Friday, September 14, 2007

Where Is Business VoIP Headed For Technology And Applications?

Just where is the business community headed for VoIP technology and applications? The answer is not that simple as it can vary greatly by region of the world. The difference in scale and application between small business networks and enterprise VoIP for larger organizations is also a factor in the equation.

What seems to be the practice in the US is that businesses adopt VOIP because it is budget friendly. Most companies deploy VOIP in new offices because it is cheaper than a new digital phone system. Existing offices are migrated to VOIP as leases on digital equipment expired. Interoffice voice communication occurrs without long distance costs as VOIP traffic travels the corporate WAN (VPN/MPLS/etc.) alongside or parallel to data traffic. I see this trend continuing domestically until digital phone systems are phased out completely.

The next challenge is replacing small business (analog) phone systems because they generally keep pace with consumer technology instead of larger businesses. You currently see VOIP for small business and personal use independent of the ISP. A combined offering of Internet data and voice could easily induce universal acceptance of VOIP in even the smallest business (as well as households).

The only thing left behind is conference equipment in businesses of all sizes. Your desktop phone provider rarely provides your digital/analog tripod conference phone and associated equipment. I expect technology advances for VOIP to be in the conference room as opposed to the desktop. When I hear convergence, I think of the unification of voice and data. The conference room is where you can really take advantage of this union.

Today in India especially; many small, medium & large enterprises are looking forward to VoIP technology as companies become more conscious about spending money on PSTN. With recent changes taking place in VoIP technology, and as it becomes more and more affordable, most organisations are coming forward to adapt these newer technologies to fulfill there communication requirements. To tap the growing requirements and market potential, not only the small phone companies but even the PBX manufacturing giants like Nortel, Avaya, Alcatel and Panasonic are continuously working on providing more advanced features and facilities utilizing the maximum possible technical advancements of VoIP. The current trend of unified communication concept is an example for this.

Australia/New Zealand were early adopters of IP telephony particularly in large enterprise and Government sites. The most likely reason to deploy IP Telephony was office relocation, and large enterprise customers replacing their aging legacy PBX with IP Telephony on the basis of future proofing, Toll-Bypass, and lower maintence cost compared to legacy pbx.

Cisco has sold something like over 5 million IP Phones worldwide. Australia & New Zealand combined sold over 500,000 IP Phones.

VoIP Technology is no longer about making cheaper calls in Australia/New Zealand. Its about optimizing business processes with fully integrated communication options. IM, Video Conferencing, Presence, Unified Messaging, and Mobility. I anticpate Australia and New Zealand to be early adopters to Unified Communication in Asia Pac.

Malaysia is an interesting place because, despite the lack of large "enterprise" sale of IP Telephony compared to Australia, there appears to be a large acceptance of VoIP Technology from open source such as SIPX, Asterisk and OpenSER. In fact, a lot of VoIP innovation coming from Malaysia is based on Open Source (ie. Free to download but you have to put long man hours to get it working). A fascinating application is one where you use your 3G mobile phone's camera to capture a video stream that sends automatically to your blogsite. This application is used also in Insurance companies where members are encouraged to record the "car accident" video clip as part of the process in submitting a claim. Also, the same VoIP technology is used in legal proceedings, in court, where lawyers can access the judge via 3G Mobile phone and IP Video Phone. These applications all use VoIP technology as the foundation.

On another note....the convenience of using the same cable infrastructure, manageability, cost involved maintaining Public Switching Telephone Lines, and quick and easy deployment are just a few parameters which attract most companies to buy the voice communication systems which support VoIP. That's a cottage industry in itself which will only grow as acceptance and deployment of VoIP takes a firmer hold in the business world.

For example, several Soft PBX softwares can be found on the Internet which are freely available for download and usage. This develpoment implies that the requirement for Hardware PBX is decreasing day by day. This also is an early indication that most of the voice communication techniques and products emerging in the future will be based on VoIP......and software aspects.

Lots of improvements are still needed in VoIP no matter where you are in the world.....but they are in the pipeline. For example, SMEs require simple to setup aid rather then technically rich products. An example of an improvement here would be products like the iSpeedBump from Interworking Labs. This goes outside your firewall and looks at your traffic. If it sees VoIP, it prioritizes that traffic over things that can go slower like e-mail. The device has four main settings to match 99% of cases and you just plug it in, set the switch and go. No more. Cleans up garbled VoIP yielding a better quality voice exchange.

Personally I think VoIP still has a long way to go to really compete with the landlines for business customers....particularly for small businesses. Not so much for large enterprises. For most VOIP installations, especially in a small company, though it is significantly cheaper VoIP doesn't work anywhere near as well as a landline. Nor are all the security concerns alleviated. At least yet.

The trick, and VoIP companies seem to have done a pretty good job of this, is to convince people that phone service doesn't always have to be perfect. Sounding like a cell phone is fine, and probably the other end of the conversation will think it is their end anyway. So don't waste your money on a landline. However, as VoIP quality and reliability catches up...no one will really notice a difference (or really care about what little difference there may be). Then the answer will be narrowed down simply to cost....and the most cost effective communication will win out.

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