IP or Not IP That is the Question

By: Julie Drake

Will the technology I invest in today be obsolete in 5 years?Will the only systems installed in 5 years be IP systems? Is ita mistake to consider digital phone systems? These are questionsthat I am frequently asked. The answers are not as cut and driedas some would think.

Some people are not even aware of what the term IP, let aloneVoIP, mean in the current technology environment. Some people,when they see the letters VoIP, wonder first why the "o" is notas large as the other letters. Still others understand that VoIPhas something to do with changes in current telephone technologybut they don't know the first thing about what it means.Additionally, there are those that know that VoIP means "voiceover IP protocol" which involves the conversion of voice packetsto data packets and because it's the latest and greatesttechnology, they just have to have that technology NOW!

Before rushing into a technology purchasing decision there areitems to consider. First, review your business and see if thereis an immediate need for VoIP connection. There are severalsituations where VoIP technology can enhance business practices.For instance, take a company with a large main facility and oneor more small remote facilities throughout the city, region orcountry. This facility could use a digital telephone system withdigital phones in the main building but utilize data lines andIP phones at the smaller remote facilities. This allows theusers in the small remote facility to connect to the mainfacility through existing internet or private line wide areanetwork connections and take advantage of all call handlingfeatures without installing unnecessary equipment at the remotelocations. The remote equipment can also be configured toaddress local 9-1-1 identification and the ability to survive ata minimum level without the connection to the main facility.

If the facility in question is hard to wire and available cableis sparse, there may be a need to share a single data connectionbetween the telephone and desktop PC. With the introduction ofIP phones sharing that single data connection is now a reality.On the flip side, a business may have limited space and requiresdata functions over a device the size of a telephone. By usingcertain IP phones a user can now have some web browsing and/ordata sharing capability on that telephone - - saving space andmaximizing your data resources.

Finally, a business that has two or more large facilities thatwhile spread out geographically must function as one entity canbenefit by using VoIP technology. Many times a single dataconnection can be used for voice as well as data applications.The days of segmenting wide area network lines are now in thepast. With VoIP technology the computer network can use all/mostof the wide area bandwidth for data processes while the voicetraffic is inactive or at a minimum.

In reviewing a telephone system that uses IP technology, do notassume that an existing data network is able to accommodate thevoice traffic on top of the data traffic that it is alreadycarrying. To start review the routers, switches and bandwidthavailable within and between the buildings to determine if theproper equipment is in place to accommodate a new telephonesystem. One thing to do is identify the amount of bandwidthrequired for a 2-way conversation for the telephone systemsolution being provided. Second is to have a trusted data vendor(if different than the telephone vendor) or an independent thirdparty provider perform a network assessment before choosing asolution or beginning a project. The assessment should be runfor no less than a week. In order to provide the best snapshotof the network it is wise to select a busy week. This willprovide vital information to your IT staff/consultant and assistin identifying if any data equipment is required to facilitatethe new voice solution.

When examining a network assessment, remember that voicetransmission is much more precise and requires a level ofreliability above that of data traffic. With data information, acomputer can accept packets out of sequence or some loss becauseit fixes or waits for the rest of the information and places itwhere it needs to go or drops unnecessary informationaltogether. However, in voice transmission a lost packet orcertain levels of inconsistencies (latency/jitter) on the linecould result in some very broken conversations.

If a course has been plotted for an IP telephone system, spend alittle bit of extra time and money up front to have aprofessional network assessment completed to ensure all of theproper equipment is in place to go forward. The VoIP system,whether it be from CISCO, Inter-Tel, Avaya, Toshiba, or Comdialwill all have to connect to the data network in some way and ifthe system is insufficient it may cause an exponential increaseof the voice equipment budget to cover costs to update the datasystem. Forward thinking helps protect the time, budget,technology AND productivity of a business.

Will the technology I invest in today be obsolete in 5 years?Will the only systems installed in 5 years be IP systems? Ibelieve our region will not see the digital telephone systemdisappear within 5 years. However, we will see a much greaterinstalled base of "hybrid" systems. These are systems that sharedigital technology with IP technology. Redesigning an existingsystem may protect an original investment. In conclusion, beforegiving in to that "gotta have it now" routine and ripping outall of the equipment in the business investigate the options.

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