Taking a phased approach to IP telephony

Keeping up with the latest technology is one of the facets of a modern, successful business, as it enables improved business and reduced cost

January 12, 2011

Keeping up with the latest technology is one of the facets of a modern, successful business, as it enables improved business and reduced cost.

Leveraging this technology is one of the sources of competitive advantage in today’s market. One of the latest evolutions of technology is IP telephony, which allows organisations to leverage the cost advantages and convenience of running both voice and data on a single network.

This is according to Dawie Bloomberg, Business Services Director at The Webcom Group. He notes, “However, there remains a belief that to implement such a technology a forklift overhaul of the communications environment is required in order to migrate to an IP telephony platform.”

This may not always be the case, as a phased approach to the migration is possible in some cases, allowing organisations to move step by step into the IP telephony space, saving on large initial capital outlay and enabling the organisation to adopt this next level of technology in a manner which will suit their budget.

“One thing that needs to be clarified is the common misunderstanding of the difference between IP telephony and VoIP,” says Bryant Dennis, co-owner of Converged Telecoms, a Webcom Group partner. “These terms are often used interchangeably but in fact represent two distinct technologies.”

VoIP is an enabling technology that allows the transmission of voice over an IP network by converting voice to IP packets, transmitting this over the IP network and then converting the signal back to voice at the other end of the line. A VoIP solution can use traditional endpoints such as a desk phone to improve costs and return on investment when compared to traditional systems.

“IP telephony builds on the cost savings aspect of VoIP, with additional applications such as XML, run off an entirely server-based solution. An IP telephony solution eliminates the requirement of a traditional PBX, allowing for integration with operating systems, for example the Aastra platform can integrate with Microsoft Lync, using a server with switching software and endpoint devices which can be plugged directly into the network,” says Bloomberg.

If an organisation has an existing analogue PBX or a digital telephony system, a migration to full IP telephony without a forklift upgrade is still possible. The solution in place needs to be carefully examined to see if it is capable of migration, and if so then IP boards can be put into place and the solution migrated across. However, if the existing system cannot be directly migrated, then a third party solution or gateway needs to be used.

Establishing the viability of migrating the system should be given careful consideration and in most cases an expert consultant can help to do this in order to ease the migration process and ensure success.

“When an organisation wishes to retain their existing investment, a third party solution may be necessary. If the gateway route is selected, organisations need to understand the pitfalls of a mixed environment and understand that this is not the right solution for everyone. IP enabling a PBX does not mean the enterprise now has an IP server, and this route may create a hybrid environment which still runs traditional processes. That said, however, it is possible to phase in IP phones, then migrate the PBX to a server and so on, thus adopting IP telephony in a phased manner,” says Dennis.

One of the biggest pitfalls to creating a mixed environment is that often it can lead to capacity issues, for example when a non-IP device talks to an IP device internally it can take over the entire IP channel. If the operator is digital and the extension is IP-based this will take up a lot of traffic, since operators will scavenge the channels for internal calls, and implementing more channels can be a costly exercise.

“Organisations also need to look at the condition and age of the hardware as well as the availability of parts, since migrating a legacy system will not solve problems with maintenance and service but may in fact exacerbate them.

A gateway solution is nothing more than a workaround solution. This bolted on system may not deliver the same flexibility as a traditional PBX system, so organisations may end up migrating backwards instead of moving forwards,” Dennis adds.

“Migration, as long as it remains transparent, may be a good option, as a phased approach can deliver financial benefits in terms of spreading out the capital outlay required over a period of time. Organisations need to ensure that they have taken expert advice from qualified and experienced consultants to ensure that the migration runs smoothly and is the right option for their organisation” says Bloomberg.

The most cost effective manner of migrating to an IP solution is to ensure that the right platform and supplier is chosen, and then implement hotspots in areas where IP telephony will benefit the organisation. This means that if problems are experienced within these hotspots, the entire organisation will not be affected, and conflicts can be addressed in small spaces.

“Organisations can use hotspots to ‘test the waters’ to see whether IP telephony is the right solution for their business and to discover what needs to be upgraded on the existing infrastructure,” adds Dennis. “This way, the move to IP telephony is not the giant commitment rolling out the solution to the entire organisation would be, and if things do go wrong then it does not become a huge issue affecting the entire organisation.”

A forklift upgrade may seem like the ideal solution as organisations can immediately see the benefits in terms of reduced maintenance and service costs, as well as the advantage of not operating in a mixed environment.

However, this approach is costly and there is a risk involved with how an IP solution will function with other existing applications and equipment. If a strong business case is not built and applied a forklift upgrade may cause more problems than it solves.

“Ultimately the decision to migrate or forklift is wholly dependent on the existing infrastructure. If the system is not migratable then it should not be migrated, end of story. And while a gateway solution may be a temporary fix, customers need to be aware of the risks associated with this, including the possibility of becoming locked in by a proprietary solution that cannot be maintained by anyone else,” adds Dennis.

IP telephony is billed as the future of communications and many organisations are looking to migrate to this infrastructure. However, the fact is that not all organisations are ready for IP telephony and this move requires careful consideration of all factors involved, otherwise it could end up being a costly and pointless exercise.