a good replacement for a telephone handset.

Over time the computer peripheral manufacturers will catch on to the need for a good VOIP handset and good integration with the PC. Whether the first company to realize this turns out to be a Microsoft, Logitech or Apple remains to be seen. But it is a matter of when not if the products start to emerge.

When they do they will be upper end products at first and have to provide the middle range features as a matter of course.

There is no reason why the telephon handset makers could not build the product people want today, but I doubt that they will. Instead they will continue to reduce the price of the poorly designed handsets they sell today.

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