Bells and whistles

Are you moved by a strong and urgent desire to implement an Internet telephony system but are lost in the hype? Well, don’t fret.

Are you moved by a strong and urgent desire to implement an Internet telephony system but are lost in the hype? Well, don’t fret. This section will present to you a quick run down of the expected cost, the equipment you need and some great advice from a few Internet telephony vendors whom we have interviewed.

How much?

The cost of deploying Internet telephony within any organization would very much depend on the size of the enterprise and the need for VoIP. In general, an Internet telephony solution can range from as simple as an enterprise VoIP gateway costing less than US$900 for each small remote office to a full-fledged VoIP PBX system with sophisticated IP-PBX phones costing easily more than US$100,000 in total.

The most common reason for any enterprise to switch to Internet telephony is the need to lower the cost of international calls between offices in different geographical regions. The best way of doing this would be to have a gateway that works with the existing enterprise phone network such as PABX to convert all calls to IP packets to be sent over a virtual private network (VPN) or even over the Internet to the remote office with the same setup.

Now, the ownership cost depends on the volume of voice traffic compared to the data traffic within the enterprise. It also depends on whether the enterprise uses tie-lines or voice VPNs from Telcos.

In any case, if the telephony traffic is of significant proportion, then the cost savings of integrating voice into data network (IP network) can be as high as 30% to 50%. In other words the ownership cost can be half of what the enterprise would spend for traditional telephony charges. Cost savings from voice integration also depend on the "community of interest call" volumes (e.g. calls between branch offices, between head office and branch offices) and the locations of the origin and destinations (e.g. domestic or international)

The ingredients

Right, while you are busy tying up your apron, we will give you a quick run down on the ingredients of cooking up a VoIP storm as well as a brief description of them. One last thing to keep in mind, if your next door company can set up a VoIP system, so can you! Just a last pointer, although the “ingredients” listed here may or may not suite any particular enterprise, it does serve a good introduction to the hardware that is involved in a typical VoIP environment.

VoIP general layout
Fig 1: The basic hardware/software that is present in a VoIP system.

Other than the standard networking equipment like the server, switches or routers, a VoIP system would consist of:

  • Internet telephone – An IP telephone may look like a normal phone but differ in their connection. A normal phone connects to the phone jack while an IP telephone connects you to an enterprise via a network cable. An IP telephone can either be a physical phone or software that is installed into a computer. With a headset (mic and speaker combo), it can simulate a typical telephone.
  • IP PBX – Also known as the Call Manager, it can perform functions that are otherwise done by the traditional PABX. It is the heart of the Internet telephony system that comes either as standalone hardware or software.
  • Gateway – Because voice communication is still largely run by PSTN, you would need an interface to route calls coming from IP phone to the PSTN. A gateway allows translation between the IP network and the PSTN thus allowing legacy circuit switching network to co-exist with packet switching network. A gateway may take the form of a standalone device or in-built within an IP PBX system.
After spending tens and thousands of dollars in building up a PABX system in the organization, it would be suicidal to start tearing down the whole infrastructure and build a pure VoIP system.

Kishore Sanagapalli, Regional Director, Asia Pacific Offer Management, AT&T Global Network Services has this sound advice to give anyone who would want to set up VoIP within an enterprise in a most cost effective way; “The challenge is to follow a disciplined and phased approach. It is advisable not to be too ambitious and implement IP voice in a rush. Proper analysis needs to be done on call patterns/volumes between locations, identify critical sites, local regulatory situation etc and then come up with a phased implementation approach. The implementation may also involve changing the end user handsets in some cases and this need to be handled in a careful manner as some users will resist change to new technology.”

In addition, Henry Chang, Market Manager, DSG Technology Inc said that enterprises should avoid chasing the VoIP wagon blindly and only roll out the enterprises projects sensibly. He has two advice:

“Enterprises should examine what they really need today and what they will need in three to five years. No one fixes something that meets the needs. Only acquire the configurations that [your enterprise] will need in the foreseeable future and expand later if necessary. Thus, companies with a perfectly functional [PABX] system can simply incorporate IP extensions into the system to add VoIP options. Firms that intend to replace their existing [PABX] can consider acquiring IP-PBX that meets immediate and near future needs. This makes sense because we believe most enterprises will eventually move their PBX onto IP, and one of the biggest advantages of IP-PBX is its scalability.”

“Second, with open standard-adherent VoIP devices or IP-PBX, enterprises have the freedom to cherry-pick the best deals available and not necessarily constrained to purchase the whole system from one vendor (as the case in legacy PBX). We encourage enterprises to compare the features and prices of products from different vendors, mix and match if applicable, in rolling out their VoIP projects,” he concluded.

Gathering of the vendors

If you fear to trend the valley of VoIP alone, here are some of the vendors that will guide you all the way.

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