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Hybrid IP: The Best Of Both Worlds

By Greg Galitzine


When considering the move to IP telephony, enterprises have a number of choices to make, not the least of which involves the decision to migrate slowly towards a VoIP solution while retaining applications and business processes, or rip out the existing phone system and go completely IP right out of the gate.

According to a recently published DellOro Group report, IP telephony has become the technology of choice in the PBX market. Sales of IP PBX and Hybrid IP/TDM PBXs are forecasted to reach $6.1 billion in 2009, an 11 percent compound annual growth rate. DellOro Group projects IP PBXs and Hybrid IP/TDM PBXs, which represented only half of the lines shipped in 2004, will comprise almost 88 percent of lines shipped by 2009, taking share from traditional TDM systems.

Hybrid IP/TDM PBXs are currently the most popular since they allow businesses to take advantage of IP telephony capabilities, while preserving their existing investment in TDM-based lines and digital telephones, said Steve Raab, Director of IP Telephony Research at DellOro Group.

Infonetics recently released a report as well, where they predict that worldwide hybrid PBX revenue will nearly triple between 2003 and 2008, growing to 69 percent of the total market.

Many companies that are looking to VoIP enable their communications systems are still wary of the relative novelty of the technology. They feel that a measured approach to IP telephony is best. Rather than face the enormous cost and uncertainty of ripping their current telecom solution out completely, and replacing it with a relatively unproven solution from a vendor that might not traditionally be considered a telecom specialist, customers are opting for a more conservative approach. By deploying a hybrid IP PBX solution, customers can retain many of the features of their existing digital/TDM-based systems while leveraging the advantages VoIP systems have to offer.

Of course, pure IP proponents point out that in a hybrid design, IP telephony is essentially bolted on to a TDM architecture; therefore, only the IP-enabled endpoints have access to the rich capabilities of IP Communications.

But still, advantages abound.

A key benefit is the ability to migrate an enterprise one group or department at a time. This lowers the risk associated with a potential catastrophic systems failure, allowing a business to slowly ramp up its comfort level with a new technology. Also, as enterprise employees learn to take full advantage of an IP telephony system, leveraging all the so-called soft benefits such as efficiency and application integration, future departments will be more willing to embrace a new telecommunications system if their colleagues have had a positive experience.

Corporations can retain their existing applications, (e.g., call center or enterprise directory), and use IP trunking between locations to extend the applications to far-flung workers or home-based teleworkers, thus allowing them to reap the same benefits as their office-bound colleagues.

Companies do not have to spend their fortunes on retraining employees to use new equipment or to learn new processes that are part and parcel of deploying any new technology, especially systems as important to the day-to-day operation of a business as a phone system.

And what about all those existing analog phone sets and fax machines? What about lobby phones or courtesy house phones in hotel hallways? In a pure IP system, you would either have to replace them all with expensive IP sets, or be forced to scrap them altogether. You could of course install gateways to translate TDM to IP and back to TDM if need be, but the addition of costly conversion equipment is simply a non-starter for many businesses.

When considering the move to IP telephony, companies are faced with myriad decisions. Todays research shows that hybrid IP telephony solutions are increasingly the more popular choice. If you are in the market for a new phone system, you should seriously consider a hybrid IP telephony offering from any of the number of vendors that provide such a solution.

Greg Galitzine is the editorial director of Internet Telephony magazine.

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