There is a huge buzz around voice over IP (VoIP) and IP telephony (IPT). However, businesses are diving in without really understanding what they are getting into. One of the main reasons for this enthusiasm is the promise of high return on investment: companies are being promised huge financial savings, enhanced performance levels and efficiency increases from converging voice and data onto one network. This delivers a consistent communications service across multiple offices.
The market opportunity for VARs is great. Analyst Gartner predicts that by 2009, VoIP will completely replace standard because it will simply be more cost-effective for businesses.
As flexible working becomes dominant in our business culture, VoIP will also help employees working at home to feel part of the organisation. Flexible working in this way reduces absences, boosts productivity and makes companies more resilient. In addition, laptops and PDAs are now being shipped with built-in wireless connectivity, allowing users to make free VoIP calls in wireless hotspots.
The ideal end-user of VoIP is one with multiple locations/branches and a nomadic sales/service team. Geographical diversity and an existing LAN/WAN in place provide the ideal candidacy for VoIP.
To help companies really understand the implications of a VoIP installation, one of the first things that should be done when assessing the business needs is a network audit. The network switches will need to support power over Ethernet and quality of service, and even the uninterruptible power supply must be checked for capacity. Companies need to ensure they have sufficient bandwidth to cope with the new system. If the network is up to capacity, the company must be made aware of what is required to install a VoIP system.
Many voice-centric resellers have made the move into the VoIP market. However, system integrators are better placed because they understand the underlying networking, connectivity, quality-of-service issues and how to build a resilient infrastructure. VARs need to be skilled in this area, because VoIP is not something to be tried without background knowledge.
Despite a healthy interest, VoIP is a relatively new technology. Always stick to a brand-name solution and meticulously plan the implementation as you would a typical IT-based project. This is where system integrators can provide full end-to-end managed delivery and support, delivering real value to clients.
Gary Duke is director at Lan 2 Lan.
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