Switch to VoIP presents challenges

With many Canadian companies already capable of installing voice over IP telephones and the end of lifecycle of TDM systems in sight, IT departments are scoping out system requirements and possible solutions to move into an exclusively VoIP world.

At a talk during the recent NetworkWorld Expo, Jeffrey Mossman, consulting systems engineer with Cisco Systems Canada Co., outlined, among other things, a variety of basic factors systems administrators should consider when making the move to VoIP, a move he considered not an “if it will happen…but when it will happen.” A company’s present system “may last another five years, it may last another 10, but when you replace it, it will [be] IP.”

For those companies that bought their telco boxes in the last five years, Mossman said they are likely IP capable. But Roberta Fox, senior partner with the Markham, Ont.-based Fox Group, isn’t so sure. She said a healthy number of boxes being sold today in Canada (and she put the numbers at between 40 and 50 per cent) are 100 per cent TDM.

From a design perspective, the simplest solution is to have a user’s PC connect directly to a VoIP phone, and the latter to an Ethernet connection — thus avoiding the need for an additional Ethernet jack. But this is not without some work. Mossman said , theoretically at least, a user could make all data coming from a Windows box high priority, thus clogging the network. Locking down the machine is one possibility. Another, he said, is to monitor traffic and create a condition of trust where any large data stream is deemed data and thus transferred at a “best effort” rate.

Additionally, Fox said, some phones available today can distinguish between voice and data and set transfer priorities themselves. Another solution is for an administrator to set up two virtual LANs, where voice traffic travels on one and data on another.

Regardless, Jon Arnold, principal of Toronto-based J Arnold and Associates, said a converged data/voice network is a “complex undertaking.” But if a company is going to go down the VoIP path, he said it will probably be IP-enable everything. Arnold said the “hardcore ROI” for VoIP just isn’t there for most companies. “There is no (must have) killer application.”

But for David Laneville, director of IT for the City of Timmins in northern Ontario, the ROI case is already there. Timmins is physically one of the country’s largest cities (slightly less than 3,000 square kilometres). He said it costs him $180 per month to tie remote phone systems back to the central network. In fact, the savings the city will get from going VoIP is going to help pay for fibre optics across the city.

Another VoIP debate is how to power the phones: Ethernet powered phones versus traditional AC connections. Both Mossman and Fox said companies should do a complete network assessment to figure out whether to go with one, the other or some combination.

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Related links:

Broadband woes hinder VoIP deployment in South Africa

VoIP: build or buy?

Voicing VoIP decisions

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