Hosted Net telephony rings in benefits

AT&T secures first Asian client for its hosted voice services which IDC says can reduce telecoms costs and avoid equipment obsolesce.
Written by Aaron Tan, Contributor

SINGAPORE--AT&T has introduced a hosted voice service that lets businesses pay for Net telephony calls without having to invest in their own equipment.

Touted as the first of its kind in Asia, the hosted service allows companies to moderate its bandwidth spending on voice services based on their changing needs.

Air Products Asia, a global supplier of industrial gases and equipment, was the first company in the region to sign up for AT&T's hosted VoIP service. Air Products Asia uses VoIP at its regional call center in Malaysia.

The first phase of the deployment--completed in July 2006--has allowed the call center to serve Air Products' customers in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Calls from customers in China, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong are expected to be hooked up by November this year, according to Collis Loh, country general manager at AT&T Singapore.

Loh said all Net telephony equipment is hosted at AT&T's Singapore Internet data center. No capital investment was made by Air Products, which pays AT&T a monthly fee for VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) bandwidth.

Said David Beltz, IT director of Air Products Asia: "We looked at [the possibility of] buying and renting equipment, as well as the utility model. In the end, we didn't want [to make] the capital [investment] for it."

"And whenever there's an operational issue, we may know about it but ultimately, it's the AT&T engineers who're bringing the service back," Beltz added.

He noted that the utility model is useful in situations where voice traffic fluctuates within the company. "The business is growing so fast, but you can see that change over time. Certainly, we're in a position where we can handle that [fluctuation] much better than if we had purchased all the equipment," Beltz explained.

According to IDC, while VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) has attracted much attention in the consumer market, hosted IP telephony services hold great promise for business customers.

"IDC believes that just as hosting of data applications has been able to reduce expenses associated with enterprise IT, hosted VoIP will do the same for communications," the analyst company said, in a research note last year.

It added that hosted IP voice services are fundamentally different from traditional PBX systems because capital expenditure is avoided, maintenance contracts are unnecessary, and management is fully outsourced to a secure, central location.

"Furthermore, the customer is assured of instant access to the latest upgrades in both hardware and software," IDC said. "Hosted IP voice is the business model that will deliver next-generation applications to business customers."

Air Products' Beltz declined to reveal TCO savings from its utility-based VoIP service.

Service assurance
Apart from its Malaysian contact center, employees at Air Products' Shanghai office are equipped with VoIP phones and operate on the utility-based telephony service. "They are using the same infrastructure and call routing [features available] at the Singapore data center," Beltz said.

Elvina Quek, regional account manager at AT&T Singapore, said service level agreements (SLAs) are also in place to ensure equipment breakdowns are fixed within 24 hours. Network failover capabilities have been built into the infrastructure to ensure Air Products employees can continue to make and receive calls, in event of any equipment failure.

In fact, AT&T's network redundancy was put to the test when Air Products' WAN (wide area network) link in Shanghai went down last year.

Beltz said: "The 'survival ability' of the systems was put in place. The only thing that was impacted was voicemail, but calls [could still be made]."

He noted that while there will always be concerns about security in any VoIP deployment, particularly in the chemical industry, Beltz said he was confident that AT&T and Air Products' internal security team will overcome any potential issue.

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