IP telephony is billed as the future of communications, as it enables the convergence of voice and data on a single network, allowing for multiple communication formats, from traditional voice to instant messaging and email to be brought together on a single platform. Many organisations have taken the decision to move onto this platform, with varying degrees of success, and many others are considering implementing IP telephony.
“IP telephony without doubt provides many benefits, including access to rich applications on the desk unit that can be linked into back end software, as well as simplified maintenance and reduced associated costs. However IP telephony, as much as it is the future, is simply not viable at this stage for all organisations,” says Dawie Bloomberg, Business Services Director at The Webcom Group. “If you have been through the steps in taking this decision and concluded that IP is the right move for your organisation, there are several considerations that can and should be dealt with in order to ensure maximum success rates and satisfaction with the end result.”
Migration or forklift upgrade?
The first decision that needs to be taken is whether to conduct a forklift upgrade or whether to do a phased migration onto IP telephony. Each one has its own pros and cons, explains Bryant Dennis, co-owner of Converged Telecoms, a Webcom Group partner.
“A forklift upgrade will obviously circumvent many of the issues associated with a migration, but it is a costly exercise as it requires a lot of new equipment to be purchased. Migration on the other hand, allows these costs to be spread out somewhat. However, migration involves many steps which can complicate the process, and often involves some type of third party gateway solution which is not an ideal scenario,” he says.
An examination of the current environment will reveal whether it can be migrated without the use of third party gateways, but the cost implications of a migration need to be carefully considered before this step is taken. If the hardware is fairly recent then it may be able to be reused by changing out the processor, but this may involve taking on more legacy hardware that could cause long term issues to creep in. Replacing the physical telephones as well as the hardware could prevent these problems, and implementing an IP platform with the future view to fully move onto IP telephony may be the most cost effective solution in the long term.
Understand the physical infrastructure
“The next step that needs to be taken is to gain a full understanding of the existing physical environment and infrastructure. If you have a dual CAT5 network are you going to run voice and data separately? If you only have a single CAT5 then do you have Quality of Service on the network to give priority to voice traffic? These questions need to be answered before any move into IP telephony can become a reality,” Dennis adds.
If an organisation is running a network to the desktop then hardwired IP phones can be implemented. If your organisation is running a wireless LAN however, then this will involve IP wireless phones which may not be as stable as required or provide the desired level of quality. The existing data switches also need to be examined to see if they can handle voice, in other words whether or not they are managed switches. If you need to upgrade the entire data network, this can have serious cost implications.
Do your homework when selecting a solution
“Choosing an IP telephony solution involves some legwork as picking the cheapest product without considering the offering completely can cause future headaches. If you are going to spend the amount of money a move into IP telephony will take, make sure you spend it with the right company,” says Bloomberg.
Make sure that the vendor or supplier you select can deliver a total end-to-end platform that has the capability to add in any type of media and communications format you may want now or possibly in the future. A SIP rich solution from a provider that is a specialist in unified communications is the best solution to avoid vendor lock-in. An open platform solution will enable you to choose the hardware and devices you want regardless of brand, so that you can get a best of breed solution to meet your organisation’s specific needs.
Look out for islands of technology
When moving to IP telephony the voice and data networks are not the only factors that need to be considered. All third party applications that may be running off the existing voice environment need to be taken into account, such as fax servers, telephony management systems, voice loggers and so on.
“The implications of a move to IP can be huge,” explains Dennis. “It is not simply a case of moving from analogue to digital but running voice off a totally new platform. Third party applications cannot just be plugged into the new system and expected to work, so the cost implications of this, including new applications and lost productivity should the systems not work, need to be taken into account as well.”
Make sure your providers are on the same page
“For smaller organisations, a one-stop shop that can deliver voice, data and ISP services may suffice. But for larger enterprises it is more common to have separate expert providers in each of these spaces. This makes it vital to ensure that all of these providers are on the same page when it comes to meeting your converged communication needs,” says Dennis.
The best way to ensure that this does in fact happen is to find specialists in each field who have strategic partnerships and sound working relationships with other specialists that can deliver on the other aspects of the converged network. Voice, data and the ISP need to be able to work together to deliver a strategy and solution that will meet the needs of an organisation now and into the future.