The barriers to widespread adoption of voice over IP on enterprise networks have fallen one by one. After years of development, the technical and economic roadblocks are down; VOIP is now practical and offers excellent performance at low cost. Broadband Internet connections are increasingly ubiquitous on the desktop, whether at work, on the road or at home. Meanwhile, sophisticated Code Division Multiple Access schemes are squeezing previously unthinkable amounts of multiuser bandwidth out of even the unlicensed spectral commons of the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band. These resources make bandwidth-intensive services such as VOIP stop looking like exotic “what if” and more like an obvious “why not.”
Plugging a voice headset into a wireless laptop, or even a wireless PDA, and making voice calls to anywhere on the Internet now looks like the cheap and easy way to handle voice messaging. There is also the bonus of synergies that can come from having e-mail, voice mail and every other service on a single network that shares a single enterprise infrastructure for provisioning users, granting access rights and allocating costs.
A sign of industry recognition of this trend is the acquisition of wireless equipment maker Linksys by Cisco Systems. The economics of increasingly low-priced software-defined radio equipment and the market psychology of pervasive growth in wireless via thousands of inexpensive new access points define an opportunity that Cisco does well to embrace.
However, we wonder if cellular network operators will be able to embrace the move to VOIP, even with the threat to their business model it implies. There is some reason for optimism. Cellular operators are already taking steps toward broader offerings, with still-image transmission from embedded cameras rapidly becoming as common as short-form text messaging was trying to become just a few years ago. We hope they can make the leap to always-on, application-neutral services that become a logical extension of a unified enterprise messaging architecture. The IT buyer could then roll wired and wireless voice communication and messaging into current network capacity purchasing and management processes.
We dont want to minimize the issues that VOIP will put on IT administrators plates. As a real-time service, VOIP puts network performance under harsh lights; testing and monitoring must extend to include parameters of delayed or erratic transmission that most data applications tolerate with fewer problems.
However, VOIP could bring benefits in addressing IT security. Our ability to connect users to one another and let them share vital data continues to outstrip our ability to make those connections reliable and secure. Getting everything onto the IP network cuts the number of realms in which those problems need to be solved.
We urge IT buyers and providers and network operators to stop seeing VOIP and other convergence technologies as tomorrows possibility and pursue them as todays necessity.