Pacific Internet defuses Optus VoIP hype

Interest in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology has reached fever pitch amongst Australian businesses, an Optus survey claims, but competing research by Pacific Internet suggests otherwise.

Interest in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology has reached fever pitch amongst Australian businesses, an Optus survey claims, but competing research by Pacific Internet suggests otherwise.

"Forty seven percent of businesses have partially or fully deployed VoIP, up from 30 percent in 2003; with a further 17 percent currently evaluating VoIP solutions or conducting trials," claimed Optus' John Simon yesterday, as the results of an annual survey among Optus customers on the topic of IP networking was released.

The managing director of Optus' business division said the survey -- which targeted 71 senior IT&T managers at different-sized organisations -- indicated businesses were embracing VoIP technology in "growing numbers".

However, Pacific Internet chief Dennis Muscat disagreed with Optus' survey findings. "Despite all the industry hype around VoIP and convergence ... current and intentional use of VoIP, unified messaging and videoconferencing remains low among SMBs."

Muscat was speaking to reporters after unveiling the Internet service provider's Broadband Barometer report, which it commissioned to analyst firm IDC to measure broadband usage trends in Australia's small to medium business (SMB) sector.

The Pacific Internet report found only one percent of Australian SMBs were using VoIP in some capacity, while a relatively small six percent planned to use it in the future. According to its data, the SMB sector represents around 99 percent (or 800,000) of all employing businesses operating nationwide, making it "a powerful sector of the Australian economy".

The key differences between the two reports were the fact that Pacific Internet specifically measured 305 Internet-enabled small businesses of less than 200 employees, while Optus focused more broadly from small to enterprise-class businesses. About 20 percent, or 14 companies the telco surveyed had 249 workers or less.

Ultimately, both companies acknowledged larger organisations were more likely to be interested in VoIP technology.

"This [report] suggests VoIP take-up is being driven by the top-end of town -- among government and enterprise organisations, and also by residential early-adopters," said Pacific Internet's Muscat.

"Larger organisations are more likely to be considering convergence [between data and voice networks] than small businesses," stated the Optus report.

"Some 44 percent of small businesses (those with less than 100 employees) have no plans to converge their telephony and data networks, whereas only 17 percent of large businesses (more than 1,000 employees) have no plans to converge.

Internet everywhere
Pacific Internet found that around 95 percent of Australia's approximately 800,000 SMBs were connected to the Internet via some means. A high proportion (77 percent) of these were using broadband technology.

"xDSL is the dominant access technology and the survey shows a 160 percent increase in its adoption from 2004, with 58 percent of connected SMBs now using it for high-speed Internet access," said Pacific Internet's Muscat.

But fixed wireless access is also catching up, with dial-up and ISDN losing ground.

"Fixed wireless broadband emerged for the first time as a significant access technology among SMBs," according to the Broadband Barometer report, noting around seven percent of such companies were using either a fixed wireless broadband solution or satellite technology as an Internet access method.

"The adoption of xDSL technology has also heavily impacted the use of dial-up technologies. Dial-up take-up reduced by over 50 percent compared to the previous survey. ISDN take-up was also adversely affected, with only 1 percent of SMBs using this technology to access the Internet," the report stated.

Both companies have a business relationship. In July, Pacific Internet added Optus to its list of DSL wholesalers.