Optus dumps hosted VoIP for Evolve network

Optus is decommissioning its Nortel-powered hosted VoIP Centrex offering in favour of a new voice module delivered over its next-generation Evolve network.

Optus is decommissioning its Nortel-powered hosted VoIP Centrex offering in favour of a new voice module delivered over its next-generation Evolve network.

The carrier's hosted VoIP solution, launched in 2004, failed to gain traction among Australian customers, said Scott Mason, general manager of products and services of Optus Business.

"There wasn't a successful take-up," he said. "No Australian carrier has been successful in getting a hosted VoIP solution going."

Mason attributes the lack of interest in hosted VoIP in Australia to the fact that networking vendors "are very active" in selling VoIP kit into the local enterprise market — negating the need for carrier-hosted solutions. Analyst house IDC reports that as of late last year, the installed base of IP telephony systems (IP PBXs) in Australian enterprises hit the 50/50 mark with traditional circuit-switched systems.

Overseas, hosted VoIP solutions are gaining slow but steady take-up. In-Stat analyst David Lemelin predicted in April that Hosted IP Centrex seats will service some 6.5 million users in the US and 14.1 million users worldwide by 2012.

Australian enterprises, by contrast, "are far more willing to host the VoIP solution themselves", said Mason.

"The customer likes to have direct control themselves, or at least the perception of more control," he told ZDNet.com.au.

Optus's alternative to the hosted solution is a new voice module on the carrier's next-generation Evolve network, the IP network launched in September 2007 to replace the carrier's aging Cisco-powered OPI (Optus Private IP) network which had been in service since 2000.

"Optus went away and looked at what would support the converged story," Mason said. "Based on current trends, we think customers will be more attracted to this [Evolve] solution."

Reference customers for Evolve include St George Bank, Luxottica (operators of OPSM outlets) and Deacons Law, all of which have been using the initial three modules — IP VPN, Remote Access and Managed Router Service — made available at launch to enjoy its "technical background and QoS improvements," Mason said.

He expects the carrier's new Voice and Internet modules for the Evolve network, of which there are currently only two trial customers at present, to attract "broader customer appeal".

Optus Evolve Voice is a SIP trunking product. It enables customers with multiple sites to connect calls via the IP network rather than having to pay for traditional exchange lines from each site to the PSTN telephone network, and negates the need for a customer to replicate IP PBX infrastructure in every office.

"The typical scenario might be that a company with its main offices in Sydney and Melbourne has an IP PBX in each, plus small PBX's in each of their branch offices," Mason said. "With Evolve they can centralise their IP PBX in one main location, perhaps having a second elsewhere for redundancy, and connect each branch site via an Ethernet connection into the Evolve network."

The only infrastructure a company would need in its offices is the IP phone handsets and an IP connection, he said. "The customer merely uses an IP connection into the network, and we terminate calls into the PSTN for them."

However, customers should not expect that using VoIP will necessarily save them in terms of call costs. On Evolve Voice, customers are charged per line using the same rates as traditional voice services.

"Customers see VoIP as still being voice, only on an IP network," Mason said. "The costs of calls [on Evolve Voice] replicate our current calling rates."

The cost savings can instead be realised at the infrastructure and management level, he said.

"It's not the direct costs that come down," he said. "The savings are from the cancelling of exchange lines and from the centralising of infrastructure. It's a decline in overall telco costs."

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