The days when IP-enabled voice services were viewed as just another way to
get cheap long distance are over. Today, businesses know that IP voice
services can streamline the management of their networks while unlocking
multimedia applications that improve communications and help meet the
The implementation and deployment of IP-based voice communications is
expanding at lighting speed, underscoring a huge potential growth market. Dataquest
predicts that worldwide revenue will grow from slightly more than $2
billion to $87.9 billion by 2004 for public voice over packet services.
Multimedia services such as presence applications, instant
conferencing, and unified messaging add to IP telephony's appeal. But
before a business implements IP-based voice communications, there are a
few things they must consider regarding standards, obstacles to
deployment, and the future application of these services.
Choosing A Protocol
To truly understand the future of voice over IP, it's key to first
understand the protocols that make the technology possible. WorldCom
decided to deploy Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), which makes it
possible to support customer IP applications regardless of the underlying
data network configuration. SIP is a Web-based architecture that provides
interoperability between IP applications, devices, and network equipment.
Using this protocol, we can easily add additional services and
applications for VoIP customers without interoperability woes.
Other protocols can be problematic when voice converges with data, fax,
video, and future services -- they don't readily support these integrated
communications services, and can leave a business out in the cold when the
technology changes. For example, the H.323 protocol is better for
businesses that are merely interested in replicating their current
telephone service on IP. But when it comes to implementing new services,
H.323 is more difficult to configure, and has more interoperability
issues. WorldCom believes the simplicity of SIP ensures its longevity as
unified messaging platforms integrate with cell phones, pagers, video, and
Challenges On The Horizon
Aside from understanding the basic technology behind voice over IP, it's
also important to understand the challenges that lie ahead for its
widespread adoption. Quality is one of the key issues that has plagued IP
telephony in the past. Issues with packet loss and latency have been
blamed for VoIP's quality issues. Businesses should choose a provider that
can solve that problem by offering a fully managed backbone, which allows
for greater control over the call's path through the network. This helps
mitigate the chance of poor quality.
While IP-based voice services have rolled out more quickly than any
other communications service in history, there is a perception in the
industry that adoption has been sluggish. Most of the delay has occurred
in the IP-to-PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) calling arena, where
the necessary equipment to make these services possible was still in
development. The adoption of SIP protocols and the advancement of
stand-alone phones that utilize an Ethernet connection is acting as a
catalyst for adoption of voice over IP.
Another hurdle IP telephony has faced is the perceived expense involved
for businesses that already have legacy investments in PBX infrastructure
-- the equipment that routes transactions for the hardware required to
make phone calls. However, there are solutions available now that allow
customers to utilize their PBX-based infrastructure while moving towards
With a SIP architecture, businesses can take advantage of IP
applications regardless of network architecture or access type. This means
that IP transactions can run over frame relay, ATM, or IP backbones.
Businesses save money by consolidating voice and data communications on
one internal network, thus reducing maintenance and equipment costs.
The Future Of IP Telephony
IP telephony is going to be about more than voice over IP. It will
encompass a range of access alternatives that will grow with changes in
technology. It will also extend the current capabilities of IP virtual
private networks and private IP services.
In the future, IP telephony will allow users to dictate how and where
they want to receive information. This "presence" technology
would let customers triage information to their home, office, cell phone,
etc. and also determine the medium in which it should be transmitted (via
voice, e-mail, or text messaging).
IP-based communications will also permit businesses to conduct instant
conferencing and unified messaging. Instant conferencing will allow a
business to set up a multi-port call with the same speed that we set up a
two-way call today -- it will be as simple as dialing and talking.
Similarly, unified messaging will make workers' lives a lot simpler,
allowing a user to receive and process a message in any format. For
instance, a user could receive an e-mail message over the phone (through
text-to-speech technology) when they dial into the system.
The way online customer service is conducted will also change with IP
telephony technology. A recent survey by Modalis
Research Technologies found that Americans were seeking online support
that is better integrated with traditional forms of communication. To
answer that concern, call centers will need to allow businesses to
communicate with customers via online chat, Web-based call back, e-mail,
and of course by phone.
Remember that the future of voice over IP will be about more than just
cost savings. To take advantage of IP-based communications, find a
provider that offers a range of access alternatives to help you get the
most out of your existing investments, while gaining more than just a
featureless voice product. In the end, the integration of voice and data
services will allow business to save money while unlocking a variety of
multimedia applications. For all of the changes that IP-based
communications will bring about, its most important role will be to help
businesses drive their growth.
Barry Zipp is senior director of Advanced Voice Service at WorldCom.
He is also responsible for the company's IP-based communications services
-- WorldCom's IP Communications.