Almost half the corporate executives polled by a leading analysis company will have voice over IP (VoIP) installed in their organisation by the end of 2006.
The report, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit on behalf of vendor AT&T, said 43 percent of respondents were currently using, testing or planning to implement VoIP within the next two years. A further 18 percent said they planned to implement VoIP in the longer term.
The report on the future of corporate networking and business strategy was based on a survey of 254 senior executives worldwide. The survey was run in March and April 2004, while the interviews and other research were conducted August and September 2004.
VoIP provides companies with the ability to transmit voice calls over the Internet and IP-based data networks, allowing them to carry calls within their own enterprise on their own networks, bypassing traditional telecom providers and avoiding toll charges.
Research firm Gartner Dataquest predicts that retail voice revenue from today's public switched telephone network (PSTN) will drop slightly through 2008 while retail VoIP revenue will soar by 38.6 percent over the same period.
"The question is no longer if but when VoIP will become the new standard for voice traffic," says Cathy Martine, AT&T's senior vice president of Internet telephony.
The report said, the major barrier to adoption had been hurdles in VoIP's performance, reliability and security. Another obstacle was the difficulty encountered by managers in performing return-on-investment (ROI) analysis on a relatively young technology.
"Cost studies are now easier to perform, savings are more predictable and the questions of quality and reliability have now largely been addressed thanks to the development of international standards and stable software and hardware solutions," says Martine.
The report said moving voice to IP allows companies to merge two disparate existing networks -- one for fax and phone, the other for data and multimedia -- that companies currently have to maintain separately at considerable expense. Running them together allows not only for reduced capital expenditure but also of operating expenditure through the consolidation of maintenance, administrative and support functions.
Eighty seven percent of the respondents identified the reduction of telephone charges as critical in their decision to use or plan to implement VoIP.
Seventy one percent of the survey respondents also cited VoIP features such as unified messaging and "follow-me" as an important factor in considering VoIP.
"Companies adopting VoIP are doing so in an evolutionary way. Organisations tend to trial the technology first and move it across the organisation over time. Hosted and managed services are also emerging as turnkey solutions for companies that want experts to help design and implement their migration and manage the ongoing network," the report said.
A typical roadmap for VoIP implementation usually covers three stages. First, a company has to enable the underlying data network to ensure voice security and high quality. Second, it has to plan for the interoperability of equipment during a migration toward VoIP. The third area is the Holy Grail, where companies begin to drive the adoption of new applications made possible by IP-enabled telephony.
"You can't flip a switch overnight and introduce VoIP across an enterprise. The migration to VoIP is evolutionary. Companies first want to get to know the technology, ensure its reliability and quality, and better understand their employees' acceptance of it," said Martine.
AT&T has also announced it has engaged more than 20 multi-national companies to participate in its VoIP Global Remote Worker pilot for a solution targeted for general availability in the first quarter of 2005.
Some of the firms participating in the four-country trial include: Air Products, BASF, Bausch and Lomb, Ford Motor Company, Flextronics, Global eXchange Service, Johnson and Johnson, Motorola, Nokia, WR Grace and V-Tech.
The trial, announced in June, includes participants in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Broadband solutions provider NetComm made its entry this week into the VoIP market with a number of solutions pitched at corporate and home users looking to get more value from their broadband connection.
The first solution is NetComm's range of VoIP handsets, featuring configuration software so that users with a high speed service can "connect immediately to their VoIP service provider and be talking over the Internet with little or no technical knowledge".
NetComm has also launched its Analogue Telephone Adaptor (ATA), allowing users to make IP calls from a normal telephone. The ATA is targeted at small businesses looking to make the most of their existing equipment.