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VoIP Feature Article


April 07, 2006

Making Single Infrastructure a Reality

TMCnet News

(Financial Express Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)
You've no doubt heard all the hoopla surrounding Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and the savings you can reap over traditional phone systems. Several years ago, the emerging technology of making telephone calls via the Internet, often termed VoIP or IP telephony, looked as if it had the potential to make traditional business telephone systems obsolete. It heralded the benefits of voice and data convergence, where separate voice and data systems could be integrated in one local or wide-area network, reducing infrastructure. Unfortunately, by 2001, the reality of long-distance communications via the Internet fell short of expectations. Even other VoIP implementations proved to be time consuming, costly, and disruptive to end-users. Features that were easily deployed with traditional private branch exchanges (PBXs), such as voicemail or telephone conferencing were difficult and, in some cases, impossible to bundle with a VoIP system.
With respect to quality of service (QoS), telephone calls were often impeded with static and delay. And while the shortcomings of VoIP technology hindered the user experience, the increase in network administration expenses and the reduction in long-distance rates charged by traditional carriers in recent years virtually eliminated the economic justification for migrating to an IP telephone system. Notwithstanding these setbacks, VoIP is becoming more ubiquitous as companies search to extract more productivity from their employees and IT infrastructure. Says Ranajoy Punja, vice-president of marketing, Cisco Systems (News - Alert) - India and Saarc, "Businesses and organisations of all sizes are entering a new phase in the adoption of IP communications - a category that includes IPtelephony; unified messaging and voice mail; customer contact; and audio, Web, and videoconferencing solutions."
Case in point: a single IT administrator with VPN access can configure multiple telephone systems at branch locations across the country. A single receptionist can manage incoming calls made to dozens of satellite offices. And a call centre can utilise off-the-shelf, open standards-based computer telephony integration (CTI) applications instead of building an expensive, PBX-specific CTI application from scratch. It is clear that this technology is moving from an experimental stage to mainstream business. If one is to go by what market analysts predict, VoIP has had a great year in 2005 as an increasing number of companies worldwide, developed roadmaps for VoIP implementation.
 The Asia Pacific (APAC) market also reflects this trend with IP-based services such as VoIP driving growth in the region. As per estimates by IDC, the total IP telephony market in Asia Pacific (excluding Japan) in Q305 was pegged at $212.99 million, up 15.58% quarter-on-quarter.
The Indian market stood at $30.50 million. In fact, a lot has already been said about the benefits and relevance of VoIP in the Indian market. In the absence of regulation favouring convergence, the deployment can be done only in a closed user group (CUG). Industry consensus is that deregulation is bound to happen and when it does, IP telephony will sky rocket. "This seems likely when you consider that the deregulation of wireless LANs has seen a surge in WLAN deployments. Deregulation will let Indian service providers emulate their counterparts in Singapore in offering IP telephony as a service with varying levels of call quality that the user will be able to pick by using a specific prefix before dialing out," Mr. Punja says. Ajay Gupta, assistant vice-president and head of services business, Flextronics Software Systems, says, "Low cost of broadband is another market where India is going to see unprecedented growth. The cost of owing a broadband Internet connection (primarily ADSL) has come down drastically, thanks to the bundling and offerings available from service providers. This will drive the demand for VoIP applications both at the enterprise and individual level."
Nevertheless, analyst's debate as to what new applications will further drive the future of VoIP and challenges for this technology in the Indian market. Some of the applications over VoIP that will drive the adoption of this technology are: Improved voice applications. This category is inevitably wide, running from basic voice services upwards. Typical applications include audio directory enquiries and other audio-based services, call handling (such as call waiting), calling cards, CTI, IVR, Softphones, voice input and control of business applications, voice recognition, and VXML-based services.
Messaging applications-These applications cover all forms of messaging, from simple email and voice mail upwards. Two major threads of development are instant forms of messaging, which depend on detecting automatically the online presence or availability of the recipient to give a real-time capability; and unified messaging, which allows different types of message to be accessed and managed, irrespective of the location of the user.
Multimedia conferencing- This is a self-evident category of applications that allow groups of users to participate in conferences of various types. One of the big hopes for VoIP multimedia is that it will make these applications much more widespread.
Voice/Multimedia VPNs- Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are a crucial modern network capability and offer users most of the benefits of a traditional leased-line private network, but at a fraction of the cost, by statistically multiplexing users over a shared infrastructure. VPNs can use various technologies, but IP VPNs in particular have developed into a major service capability, partly because of their suitability to support converged voice and data networks.
Media content and distribution- These applications center on the use of a multimedia packet network to support the distribution of media (information, entertainment, and so on) and to support an interactive environment for media applications.
Wireless applications- There are some applications that are specific to mobile users. These might include: Voice over WiFi (News - Alert), Push to Talk, Interactive Multimedia Services as defined by 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), Softphones and call servers used to connect enterprise users on the road to the corporate phone network or PSTN.
VoIP faces certain challenges that pose impediment to its growth. "The biggest of these is the regulatory restrictions imposed by the Indian government on the usage of IP telephony. VoIP remains restricted to closed user groups (CUG)," says Mr. Punja. Another challenge is the relatively high prices of IP phones. This has resulted in organisations limiting high-end phones to their top management. Interoperability is another issue that needs to be resolved. Not all phones, soft phones, gateways, call managers are interoperable as they support some proprietary variant of a standard protocol. This limits enterprises from free mix and match of components. The usage of open standards can tackle this issue.
The Indian IP telephony enterprise equipment market is finally emerging out of the shackles of government-enforced restrictions. The recent announcement to further open up IP telephony means that IP telephones and equipment will be able to freely interconnect with normal TDM lines.


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