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Commentary: Checking in on VoIP

Maturing Internet Protocol telephony standards, client devices and applications in Global 3,500 companies mean that voice-over-IP deployments are finally starting to make sense.
Written by Vijay K. Bhagavath, Contributor

Maturing Internet Protocol telephony standards, client devices and applications in Global 3,500 companies mean that voice-over-IP deployments are finally starting to make sense.

With VoIP moving closer to mainstream acceptance, IT executives we recently interviewed seek answers to questions about migration to Internet-based telephone systems and its benefits.

What are some key reasons for enterprises to deploy VoIP?
Companies we spoke with mentioned that their decision to migrate was driven by their business objectives to do the following:

  • Lower costs. IP phones make employees more self-sufficient. For example, a midsize health care company we spoke with saved about 20 percent in IT costs, resulting from employees doing their own phone/PC moves and adding and changing features.
  • Flexibly route calls. Tech support staff in technology firms, many of whom are teleworkers, increasingly use IP-based soft clients to forward calls by name, location or job function to their colleagues worldwide. IP-based call-routing techniques help these users speedily resolve complex tech support issues and handle customer-initiated query escalations.
  • Avoid phone tag. Enterprise users are increasingly using the presence awareness features in Microsoft's Outlook and Messenger applications to choose the right device to communicate with colleagues, avoiding phone tag. Users can also take advantage of "presence" to specify a preferred device for incoming calls, eliminating multiple communications attempts and redundant messages in cell phones, desk phones or two-way pagers.
Should I use a centralized or distributed VoIP setup?
It depends on how many corporate hubs and remote offices you have. Companies with a large headquarters location and a handful of branch sites should deploy a centralized IP-based post branch exchange (PBX) server, eliminating costly remote-site gateways and branch-site telecom management. Companies with tens of branch offices should deploy a hybrid VoIP system with a centralized server and dumb remote-site gateways to avoid frequent remote-site outages caused by unreliable wide area network (WAN) links. An enterprise with multiple headquarters and hundreds of remote sites should architect a resilient VoIP solution based on distributed server clusters due to the large failure group size.

What's the biggest issue enterprises face when moving to VoIP?
Voice quality issues plague quality-of-service-blind legacy LAN switches and routers scattered across enterprise networks. Before running voice traffic on their data networks, companies must ensure acceptable voice performance by conducting comprehensive audits with vendors such as Avaya and Cisco Systems. These audits allow network technicians to check for gear that needs quality-of-service or inline powering upgrades and port reconfigurations to run the voice and data traffic on separate virtual LANs.

How can users benefit from VoIP-enabled applications and devices?
Presence-aware applications such as Siemens OpenScape help callers initiate impromptu conferences or collaboration sessions from their desktops without the need to first check for each team member's availability or to prearrange expensive audio or video conference bridges. Field-based users can collaborate remotely via multimodal Windows CE- or Linux-based rich-client wireless devices offered by vendors such as NEC and Symbol Technologies. These devices also allow users to handle multiple routine communications using a single, general-purpose device instead of toting around multiple devices.

When can companies expect mature, standards-based VoIP systems?
Start-ups like Pingtel and phone pros like Mitel Networks have recently introduced inexpensive Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) phones, but large gear makers like Avaya and Cisco have yet to ship native SIP-based IP PBX platforms that can handle the scale and functionality requirement of most large companies. Forrester expects several incumbents to ship their first-generation SIP-based VoIP platforms for deployment in large production networks by mid- to late 2004.

What VoIP-enabled enterprise applications are on the horizon?
Voice-enabled customer relationship management (CRM) applications, expected to start shipping by 2004, will provide a rich call-center-like experience to enterprise users in the form of a real-time screen pop-up with background information about the caller and previous interactions. Voice-enabled CRM will not only offer a richer and more informative enterprise communications experience, but it will also improve the speed of business decision-making.

News.com originally published this article on 25 August 2003.

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