VoIP still a tough call

Network convergence has been a long-sought IT Holy Grail. Its attractions include bridging manageability gaps and reducing IT expenditures for supporting disparate infrastructures.

One of the trendiest elements drawing attention today is VoIP (voice over IP). To hear its exaltations in the marketplace, VoIP should have voice-network providers saying their prayers.

Currently, however, most praise is coming from VoIP vendors themselves. Despite the category’s growth in the past 12 months, the possibility of an IP dial tone replacing your PBX or Centrex system remains clouded by issues of reliability, quality and implementation scale.

This is not to suggest that VoIP won’t work. It will. It does. The question is: Is VoIP ready for your prime-time, enterprise-grade consideration?

One of the biggest misconceptions about VoIP is that it guarantees lower costs. Although this may prove true for multinational companies with a heavy amount of international voice and fax traffic, domestic rates today are so competitive that state-side billing will likely see little relief. In fact, you may find your well-negotiated carrier rate agreements back under review should your calling profile change drastically.

Don’t expect to implement VoIP without major changes to your infrastructure. Such modernization will come at a significant price. VoIP demands redundancy, beefed-up bandwidth, Layer 3- or Layer 4-enabled switches for real-time packet classification and prioritization in most scenarios, IP-enabled phones and power requirements, and plenty of raw server power. Still, all of your efforts will do nothing to quell your QoS (quality of service) concerns once your VoIP strategy extends to the WAN.

What you will gain through VoIP, however, is efficiency. Consolidating your multiple-access lines will eliminate many complexities and will ease your administration efforts.

The greatest benefit will come from the potential for advanced applications and services that you will be able to enjoy thanks to the new framework.

Web-enabled call centres, unified messaging, prioritized call routing and IP-based phone numbers that follow sales teams and telecommuters as they travel to and from the office will help shape the next wave of business advancement.

Companies that are considering the move to VoIP should assume their roles as guinea pigs by experimenting with small implementations – secondary channels that won’t compromise existing services or functionality or lock you into still-solidifying standards.

James R. Borck is managing analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He writes about e-business.

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