Convergence hasn’t lived up to much of its hype

Let’s see, when did all the hype about convergence begin? I dug up a Network World (U.S.) story from the fall of 1997 that described how convergence was the talk of the Networld+Interop trade show.

Here we are four years later, and I think it’s fair to say that convergence hasn’t made much of a dent in the corporate network.

In fact, Gartner Inc. estimates that IP/PBX shipments constitute less than two per cent of all PBX shipments, based on an analysis of the market in the fourth quarter of last year.

And when Miercom asked nearly 100 VoIP vendors to estimate what percentage of U.S. voice traffic is travelling over an IP network at least part of the way, the vendor estimate averaged out to nearly eight per cent.

However, the vendors also estimated that the installed base for VoIP equipment is more than 70 per cent service provider and less than 30 per cent enterprise, which puts enterprise-based VoIP traffic in the two per cent range.

So why hasn’t convergence taken off? A few reasons:

— According to Gartner, VoIP was never something that customers asked for. It was a vendor idea pushed by data networking/IP-centric vendors like 3Com Corp., Cabletron Systems Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. to attack the PBX vendors.

— Until very recently, vendor products didn’t scale far beyond 75 end users.

— Standards are still a mess. There’s H.323, there’s SIP, there’s MGCP. Gartner predicts that standards won’t be ironed out until 2003.

— The return on investment for VoIP is difficult to prove.

— VoIP networks still can’t beat traditional voice for breadth of features, security and reliability.

— New applications such as unified messaging and Web-enabled call centres, have yet to gain traction.

— Interoperability remains a major concern.

— And quality of service was listed in the Miercom survey as an important factor in the slow rollout of VoIP.

I visited Cisco earlier this year and was very impressed with the company’s VoIP network, which sports all the bells and whistles: unified messaging, voice activation, browser-equipped IP phones. So Cisco is indeed eating its own dog food.

The problem seems to be that other companies aren’t biting.

Weinberg is a regular contributor to Network World (U.S.). He can be reached at [email protected].

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