Nearly three years ago, a rather large U.S. automobile manufacturer embarked on a very ambitious experiment to add voice over IP (VoIP) services to its domestic and international communications operations. The goal was to reduce the rapidly escalating costs associated with being a global business.
The automotive giant did everything right: It established a committee to oversee the deployment and rollout of the VoIP trial. Systems were put in place to track usage and money saved through its use. And plans were made to expand the system so that it initially worked with current phone systems and then slowly became the dominant talk technology.
Unfortunately, the automaker’s road to success was lined with potholes. For one, the sound quality of this early VoIP system was poor compared to domestic communication alternatives and passable when pitted against international calling capabilities. The cost savings also did not materialize to any great extent, especially on U.S.-confined calls. As a result, the automaker cancelled plans for a widespread rollout, disbanded its VoIP squad and elected to keep a scaled-back international VoIP system in operation.
Since then, the world of IP-based telephony has changed considerably. The technology has improved dramatically, the quality and reliability of IP-based calls has improved by leaps and bounds and the emergence of standards is quickly eliminating hardware and software incompatibilities. For example, a handful of vendors, including BridgePort Networks, VeriSign, Commoca and PCTEL, are developing standards-based multi-vendor interoperable MobileVoIP solutions. In short, this is not your father’s VoIP.
A Call for Convergence
The cost savings of VoIP systems are undeniable, especially since users avoid the usual route of wireless and landlines and rely on the Internet as a voice pathway. However, there are benefits to mixing VoIP systems with traditional phone architectures (notice I say mix; it’s a good idea to take a slow and cautious approach to any emerging technology and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.)
First of all, most VoIP alternatives offer a tremendous amount of control over your system, allowing you to determine what kind of services are available and establishing various levels of authorization and access. Second, since this is IP-based telephony, mobile workers can make VoIP calls from most anywhere in the world where there is a wireless or wired connection and relatively fast access speeds. VoIP systems can also be extremely portable, transforming your average handheld computer into a communications-centric device or paving the way for a truly hands-free experience through the use of VoIP-based badges and pins.
Be advised, though, that installing a VoIP system may not be as easy and painless as the marketing literature would have you believe. We discovered this recently while installing AT&T’s CallVantage service in a small business, spending an hour on the phone with tech support only to discover the step-by-step instructions sent with the do-it-yourself package were totally wrong—or at least not clear on the concept of merging VoIP with an existing wireless net.
VoIP also comes with its own set of limitations. Since it relies on a broadband connection, for example, the system is vulnerable to the squeaks and glitches of Internet access. If the power or Internet access is suddenly not available, then your VoIP is also out of business, and the quality of voice connections may also degrade a bit during peak Internet usage hours. Most off-the-shelf VoIP systems also do not play very well, or at all, with two-line telephones, and VoIP is not yet generally compatible with 911 and E911 emergency networks.
For the most part, however, VoIP is a good call
for companies that want to save a bit of cash, have better control and raise their voice communications networks to the next level. •