Expo Comm: Questions continue to dog VoIP

Despite a big push by manufacturers to sell Voice over IP (VoIP) equipment, businesses still have some serious questions about the technology, according to one industry analyst.

Johanne Lemay of Lemay-Yates Associates Inc., a Montreal telecom consultancy, said corporate Canada wonders if VoIP can deliver on promises like lower long-distance charges and improved productivity among employees.

The big question for corporations: “Is [VoIP] finally coming of age?” Lemay said at May’s Expo Comm Canada, a communications-minded conference in Toronto.

Lemay was moderating a panel of industry insiders bent on answering that question. One of the panel participants, Alan Strachan, director of technology assessment at Telus Corp. in Burnaby, B.C., said, “I believe we have finally crossed a chasm,” the gulf between VoIP’s bleeding-edge stage and its existence as a more mature technology.

Strachan pointed to developments among telecom standards-making bodies to create common signalling protocols as an indication that VoIP is growing up, but “we’re still at the early stages of Voice over IP,” he said.

Mike Kologinski, of Toronto-based carrier Allstream Corp., said VoIP does bring certain benefits to companies. Firms experience reduced communication infrastructure support costs, for instance.

However, “with convergence comes a fair amount of complexity,” Kologinski told the packed room, explaining that sometimes companies must beef up their data networks to support voice. “Those costs can be significant.”

As well, “it’s still early days for the industry getting out there and explaining what you can do” with VoIP, Kologinski said, explaining that it’s difficult to get customers to see VoIP as a strategic, rather than tactical, investment — as something that supports an always-connected environment for employees, for example, rather than merely a way to make moves, adds and changes (MACs) easier to do.

Simon Gwatkin of Mitel Networks Corp., an Ottawa-based telecom equipment manufacturer, said his customers are starting to view VoIP through more strategic lenses these days. He also said VoIP ties into the ever-pressing invasion of cell phones, personal digital assistants and other consumer devices into businesses.

“Our job around IP telephony is to really aggregate those devices,” Gwatkin said, explaining that VoIP can form the basis of technology convergence in the enterprise.

Michael Kuhlmann, vice-president, business development at Mobitus, a Vancouver-based telecom service provider and a division of Wi-Fi hotspot operator FatPort Corp., said quality of service (QoS) might be less of problem for VoIP than it’s sometimes made out to be. Still, he pointed out that QoS is tied to usage, particularly in wireless VoIP environments, where a wireless data network supports the voice traffic.

QoS is “not so much an issue in low-volume networks,” but as the number of users increases, “you start having quality-control problems,” Kuhlmann said.

He also said it doesn’t make sense for carriers to sell VoIP as a way for customers to lower their long-distance costs, explaining that Canada’s public-switched telephone network (PSTN) is relatively inexpensive to run and cheap to use as long-distance charges wind their way down.

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