Opinion: Prevent lock-in, obsolescence and over-charging with standards-based VoIP

Open standards and a transparent business model will protect your investment says connection telecom

September 22, 2011

by Connection telecom

Many companies today stipulate a need for ‘investment protection’ in their telephony systems. In other words, they want the assurance that their phone system won’t require a full ‘forklift migration’ at upgrade time due to ‘closed’ standards, and that it won’t spring so many hidden cost surprises that, in the end, they’re left with a white elephant.

“These are highly valid considerations,” says Rob Lith, Director of Connection Telecom, “and quite frankly, they’re the result of two things – the opaque business practices prevalent in the bad old days of monolithic telcos, and the non-standard technology of the powerful ‘legacy’ tech vendors of yesteryear.”

Open standards

Telephony vendors that have been in business since the days before Voice over IP (VoIP) have responded to this revolutionary technology with complex, non-standard reengineering of their systems.

This approach has the drawback of requiring specialised knowledge to manage system changes and maintain them, which drives up customers’ total cost of ownership. In effect, the customer must accept ‘vendor lock-in’ without the option of choosing a system from another vendor, unless they’re willing to fork out for a full replacement or expensive integration.

By contrast, new-world IP-based vendors have had the luxury of designing their systems from the ground up based on the future-proof IP protocol – the universal protocol for converged communications – and its dominant standard SIP, or session initiation protocol. In doing so, they can offer investment protection because their systems are open-ended and ‘interoperate’ with solutions from other vendors.

Why is it necessary for systems to ‘play nicely’ with others?

  • You may wish to add to the system (for example, when a new application such as low-bandwidth video-conferencing hits the market).
  • You will have to replace end-of-life (EOL) components when the time comes (such as your access gateway or router), and being able to do so piecemeal definitely beats a forklift upgrade.
  • You might simply want to ‘interface’ with other network elements (like the standards-compliant fibre access line you plan to get one day).
  • You will definitely want to make calls to other companies (unlike users of, for example, Skype, who cannot phone non-Skype VOIP systems)
  • Standards-based VoIP leaves you in control – with it you can use any SIP-compatible phone with any SIP-compatible server.
  • You can even choose a SIP-to-PSTN gateway service provider, since open standards VoIP can interface to the old analogue networks.

Transparent fees and charges

Besides overcoming the headache of ‘closed’ (proprietary) technology, standards-based VoIP also bypasses the prohibitive charges of the bad old days of monopolistic telcos – experienced at one time or another in all countries.

In stark contrast with this bygone era of secrets and exploitation, VoIP has a transparent business model with published interconnect rates and calculable margins. Since Icasa, South Africa’s telecommunications regulator, undertook to reduce call costs, the rate telcos pay to connect calls to each other has become public knowledge, increasing the pressure to price more keenly and not just what the market will bear.

In other ways, too, the technology can offer predictable costs. If based on open standards, it allows for a greater breadth of skills that can perform system maintenance and support, thus injecting greater competitiveness into the market.

In addition, systems extensions and extra features need not be a closed, costly acquisition. Standard IP platforms (such as the widely-used Asterisk VoIP PBX) can be extended by any IP communications engineer.

In addition, VOIP platforms like Asterisk come with all functionality pre-included, making new functionality a simple software upgrade. This makes the old method of loading the bill with professional services impossible.

The same goes for hosted (cloud PBX) offerings.

Keeping it out in the open

All in all, VoIP offers opportunity for openness in your dealings with your telecoms provider – just another reason why the bad old days are best left behind us.

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