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Robert Messinger, Vector Resources

[March 23, 2005]

IP Telephony for Small Business: When Failure Is Not an Option

Network Management Columnist

IP telephony, also frequently known as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), has gained rapid acceptance among large enterprises eager to:

  • Reduce costs related to maintaining separate voice and networks as well as monthly telephone charges (industry reports state the average savings on monthly bills of approximately 30 percent)
  • Offer a wide range off new features to employees that improve productivity
  • Take the first step of creating converged networks; i.e., networks that send and receive voice, data and multimedia over 2.5G/3G networks and wireless LANs – whichever network provides stronger coverage wherever the user happens to be

Many small businesses, defined here as those with 50 or fewer employees, may have additional questions and needs. IP telephony has become a mature technology and now provides the excellent call quality of the traditional PSTN (public switched telephone network) and a wide range of services that are either not available from landline and mobile carriers, or are expensive.

Questions Small Business IT Managers Need to Explore:

  1. What are the business goals of considering an IP telephony system – improved services, decreased costs, integrated network, for example?
  2. What services will employees need today and in the future?
  3. What type of training will be necessary to ensure employees use the system as effectively as possible?
  4. Can the existing data network handle the increased bandwidth that are required from an IP telephony system?

More Details on IP Telephony Systems for Small Business

In most converged networks, different devices typically controls a different function: a router handles connectivity to the Internet; connectivity within the company occurs through a LAN switch; IP-based telephony is managed by a separate voice system; firewalls, intrusion detection systems and other systems handle security, etc. Because small businesses lack the IT expertise, financial resources and time to research, purchase, support and service these separate systems, several companies have developed a single platform to manage these needs, significantly reducing the complexity of the network.

Perhaps the most important benefit of IP telephony, often overlooked by the initial attraction of reducing monthly phone bills, are the number and range of applications available. Because all applications are IP-based, each new function is simply new application software – whether it is a voice, data or multimedia function. Typically no new hardware is required. These applications can range from directory services, to meeting room schedulers, to Yellow Pages look up directories.

Because most small business managers want their businesses to grow, scalability is another attribute of IP telephony for small businesses. While traditional networks required PBX’s that typically “maxed out” at eight, 20 or 50 users, IP-based networks are much easier to expand. In addition, as the small business adds location, IP telephony systems have the mobility to easily integrate the telephony systems of the multiple locations, making it appear that the colleague across the country or across the world, is simply across the hall. Here is where the benefit of lower phone bills comes in.

Another benefit of VoIP is its extreme portability. Employees don’t necessarily need to be in the office to receive calls because calls can be forwarded anywhere the employee has access to a computer. A VoIP system can keep employees connected wherever they are – at home, on the road, or at the beach (with a laptop).

Small businesses today typically pursue three approaches when implementing IP telephony, each has benefits and issues:

  • Hybrid – An IP card is attached to an existing PBX and the user receives a IP phone. This approach allows the user to get phone calls over an IP phone, but not the other services available through IP telephony
  • Island – A complete IP-based system is implemented, but only at one facility or one department. This scenario enables the “lucky” group to receive all the benefits of IP telephony, but their colleagues miss out. And, this approach taxes the resources of the company’s IT staff, since they are now maintaining a new system on top of existing systems
  • All IP – This approach includes removing the PSTN system and implementing a complete IP telephony system across the entire small business.

Preparing the Small Business for VoIP

A small business VoIP deployment includes much more than simply replacing handsets and installing software. Implementing IP telephony begins with creating a network design that factors in current and projected company needs from both the data and voice perspectives. Next, the company should complete a comprehensive network audit to ensure that existing routers, switches and other hardware can handle the increased data loads. For many companies, it will be necessary to upgrade this hardware. The audit should also include analyzing telephony use patterns and the potential for improving operations, customer service and other business functions through the many extra features IP telephony allows.

Vector's Advice: Because telephone service is a critical function and IP telephony features can help companies improve core business functions, IT managers should take the time required to research company needs, existing functionality, potential vendors and integrators carefully. This research should include reviewing trade journals and analyst reports, talking to peers at other companies, interviewing as many equipment vendors and integrators as time allows.

For More Information

To learn more about networking issues and solutions, please contact Lauren Ruberry of Vector Resources, 310-436-1000, or lruberry@vectorusa.com.

About the Author

Robert Messinger is a co-founder and principal owner of Vector Resources. He has more than 15 years experience in the telecommunications and networking industries.


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