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Voice over IP

IP Telephony Gaining Momentum

By: Eric Durrand

Phone lines and technologies have remained mostly unchanged from the late 1800s to the late 1900s. In the 21st century, however, the digital revolution have caught up even with this reliable, but rather bland technology. Voice over IP, or VoIP in short, is a group of hardware and software tools that carry ordinary voice communication using the Internet Protocol (but not necessarily the Internet itself), allowing for much greater functionality at much lower costs.

According to Gartner research firm, U.S. spending on VoIP systems will grow to $903 million in 2005, up from $686 last year. Gartner predicts that 97% of new phone system installed in North America by 2007 will be either VoIP, or hybrids (accepting both VoIP, and conventional phone calls).

Different VoIP solutions aim at different needs: some software solutions offer free calls over the internet, others free calls within an organization, and enterprise solutions often replace the entire enterprise phone infrastructure, and allow both internal and external calling.

The most obvious benefit of VoIP is cost reduction: a free phone application like Skype can provide excellent quality free telephony among its members, while enterprise systems can handle communications in branch offices, with 30% or more in total cost of ownership savings. Calculators that will demonstrate the scale of savings you can expect can be found here. Other benefits include simplified infrastructure (one less kind of cables to worry about), flexibility (you can set-up an office phone anywhere), and productivity (through advanced management tools).

VoIP treats voice as simply another kind of data, so in principle (and in many solutions – in practice) one can attach voice message to e-mail, receive voicemail messages to one’s inbox, log phone calls in connection with CRM business systems, or easily manage an automatic call screening and routing system. Incoming VoIP calls can automatically load a screen with relevant data on the caller, and outgoing calls can be made from within a customer relations management system, or a personal contact book. VoIP systems can allow efficient tracking on incoming and outgoing calls, missed calls, routed calls, and practically any other kind of tracking required. In addition, VoIP serves as a first step towards a fuller medium of communications: IP infrastructure can support any kind of data, including video

Smarter office phones are another benefit of VoIP. Devices are often capable of advanced configuration, and an abundance of new features, such as group calls, video conversations, call screening and routing, advanced caller ID (including imported XML information that’s relevant), and more. Enterprise VoIP solutions from Cisco, Motorola, 3Com, Nortel, BOS, and others offer an integrated environment for enterprise to work on, including machines, software and hardware.

When choosing an enterprise-wide solution, it is important to consider several factors: First, the number and kind of connections; how many phone numbers? And are they all to be accessible from outside the company? Do you want backwards compatibility for analog calls? (For example for old fax machines, or in case you still have an old PBX telephony system functioning.) What security/availability features and guaranty are you getting from the provider? What QoS (Quality of Service) level is required/provided by the solution? What value added services are you getting with the solution? Are you getting advanced end units? Video support? Advanced tracking, or unified messaging?

A few challenges might stop you from implementing a full-scale IP Telephony solution right away: Availability and stability, while good, are usually still not on the level of old phone technology, as they are affected by a number of common computer stability problems (server crashes, etc.). This is especially significant when you consider the old wisdom of “not putting all the eggs in one basket”. Putting voice together with data on the IP lines could be risky. Beyond availability, there is the issue of migration costs from an existing PBX telephony system, which may prove costly and must be weighed against potential savings expected from the migration.

Even if a full-scale enterprise implementation seems implausible and costly, the average small to medium business can still benefit from small scale VoIP applications. We have mentioned Skype, which is an extremely popular free PC to PC telephony solution, which also provides a paid service to call conventional phones and receive calls from them. Also providing free internet calls are MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, and AOL Instant Messenger.

Beyond that, on an individual basis, a company can purchase a unit that transforms any broadband Internet connection (DSL or Cables, for instance), to an active phone line with a number and a similar functionality of a regular phone (some services even support regular phones). The prices are usually considerably lower, for example: MetComm’s own MetCall service features a $29.99 per month offer which includes unlimited calling anywhere within the US, Canada, and 20 other states!

Telephony, like most other media, is going through a digital convergence revolution that would transform it into one kind of data on the ultimate data transfer channel: the Internet. In telephony, however, the transformation is almost complete. In a few years, the old telephone lines will virtually cease to exist, with all voice communication going through IP-enabled devices. The bottom line of this transformation, which you and your business can start today, is a considerable reduction of costs, and infinite new productivity possibilities through voice-data integration.

Is your business ready for VoIP?

Posted on May 23, 2005 at 12:29 PM in Telecom | Permalink

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