This is an excellent question :) With the release of CUCM 5.x the licensing model completely changed.
For all 3.x and 4.x versions (including CCM 3.3(x)) the CH-1 (Channel)Phone License (paper) was used and was really totally "honor" based. There was no License actually loaded "on-box" so this is why you can't find any references to them :) Now phones use DLU's (Device License Units) which are loaded on the CUCM First Node or Publisher server. The "Station License" has been replaced with the DLU (Device License Unit) in CCM 5.x and above, also the new model includes "Node and Software Feature" Licenses;
So, CUCM Versions up to 5.x have no onboard licensing restrictions. You can add phones without licenses and CCM does not care. Of course, being the honest people we are this would never happen! But it is strictly "honor based".
thanks for the speedy and informative response, the reason why i was enquiring as that I will be soon embarking on a project of rolling out VOIP to 50% of the company`s estate that does not have VOIP and in doing this I need to purchase a lot of handsets. A third party company that we deal with are replacing their telephones system and are selling a lot of 7940 handsets (with no licenses). Is it possible if I purchased these handsets I could then purchase licenses for them?
It's possible that Cisco may sell you the CH-1 licenses for these 7940's. Your best bet would be to engage your SE or CAM to check into it. I personally wouldn't go this route, as the 7940/7960 series will likely be announced as End of Life in the near future. If you are starting with new deployments then my recommendation would be to move to the 7942/7962 series IP Phones. The cost savings that you realise with the purchase of used 7940's will likely be eaten up with the ongoing maintenance required to keep them going and replacing them when they go EoL :)
thanks for the advise. This is not a new deployment as the other 50% of the estate have already VOIP using a mixture of 7940s, 7960s, 7911s and 7912s. just an upgrade to the non VOIP sites. However I think I will take you up on your advise regarding the older handsets as they are older than ones I currently support.
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