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Analysts: The time for VoIP is now

VoIP has great potential for enabling communications in an emergency, saving billions and dollars and enabling telework in federal government.
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor

Whether you're looking at emergency communications or  just trying to save billions of dollars, Voice over IP is a compelling technology that will eventually represent a huge proportion of government telecom usage, consultants and government IT experts said at a conference last week, Washington Technology reports.

For one thing, VoIP could play a huge role in emergency communications, said speakers like Robert Leach, director of IT Services at the Education Department, and  David Jarrell, director of the Center for Information Infrastructure within GSA’s Federal Technology Service. 

Jarrell referred to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and on the Pentagon, noting that in those kinds of situations, offices could be inaccessible but employees will still need to communicate.

“There has to be a full suite of options in the event that we had to operate from this room we’re in right now,” Jarrell said.

Leach said the simple features of a VOIP phone could let government workers communicate in geographically dispersed locations. If there is an emergency, “I can immediately shift hundreds of workers to their homes,” Leach said. “It’s as simple as, when you leave your desk, unplug your phone and take it with you.”

Panelists estimated savings of $10 billion a year by switching over to VoIP.

“It is clear that VOIP can now compete more readily and on an equal footing with traditional telecommunication services” for the government, said Alan Balutis, president and CEO of government strategies at market research firm Input Inc. of Reston, Va. 

While security is not yet cooked yet, the problems are far from insurmountable.

 Leach said that establishing security and firewall protocols that would let entire departments and organizations work from home at the same time is not feasible at the moment. “But it’ll get there,” he said.

Industry panelists said security concerns over VOIP are certainly valid but can be easily addressed.

“From my experience in dealing with businesses, [the security issues] seem to be somewhat overhyped,” said Jake Heinz, a vice president for VOIP service provider Covad Communications Corp. of San Jose, Calif. “People aren’t as worried about it as you’d suspect.”

Heinz said providers are well aware of the security risks and are generally able to resolve concerns quickly. “There are things a provider has to do to secure the network,” he said. “Appropriate teams focused on risks [assigned by the provider] can mitigate concerns.”

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