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Pushing The VoIP Envelope



Summer is a great time for reflection, for mulling about where youve been, where youre going, and setting goals for the coming, cooler months ahead. In these dog days of summer, Ive had some time to reflect on where we are as an industry, and where the currents and eddies of technological progress are taking us.

As a technology and as an industry, IP telephony has come an astoundingly long way in the decade or so since the road of mass commercialization was taken. Its gotten to the point where the quality and reliability of a broadband IP call is pretty much on par with regular POTS service, and most IP-based enterprise solutions are gaining the degree of end-user confidence typically afforded to legacy TDM equipment.

But herein lies the rub: it seems to me that much of the work up until now has been to create functional equity with TDM technology, and in effect replicate the telephony features and functions weve been enjoying for the past numerous decades. IP-PBX engineers have gone to great pains to duplicate the hundreds of features of their companies TDM-based gear, employing SIP and proprietary SIP extensions to get them there. VoIP service providers, meanwhile, have succeeded in replicating most of the Class 5 features we all take for granted.

Forgive me for saying this, but I have to question the point of going IP if the switch or migration is going to simply replicate what we already have in the TDM domain. I know much of the justification for an enterprise migration usually revolves around cost savings and various networking efficiencies and these reasons are certainly not insignificant. But in order to realize true, new value, users have to go beyond the ordinary and start taking advantage of new applications that rely on the power and flexibility of IP communications and have the potential to catalyze deep, positive and fundamental changes in business process.

Of course, there are a slew of new IP-centric enhanced features and services that have been developed in fact, most are quite near and dear to my heart and I applaud those vendors and providers that have developed them. However, among many users, there seems to be a hesitation, or timidity, to embrace the newer, more innovative capabilities of the technology. Perhaps its a matter of users moving up the learning curve, and gaining a good comfort level with the technology before they start extending beyond the tried and true.

So what are the new apps and capabilities that get me excited and glad to be part of such a dynamic industry? Its a long list and I wont be able to run through them all here, but heres a short list of some of my favorites:

Knowledge Management. A few companies, such as Mitel Networks, have a nifty app that can link an incoming or outgoing call to information resources that reside on a users PC or anywhere in the corporate network. Think of it as CTI (Computer Telephony Integration) on steroids, allowing the automatic search and retrieval of documents, spreadsheets, e-mail messages, etc., that relate to the person at the other end of the line.

Mobility Solutions. What I have in mind here goes beyond the inherent number portability feature of VoIP, which involves the ability to have an office extension or home number travel with a user to remote locations, allowing seamless connectivity to corporate communications resources. WiFi telephony certainly rates as a killer mobility app. But beyond basic WiFi telephony are emerging solutions that meld wireline and wireless resources into a seamless system that keeps a user connected to the network whether hes roaming around town or the corporate campus with a multimode mobile phone, PDA or laptop.

Supply Chain Integration. A number of innovative players are developing apps that link supply chain events with communications resources to generate powerful, new business opportunities. One such company, Texas-based Ipcelerate ( is developing ways to leverage supply chain RFID technology to trigger a variety of notifications. For example, new DVD players (or any other item) arriving in port, or in a store, can be scanned, and customers on a waiting list can be automatically notified that their order is ready for shipment or pickup.

Presence Power. Leveraging IM buddy lists and a host of presence-based collaboration apps promises to drive a whole new level of efficiency and productivity for todays workers. Think solutions like Siemens OpenScape, which takes collaborative computing to the next level by offering intelligent, real-time access to people, calendars, and files through presence-based communication and multi-resource collaboration.

Security. Foremost in the minds of most people today, IP telephony can provide an important platform for tying video surveillance and variety of sensors into corporate-wide communication resources, in effect leveraging the eyes and ears of all employees of a company.

Weve seen easy savings come from reduced networking costs, free or reduced long distance charges, the elimination of expensive audio and video conferencing, lower real-estate and travel costs, and other operational efficiencies IP telephony enables. But perhaps the greatest value of IP telephony is its use as a strategic business tool. Its clear that weve only scratched the surface of what's possible. If you have a favorite "VoIP 3.0" app, or know of an intrepid user taking things to the next level, Im all ears. IT

Marc Robins is Chief Evangelism Officer of Robins Consulting Group, which offers an array of services to the IP telephony industry. He has been involved in the telecommunications industry as a reporter and analyst, trade show producer and publisher, and marketing executive and consultant for more than 24 years. For more information, call RCG at 718-548-7245 or e-mail [email protected].

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