Whats So Cool About VOIP?

By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2002-10-25

Whats So Cool About VOIP?

I got a lot of mail asking why Cisco and 3Com werent in my Oct. 21 analysis of voice over IP (VoIP) product platforms. Nortel Networks Ltd. and Avaya Inc. did yeoman work to get equipment and engineers in place to respond to the RFP and set up equipment. We were very favorably impressed with these companies ability to quickly turn our test plans into ringing telephones and packet switching infrastructure.

Cisco declined to be a part of this story, but company officials indicated that they were interested in being a part of future stories if they had more lead-time and a more specific RFP. 3Com, to its credit, admitted from the start that its NBX system could not scale to the 10,000 IP handsets called for in the second stage of the RFP.

I should have explained the absence of these two obvious VoIP players in the story. One thing I learned in putting this package together is that it takes a lot more time to set up for a VoIP test than it does for the network and systems tests that are the heart of my beat.

But the other thing I learned is that while readers who wrote in were concerned about the absence of these companies, very few readers questioned the main premise of my story—that VoIP applications, more than cost reductions, would drive consideration of converging voice and data traffic onto the same network.

Our unscientific online poll shows that a clear majority of respondents are considering VoIP to reduce operational costs, not because of new applications that might show up in the future. I was glad to see that very few of our polltakers were hoping to reduce capital costs, because my work on the story showed that this is very likely not going to be the case.

VoIP applications, along with the convergence (a nasty swearword in the telephony world, but one that I think still makes sense) of voice and data traffic onto one network, will likely drive down long-term operational costs. Id love to hear from readers about applications theyd like to see come out of a VoIP implementation.

In my story, I cited a call center application as one such VoIP app that improves productivity . Currently, call center agents usually work in a central, specialized location. It is very difficult using traditional telephone technology to distribute call center traffic to geographically dispersed agents. It is an application that is relatively easy to do with VoIP. Are there other applications that you are thinking about for a possible VoIP implementation?

Power Struggles

Power struggles

The other aspect of the story that I thought would get more attention was data network remediation. Although I still believe that companies can make data networks more resilient by adding backup power to more network devices to ensure dial tone even during a building power loss, this is a huge task. Is it an insurmountable stumbling block for enterprise adoption of VoIP, or simply a hurdle that can be cleared with a bit of effort?

Both Avaya and Nortel spent a great deal of time writing about data network preparation for a VoIP implementation. They mentioned power, as I did in my story, both in terms of supplying power to the handsets over the data line and of delivering backup power to the network infrastructure devices.

Both companies talked about planning and implementation in a way that made a lot of sense; IT managers need to know what kind of traffic is currently on the data network and on the telecom network to ensure that the voice applications will work correctly the first time they are put into production. I mentioned some testing and monitoring tools in the story that should be used to gain insight and understanding of both kinds of network traffic.

One reader wrote to me about a VoIP implementation that was going horribly wrong. (The company and the reader will remain nameless.) I responded to the e-mail by hazarding a guess that the implementation hadnt been sufficiently tested before being put into production. Did I ever get a torrent of agreement on that one.

IT lesson learned: telephone systems are complete systems that have a very high profile when they fail. Unlike data applications, where delay and even occasional downtime arent life-or-death situations, telephone systems have to work. Period. This is a big shift that IT managers will have to carefully consider before taking on the challenge of putting voice over the IP network.

Despite all the claims about five nines of reliability in data networks and applications, we all live with routine failures. Obviously, these failures become much more significant when they affect a core application used by everyone from the CEO to the most junior warehouse clerk.

Finally, I was impressed with the sound quality of both of the systems we tested. While our future stories will dig deeper into the codecs that govern the transformation of analog sound waves into digital signals, I have a feeling its still going to come back to applications when it comes to judging which platform is the best.

Do you have something to say about VoIP? Please e-mail me at cameron_sturdevant@ziffdavis.com.

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