Life-changing Unified Communications devices for use with Lync

Many folks attended the recent Microsoft TechNet event series on Cloud Computing where the content presented including a number of Microsoft offerings including Office 365, Windows Azure, and the Hyper-V Cloud, Microsoft’s Private Cloud offering.  During my presentation on Office 365 (slide deck can be found here), I touch on a number of the features of Office 365, but I also showed some of the fantastic hardware that I’m blessed to be using with Lync in various work scenarios.  I’ve gotten several requests to get more detail on this hardware, considering how these few, generally inexpensive devices have had such a dramatic effect on my ability to be productive. 

The first device that I typically show is a Plantronics Calisto 540-p phone

This device looks like a phone, acts like a phone, but is different from other phones in a few different ways.  First off, this phone has a two-line display with a built-in full-duplex speakerphone, headset jack, mute button, voice mail button, with all the usual phone buttons, etc., probably much like the phone sitting on your desk right now.  From a user perspective, it’s a phone, but underneath it’s something much more as this device is a USB phone that leverages Microsoft Lync Server on the back end.  This phone plugs into your computer’s USB port and instantly leverages your locally installed Lync client to authenticate.  You may notice from the above picture that the phone also has a Lync Presence Indicator that changes based upon the user’s status (Green = Available, Yellow = Away, Red = Busy, In a Meeting, In a Conference, etc.) that is automatically changed by the Lync client’s knowledge of the local user’s status.  It uses power from the USB cable and has no external power requirement outside of the USB cable.  Now here’s one of my favorite non-technical features – when the phone’s not plugged into your computer, it’s off, consuming no power, and when I want to use the phone, I just plug it in and its typically ready to go un under 10 seconds.  Now think back to that phone on your desk – what happens when/if you unplug it? Typically bad things happen if it’s not a IP-based phone. Winking smile  Regardless of whether it’s an IP phone or not, traditional office handsets consume power 24/7 whether you’re using the phone or not, which is not the case here.  Full function and green too as these handsets will definitely save you money on the front end ($169.95 retail though I’m sure you can do better than that in quantity) over traditional handsets and on the back end by cutting your power costs.

The next device that I typically show is a Jabra GN 9350

This headset is manufactured by Jabra, a well-known Bluetooth Headset manufacturer you may have heard of.  This device is a DECT 6.0 Wireless headset that can be configured in an over-the-ear or over-the-head setup and much like the previous phone, connects to your PC via a USB connection and leverages the locally installed Lync client software to become your phone (dialing happens through the Lync client using the soft keypad or click-to-dial.)  What’s great about this headset is that since it uses the industry-standard wireless DECT technology (probably just like the wireless handset you already have in your home) you can move up to 300 feet from your computer which essentially un-tethers you from your computer when you’re on one of those long, boring conference calls (not that anyone has ever experienced one of those!) When using this headset, there’s a rocker switch on the end of the headset which controls the volume, but when you push the rocker switch in, it mutes the headset, so you’re now able to move about a noisy area without anyone hearing.  Another push of the rocker switch and you’re un-muted and its like you were never gone.  Pretty cool, huh? But wait, there’s more! (sorry, couldn’t resist)  The 9350 model explicitly also has an RJ-11 phone jack in the base where you can also plug your home phone in as well!  The same headset can be used for both home and work, making this a killer home office device.  Not bad at all for around $199 retail.

The final device I show is a Plantronics Voyager Pro UC.

This is my road-warrior device.  This headset might actually look like a headset you’ve seen at your local AT&T or other wireless device store, but this one’s got some additional Microsoft code running on it to also work with Lync.  Sure, this is a Bluetooth headset and will pair with your favorite Smartphone, however, it’s also able to simultaneously pair itself with either the Bluetooth stack on your PC or with the supplied miniature Bluetooth dongle (pictured.) In case you’re wondering, the Bluetooth stack between the dongle and the headset is Lync-certified for use with Microsoft’s RTAUDIO voice protocol to guarantee voice-quality clear communication, unlike the Bluetooth stack on your PC.  The choice is yours which you use. Smile  So this tiny device becomes my Lync-enabled phone on the road which is awesome because I was already bringing it with me to work with my Windows 7 Smartphone.  OK, so if my computer rings, I answer it on this headset.  If my Smartphone rings, I answer it on this headset. Very cool.  But what happens if I’m on a Lync call and then my Smartphone rings or vice versa?  Well, with this headset you can hit both the volume up and volume down bar (located on the top of the headset in the picture above) and switch between phone calls! Ultimate flexibility and fantastic portability.  What a phone/headset/UC device for around $199 retail!

Just a final note on UC devices like these – keep in mind that these are the devices that I currently use, or have used.  All of these devices are readily available from their respective vendors, or their hardware partners, as well as standard retail channels on the Internet.  Many of these UC hardware partners also have loaner programs available as well, so be sure to take advantage of that.


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