Monday, August 17, 2009

The challenge of Voice over IP

There are lots of discussions regarding Voice over IP (VoIP).  They typically are centered on the technical merits or shortcomings.  This post will attempt to address some of these issues but more importantly address the business discussions that should be transpiring.

First, my biggest pet peeve is for the vast majority of the naysayers who claim with great flair and passion that “VoIP is not ready for the real world”.  Ok, check the sources of these claims.  Most likely is the the big telecomm groups. Why?  Simple, they are trying to keep as much money in their pockets as long as possible.

Every technology has growing pains, the telco’s have had a hundred years to better the experience. Recent failures of the big telcos show they didn’t see the real business problem but are still bragging on the technical wonders of what is in their labs. 

This graphic shows the timeline from the old copper days, to digital phone (the said saviour of the business) to Internet Protocol (IP) phones.


The point here is that there has been a path to something different over time and with increased functions.

The large phone carriers have been doing VoIP at their interconnection points since the late 90s.  These are the same carriers that say VoIP is not ready.   My challenge to them has always been, then what are you doing to get it ready?  Their users have spoken and answered in droves by saying “not much”.

I personally have been doing VoIP at the trunk level for my enterprise phone switches since 1999 over Framerelay, yes Framerelay.  So much for the engineering specifications of today’s massive network requirements.  Which leads me to the real challenge of the convergence.

If VoIP is going to work it has to travel on a good data network.  Seems simple but here is where the real cultures clash.  The clash is not in technology but in approaches to solving issues.  The 100 plus years experience of telephone thinking is move slow (read glacier speed) and over build.  The premise always was, we have lots of money and time.  Along with this the customers really had no choice.  If you wanted voice mail and auto attendants the choices were limiting, confusing and very expensive.  This voice culture rewards safety and engineering prowess.  In the traditional phone world the engineer dictates the experience, hence the horrible user interaction points.  The only saving grace was it worked predictably and reliably.

The culture of the data teams is get it in and fix it later.  This is a plaque that is ruining the industry.  Poor network design along with sloppy implementation coupled with cavalier change management policies is their legacy.  This culture leads to some of the vast security breaches that occur today.  The network needs to be designed and implemented properly to really gain the value of VoIP.  Some of benefits of the data network engineers is one of adaptation and creativity.  This is a good trait to have as long as it is well managed and lead.  In this new world the network is king so let’s not make the village idiot the king.

On the same note, let’s not make the telco trolls the masters of all.  This is way too dangerous and counter productive.

The Internet and the internet protocols are here to stay.  Many good people have built worthy networks capable of running VoIP simply and effectively.  These people have used the true value of voice engineering design principals with the creative approaches and techniques of the data network arena.

The business case for VoIP is simple, reduce the moving parts and players and you gain the competitive advantage.  It is easier to find network experts than phone experts.  The technology being created for the VoIP space is being done by creative people solving real business problem.  They are also using modern business models that are more cost effective and give the businesses real options to solving a vast range of business issues.

We have currently converted 5 of our major phone sites to VoIP in support of 600 users.  Phone updates are done by the PC techs using the same tools they use to setup a new Windows users.  The days of the black arts being managed by the Merlins are coming to an end and that is a good thing.

The kingdom should be managed by the king on behalf of the kingdom for the benefit of all.  VoIP is an effective business tool to get there.  Yes there will be scary witches, there always are when you are implementing big change.  The alternative is to continue to pay too much, get too little and be locked into old rigid thinking.   Modern companies have fought through the technical issues and now are reaping the benefits of mobility and true business control of their phone infrastructure to gain business advantage.

Some benefits to the business are;

  • Ease of Moves, add, changes (MAC)
    • Can be done by PC Techs
  • Mobility of workers without support calls
    • Worker can change offices without have to call for new cabling or setup
  • Everything is a data drop CAT5e and CAT6
    • No more dual copper connections
      • voice CAT3
      • data CAT5e and CAT6
  • lower licensing
  • Cost based on users not systems and users
  • More competitors for different options within same environment
    • phone systems
    • voice mail
    • call recording
    • reporting
    • phone sets
  • incremental user costs for new users
    • Can purchase as needed instead of in bulk
  • Session Initiated Protocol (SIP) trunking for dial tone
    • Very inexpensive and very reliable regardless of what you hear from your vendors.  Talk to actual users of it
    • Significant business continuity benefits and toll reduction over traditional PRI setups

Some draw backs and cautions to VoIP

  • The data network must be checked for compliance
    • DO NOT underestimate this.  Just because it is working does not make it workable for VoIP
  • Tough to find a vendor that is good at both voice and data
  • Tough to get the voice and data teams to behave nicely together
    • expect causalities if you have mature teams.  This is not always a bad thing
    • They need to learn from each other without coming to an impasse
  • Watch out for the hidden licenses.  Read the fine print and ask lots of questions.
  • Every thing is server based and with all servers then need to be maintained in a proactive way.
  • Make sure your core data network is near any voice recording software.  Voice recording in the new VoIP world is very easy and let unmonitored will kill your data network with traffic.
  • Make sure you are solving business problems when you purchase some of the optional offerings.  This is where their money grabs come from.  Do not be afraid of mixing your vendors.  Is this new world is it very easy to do because of established standards.

No comments:

Post a Comment