IP Telephony Ready For Prime Time With
BY DAVE HATTEY
Ever since the first switchboard, large enterprises have ordinarily been
first to benefit from new advances in telephony. While big business enjoyed
phone systems designed for a staff of thousands, companies with less than
400 employees were forced to settle for scaled-down versions and a
one-size-fits-all package of tools and features.
Alternatively, IP telephony cut its teeth in 1999 in smaller firms, which
found it affordable, scalable, and easy to customize. Analysts report that
by 2002, more small businesses choosing phone systems went with IP telephony
than traditional solutions. They expect mid-size businesses to cross the
ï¿½tipping pointï¿½ in 2004.
Until now, large firms have not shown the same enthusiasm for VoIP
technology. For companies with several hundred or thousands of employees,
switching to a digital system seemed too complex and risky, with millions of
dollars at stake should problems arise. Today, however, large and very large
enterprises are now recognizing the advantages IP telephony has brought to
their smaller counterparts. Now that theyï¿½ve seen the technology working
well, more and more big businesses are focusing on its rewards instead of
This sentiment is bolstered by a new generation of VoIP systems based on
carrier-class technology that can connect up to tens of thousands of users
in many locations at once. By using these systems to converge voice and data
traffic over a single network infrastructure, large firms with multiple
sites can now enjoy dramatic cost savings and efficiencies that no
traditional phone system can offer. With IP telephony, big companies with
offices across the U.S. or even the world can eliminate virtually all
inter-office long-distance charges by routing internal calls over their IP
networks. The ability to leverage excess network capacity to extend voice
communications simply and cost-effectively also lets large enterprises move
efficiently into a truly global marketplace ï¿½ a critical consideration as
business trends like offshoring and outsourcing gain greater popularity.
Large enterprises are also ripe for VoIP because many are using PBX
systems nearing the end of their six- to eight-year life cycle. While budget
considerations previously kept them from supplanting these systems, large
enterprises recognize they can no longer afford to keep them and still
Adding up all of these factors leads to one undeniable conclusion: there
has never been a better time for most large enterprises to adopt IP
SYSTEM & VENDOR CRITERIA
When business depends on hundreds of employees handling thousands of calls,
the telephone system must stand up to high demand. Fortunately, the latest
generation of VoIP products is built to deliver high quality communications
under heavy use. Still, some IP telephony systems handle the pressure better
than others. As large enterprises plan to move to a converged voice and data
infrastructure, there area number of criteria they need to consider.
Reliability: To be worthy of large-scale use, an IP telephony system must
be based on stable, proven technology. Users have the right to expect that
they will always get a dial tone, that their calls will always go through,
and that they will always enjoy clear, static-free conversation. A solution
that maximizes Quality of Service (QoS) for voice traffic guarantees the
highest standards of performance.
Scalability: An enterprise-wide IP telephony system must provide the same
features and functionality to tens of thousands of users in multiple
locations, whether theyï¿½re working from home, at a five-person branch, or
corporate HQ. A modular platform offers the most effective combination of
scalability and high availability.
Unified Network Management: To make the most of a converged networkï¿½s
potential to streamline operations and improve communication, voice and data
applications cannot stand alone; they must interoperate smoothly. Usually,
only a vendor with experience in both voice and data transmission can
dependably provide this level of integration.
Security: The companyï¿½s IT staff should be able to oversee the phone
system from a single central location, using the same software tools that
detect an unauthorized computer on the data network to manage IP phone
handsets. The system should also be designed to take advantage of
distributed computing, with control functions dispersed across multiple
servers, allowing the company to seamlessly reroute calls and ensure ongoing
phone service in an emergency.
Open Architecture: No large enterprise can afford to be limited to
whatever tools and features a particular vendor offers at any given time.
Non-proprietary tools and software allow an enterprise to tailor its
IP-based phone system to its needs. Only an approach based on open standards
allows a company to maximize its technological investment and launch new
applications as they become available.
THE IMPORTANCE OF OPEN STANDARDS
A standards-based system is the most cost-effective, future-minded basis for
delivering IP telephony, yet all standards are not created equal. The
industry standard of choice is SIP, the first protocol to enable multi-user
sessions regardless of media content.
As the underpinning of a telephone system, SIP allows users to receive
voice messages by e-mail, forward instant messages to their personal digital
assistants (PDAs), and receive Web pages on their mobile phones. As the
heart of a multi-application communications environment, SIP can power a
wide range of services, from long-distance telephony and rich media
conferencing to call center applications and sophisticated resource
management applications. Choosing a SIP-based telephony solution opens the
door to all these uses without locking the large enterprise into a long-term
contract with any individual vendor.
SIP is already broadly accepted ï¿½ as the session control mechanism for
next-generation cellular communication, the basis of Microsoftï¿½s real-time
messaging services, and the building block of MCIï¿½s latest advanced
telephony services. Its potential is still barely tapped.
CHOOSING A VENDOR
Traditional telecommunications hardware vendors often offer migration paths
to IP telephony, but stop short of a pure-IP solution. While they donï¿½t
force a forklift upgrade and can switch out equipment over time, their
legacy products and protocols are barriers to creating a true end-to-end
converged voice and data network.
By comparison, some data networking leaders combine the carrot of genuine
IP with the stick of proprietary VoIP systems, forcing customers into a
costly, disruptive network upgrade in order to create a pure IP
communications infrastructure. They also make future-proofing the network
difficult by requiring customers to follow the vendorï¿½s schedule of services
and upgrades, which may not coincide at all with the customerï¿½s needs.
Only a vendor with a truly standards-based approach can provide a simple,
efficient, affordable migration to a truly converged network over time ï¿½
without disrupting the customerï¿½s ability to function, and without requiring
it to replace a perfectly functional data network with ample capacity for
voice traffic. Moreover, only a standards-based solution scales easily
enough to give the large enterprise the option of rolling out new technology
as it becomes available. This ï¿½pay-as-you-growï¿½ capability also reduces the
total cost of ownership and lets the large enterprise migrate to a pure
converged network gradually, with minimal risk to its daily operations.
MAKING THE MOVE TO VoIP
Whether a company is totally replacing an outmoded PBX system, moving into a
new facility, or adding new branches, implementing IP telephony is best done
in stages. The right technology will allow the large enterprise to phase in
small groups of employees ï¿½ for example, one department or branch office at
a time ï¿½ over the course of several years.
This can be done using IP phones that work side by side with legacy
analog equipment and a mix of media gateways that provide smooth connections
to the public switched telephone network. Eventually, the number of people
with IP handsets will outnumber those using legacy equipment. At that point,
the company can affordably replace its remaining handsets with full
confidence that the new telephone system is working as it should. Only
standards-based technology that scales readily and interoperates easily with
legacy PBX systems allows for this gradual, practical transition.
Because phone service is such a basic need in day-to-day business
operations, companies must choose a vendor who will work closely with them
throughout the migration process and ensure the new voice solution works
properly from the first minute of cutover. In this way, the large enterprise
will be ideally situated to optimize advanced call-handling features as well
as expert, value-added applications linking voice and data. This creates
opportunities to improve both internal communications and customer service
in ways never before possible.
Case Study: Prudential
Dave Hattey is the vice president and general manager, Enterprise
Voice Solutions, at 3Com Corporation. 3Com is a leading provider of
innovative, practical and high-value voice and data networking products,
services, and solutions for enterprises of all sizes and public sector
organizations. For further information, please visit
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