Users still leery of switching to VoIP

Networking vendors point to continued growth in the adoption of voice-over-IP technology. But several users this month said they’re still skeptical about VoIP’s ability to deliver cost savings and the potential value of new applications that it makes possible.

“We’ve been studying VoIP for two years, and we aren’t sure the cost is justified,” said Jeff Scott, a communications project analyst at Indianapolis-based St. Vincent Hospital and Health Care Center Inc., which operates more than 80 medical facilities in Indiana.

Still, Scott and a colleague said they got some encouraging insights for their potential VoIP project at the Next Generation Networks conference held in Boston earlier this month. St. Vincent has been calculating an estimate for the project based on an expected need to add quality-of-service software and new switches to its network. But the two IT staffers were told at a tutorial that the QoS expense might not be necessary. The health care company plans to continue its evaluation “because everybody is doing (VoIP),” Scott said.

Scott and his co-worker weren’t deterred by skepticism that was voiced during a lunch table discussion by two VoIP adopters who work at financial services firms based in the Northeast U.S.

Both users asked that neither they nor their companies be identified. One said a two-year rollout of VoIP technology to hundreds of workers at his company is being praised by the IT managers who conceived the project. But it gets low marks from many end users who say that call forwarding and other call routing functions “just don’t work all the time,” he added.

The primary benefit of the VoIP system is that it now costs less than it once did to relocate end users or add new ones. Employees now can set up service at different PC-based phones with a few keystrokes instead of waiting for a technician to do hours of work.

The second IT manager from a financial services firm said a trial project showed that the required investment wasn’t cost-effective when judged purely on the financial ramifications of converting analogue and digital phones to VoIP equipment. But he plans to continue testing the technology for vendor-touted applications like voice interpretation of e-mail text, video links, virtual whiteboard tools and voice connections over PCs.

Harvard University began an initial VoIP rollout in June for about 200 end users but isn’t seeing much cost savings over its previous telecommunications system, said Scott Bradner, a senior technical consultant at the school.

Bradner added that configuring the VoIP equipment supplied by Cisco Systems Inc. has been “difficult.” But he predicted that the cost savings will increase as the new system is rolled out to a larger group of users.

Johna Till Johnson, president of Nemertes Research LLC in New York, said 31 of 50 large companies she surveyed this year reported that they’re using VoIP technology.

“Effective cost-justification is a major challenge,” Johnson said. But the survey showed that VoIP systems are about 22 per cent less expensive to operate than circuit-switched networks, she said, adding that her research wasn’t sponsored by any IT vendors.