Thursday, July 19, 2012

What You Should Consider When Deciding A Business VoIP Solution

The selection of a business (enterprise) VoIP solution is a major decision. Voice service is critical to the operation of the business, so no one wants to implement a technology that will compromise call quality or reliability in any way. On the other hand, the cost savings and value-added functionality available with VoIP makes it a compelling investment.

So VoIP buyers must select a VoIP platform that maximizes business benefits while minimizing potential technology ownership headaches. Adding to the difficulty in making a purchase decision is the broad range of vendor offerings on the market. In general, these offerings can be segmented into two categories: low-end VoIP gateways and highend router-based solutions.

Low-end gateways are tempting because of their low upfront cost. However, they lack many important capabilities that are essential for VoIP to work as required in real-world network environments and to fulfill the requirements of the business. Their poor survivability. lack of intelligent call routing functions and inadequate integration with existing enterprise communications resources limit their usefulness and can lead to problems in provisioning VoIP services as required.

High-end router-based products come with a larger price tag and, at first glance, offer more sophisticated VoIP functionality. Unfortunately, they often come with further price premiums in the form of PBX modification and add-on modules for support of H.323 and/or SIP. And, despite their price and apparent robustness, their capabilities may still come up short in many ways - forcing users to change their dialing habits, limiting the efficiency with which available bandwidth can be used, and exhibiting the same lack of survivability as their low-end counterparts.


Low-end gateways can be very attractive to today's VoIP buyer. Most IT organizations are working with very tight budgets. And many do not have highly ambitious plans for their initial VoIP deployments. They simply want to piggyback voice calls on their data network's existing IP connections. So it's easy for them to be seduced into purchasing a simple, no-frills VoIP gateway to ostensibly limit costs and complexity. This is rarely a wise decision. Low-end gateways are rarely adequate for today's enterprise VoIP requirements. Even in cases where they may be able to meet an immediate, short-term need, they will not be able to support evolving technical and business requirements in the future. Specific common shortcomings in low-end gateways include:

* Poor interoperability with the PBX

Low-end gateways simply convert analog signals from a phone line to a stream of packets that can travel over an IP link. They are therefore unable to interoperate with or leverage the power of the corporate PBX. This can make installation in the existing enterprise communications environment problematic. Users may be required change their dialing habits - something most are disinclined to do. So any cost savings can quickly be consumed by installation and configuration work.

* Lack of enterprise-class capabilities

Low-end gateways are limited-use devices with little or no call routing capability. They are mainly intended for "second line" applications that supplement a separate regular phone line. Thus, they typically route all calls to a central point where the intelligence resides. As a result, they cannot support basic Vo I P functions such as network "hop off" or "hop on" that allow, for example, the transatlantic portion of a call from an office in the U.S. to a customer in France to be carried over a corporate WAN connection to an office in Paris before being passed to a local phone company - thereby eliminating international phone charges. Reliance on a central point-of-intelligence also leaves these gateways completely vulnerable to a failure of that central point.

* NAT headaches

Many organizations use network address translation (NAT) on their routers and/or firewalls as a security measure and as a way of increasing the number of IP addresses available for their internal use. But, because NAT masks internal addresses from the outside world, it can also make it difficult or impossible to set up point-to-point VoIP sessions with external users. Low-end gateways that lack an effective mechanism for automatically and securely traversing these NAT boundaries can therefore cause significant implementation headaches.

* No H.323 and/or SIP Survivability

H.323 and SIP protocols are becoming increasingly useful for interfacing with other network and other organizations - especially next-generation service providers that can deliver tremendous savings on long distance. Because they lack support for these protocols, low-end gateways force customers to purchase separate H.323 gatekeepers and/or SIP proxy servers. The cost of these additional devices nullifies whatever savings were realized in the original gateway purchase. Worse yet, reliance on these external devices leaves all the gateways on the network vulnerable to their single point-of-failure. If they lose contact with the central H.323 gatekeeper or SIP proxy server, phone service can be totally disrupted.

* Lack of support for 911 services and analog devices

While much of the world is going digital, telecom managers still have to support analog communications for local 911 emergency services, fax machines and other reasons. A low-end VoIP gateway cannot accommodate these analog requirements.

* Vulnerability to IP network congestion and/or failure

Low-end gateways do not protect the business against problems on the data network. If the IP network becomes congested or fails, the calls that it carries will lose quality or fail. That's because such gateways can't automatically re-route calls over alternative routes or over the PSTN itself. This risk is unacceptable in an enterprise environment.

* Inefficient utilization of network bandwidth

Because of their price-sensitivity, VoIP gateways typically lack or have only rudimentary compression/multiplexing capabilities. This makes them relatively inefficient and can cause them to lose call quality as call volume rises - or as other applications on the network begin to consume more of the bandwidth available on key network These are just a few of the technical pitfalls associated with low-end VoIP gateways. For IT organizations seeking to minimize technology headaches, ensure ongoing call quality, and maximize the business value of their investments in VoIP, these pitfalls clearly give pause. Prospective buyers can ill afford to purchase products that will have to be replaced in a year or six months. And they can't allow the business to be hindered by unnecessary limitations in its communications infrastructure.


In order to ensure that VoIP services are robust, reliable and secure, technology buyers may go to the opposite extreme - spending top dollar to acquire high-end router-based solutions from a big-name networking vendor. There is certainly some apparent safety in this approach, and such high-end solutions do boast capabilities well beyond those of low-cost, off-brand gateways. However, despite their expense and the cachet of their brand, these router-based solutions also fall short of the mark in many ways. As a result, VoIP buyers can wind up spending a lot of money and still not getting the functionality or even the reliability they require. Specific shortcomings of high-end router-based solutions include:

* Complex, disruptive implementation

Router-based VoIP solutions typically require the use of a separate line trunk on the PBX. This adds the significant cost of an additional line card. It also requires re-programming of the PBX so that VoIP calls are routed to that trunk. In addition, this approach can force users to dial one prefix for PSTN calls and another for VoIP. These solutions can thus cause significant headaches for technical staff and end-users.

* Limited failover capabilities

Because these high-end solutions are on a separate trunk, they do not have the PSTN connectivity necessary for effective failover. They can be equipped with a simple analog line for back-up purposes, but they are by and large unable to automatically switch to that line. So, in the event of problems on the IP network, all active calls will be dropped and will have to be manually re-dialed over the PSTN.

* No H.323 and/or SIP Survivability

High-end router solutions also share a basic shortcoming with low-end gateways: they require customers to purchase separate H.323 gatekeepers and/or SIP proxy servers. However, in the case of router-based solutions, these add-ons can be even more expensive. These shared add on devices also cause the same type of potential single point-of-failure in router-based architectures as occur with basic Vo I P g a t e w a y s .

* No multiplexing

Router vendors typically attempt to address the issue of bandwidth utilization with packet header compression alone. However, as use of VoIP expands and the other application traffic on the network continues to grow, compression alone will be insufficient to meet many organizations' needs. Multiplexing delivers far more efficient use of available bandwidth, yet router-based solutions don't provide it despite their cost and purported sophistication.

* Vendor lock-in

Many router vendors' VoIP solutions are closely tied to their overall data networking architectures. This may offer some limited benefits in terms of network management, but those benefits may be entirely contingent on using that single vendor's solutions across the enterprise. This lock-in strategy by the vendors limits IT's future choices and assures the vendor of an ongoing, across-the-board pricing premium. Higher costs do not always mean great functionality or superior adaptability to an organization's specific needs. VoIP buyers should therefore consider all of the implementation and ownership costs associated with router-based products - including difficult implementation, poor survivability, and additional user training and support - and then determine if those significantly greater lifecycle costs are truly buying any technical, operational or business advantages.


Before you throw up your hands in disgust and frustration....relax. All is not doom and gloom. You can find a business VoIP solution that will meet all your needs....and avoid all the potential pitfalls and minefields we've warned you about above. To do this the answer is simple. Make use of the free assistance provided by to find you the right solution and the right provider to deliver that solution. Just tell them what you want (requirements, applications, etc.).....and they'll take it from there.

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