Bridging Voice and IP Networks

Bridging Voice and IP Networks

IP-based networks are the glue that connect PCs, PDAs, servers, faxes and even security devices together, and enable them to ‘talk’ to each other across the Internet – thereby shaping the modern commercial landscape like nothing before them. Yet it is still rare to find companies willing to switch to a converged voice and data network in an IP environment.

Traditionally, phones operated on analogue Public Switched Telephone Networks (PSTNs) and data ran over separate digital packet-based IP networks. This meant every office set-up required two sets of installation companies, components, vendors and, ultimately, channel and distribution structures – which often led to inflexible ways of working and unnecessary duplication of costs.

This is because, when VoIP technology first emerged, the industry couldn’t deliver high quality voice communications at an affordable price. This meant end-to-end solutions either worked, but were out of the price range of most customers targeted by the reseller community, or were affordable but offered patchy unreliable voice delivery – in the price-sensitive, era, it’s not hard to guess which option most companies picked and why, almost a decade later, they remain sceptical.

Historically, bandwidth was also major issue. While limited bandwidth slowed data and caused frustrating delays, in a voice-enabled environment, it caused dropped calls and extended silences. However, in the last few years, bandwidth has become less of a problem – primarily because the cost has dropped significantly and prices for ADSL-based connections fall within most SME and enterprise-level budgets. This means that, today, it’s got to be about preparation. Resellers that demonstrate a high level planning for their tenders and illustrate understanding of concepts such as Quality of Service and data prioritisation will stand a much better chance of convincing their clients to invest in VoIP.

Companies also worry about network security and business continuity. If businesses are going to use a single IP-based network for voice and data delivery, resellers need to provide, or at least advise on, network security and business continuity solutions – covering spyware, anti-virus and anti-spam software, as well as contingency planning, and data back-up. It might sound obvious, but it’s all the more important in a converged environment as the network is doing ‘double duty’ and carrying a company’s entire communications infrastructure.

As things stand, neither voice or data resellers can really claim an advantage in the IP market – although data resellers have a head start as they have already worked on projects that require available bandwidth to be utilised effectively and have a good understanding of issues that effect network downtime. However, both have to deal with new issues specifically related to VoIP – and both should watch out for three of the most common pit-falls:

Make sure the new VoIP system supports all the functions offered – as standard – on the phones that you’ve sold to your clients. If there are extra costs, let them know during the planning stages.

Check your client has enough power supplies in their offices as IP phones need a mains supply

Ensure the IP network you’re using is actually designed to carry voice. Standard broadband is fine for SMEs with between eight and 10 users, but if the network is intended to support more than that, installers should be looking at an xDSL-based solution.

VoIP technology is an exciting sector in which to be involved. According to Ovum, hosted IP telephony revenues in Western Europe are predicted to reach £1.4 billion in 2008 and, with IP Centrex Players such as Skype, Vonage, Babble and Softbank forcing traditional voice providers and other cable providers to launch VoIP services, there is a definite opportunity for the UK channel. I f resellers work with their vendor partners to provide high quality communications at an affordable price – together with detailed plans to cover installation, maintenance, training and management – their clients can feel comfortable adopting the technology, understand its benefits and realise how to get the best out of their IT investment.

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