The SMB Path to Enterprise VoIP

Updated: April 30, 2009

You've probably thought about transitioning your company to enterprise VoIP in order to take advantage of the technology's many cost and productivity benefits. You're certainly not alone. The Radicati Group, a telecommunications industry market research firm, reports that 74 percent of all corporate telephony lines will be IP-based by 2009.

Yet, when it comes to enterprise VoIP, many mid- and small-sized companies are still dragging their heels. Some firms are concerned that VoIP audio and connection quality still falls below acceptable levels. Others fret about the technology's perceived complexity, or worry that a changeover will be too disruptive to daily business operations.

While such concerns may have been warranted a few years ago, they're not valid today. VoIP quality of service (QoS) can be as good--or bad--as the levels offered by traditional phone networks. And while setting up an enterprise VoIP phone system isn't exactly a piece of cake, it's certainly not the gut-wrenching experience that many business owners and managers fear.

For most small- and mid-sized businesses, the biggest barrier to successful VoIP migration is simple inertia. Few companies are dissatisfied with their existing telephony infrastructure, so they feel no pressing need to change the status quo. Many businesses felt the same way about other innovations, such as desktop computers, office networks and the Internet. After all, why upset perfectly valid current business processes for a bunch of theoretical, ethereal benefits? They later learned, to their regret, that their stubborn resistance to a revolutionary new technology cost them dearly in terms of productivity and efficiency.

Fighting Misconceptions

A big mistake many business owners and managers make about enterprise VoIP is focusing on the technology's financial benefits while failing to consider its other important attributes. Cost savings is certainly one of enterprise VoIP's key drawing cards--a recent Intel study estimated that a medium-sized site could cut costs by up to 52 percent a year over a traditional PBX system. But once they become acquainted with VoIP technology, most adopters quickly realize that IP telephony also represents an entirely new business communications model that can lead to new and innovative uses.

VoIP service opens the door to a variety of new telecommunications features, such as audio and video conferencing, unified messaging, remote call management, presence information, follow me, click to call, directory access and an automated attendant. The technology also provides tighter integration with a business' backend infrastructure, enabling voice and media integration into Web sites, e-mail, messaging systems and other enterprise IP assets.

The Benefits of Open Standards

Unlike traditional telephony systems, which can present a tangled nest of proprietary specifications, enterprise VoIP networks are based on open and standardized IP technology. This characteristic makes it easy for businesses to shop for VoIP products from different vendors on the basis of features and price rather than system compatibility.

VoIP's open, standardized architecture also allows enterprise systems to be easily scalable. Enterprise VoIP adopters appreciate the technology's ability to grow along with their business. Adding more users and sites to an existing VoIP system usually requires nothing more than adding some new components, not a complete system overhaul or replacement.

Enterprise VoIP Architecture

Enterprise VoIP systems include a variety of hardware and software components. A typical system might consist of a gateway that connects the VoIP network to the PSTN phone network, switches to direct calls to various offices and a router and firewall to connect the VoIP system to the Internet and/or a company WAN. The network will also include various end user devices, such as VoIP desktop phones, computer-based softphones, wireless IP handsets and multimedia conferencing stations.

Other components frequently found in enterprise VoIP networks include IP PBXes (which interconnect phone extensions), media gateways (which handle audio/video data) and a variety of monitoring and testing tools to ensure that the overall system is in good operational health.

Your company's VoIP network's exact configuration will depend on your business' scope and needs. Although some organizations create their own VoIP systems, most small- and medium-sized businesses seek the help of an outside consultant.

Taking the Plunge

Most business owners and managers view enterprise VoIP as an all or nothing proposition. In other words, they believe that VoIP adoption requires immediate and complete replacement of their organization's traditional telephone system.

Actually, many businesses launch their VoIP initiative via a series of phased trials. By deploying the technology on a limited basis--at a single location or in a specific office, risks can be minimized and benefits carefully quantified. Additional sites and offices can then be added to the VoIP project as time and resources allow.

VoIP can even be added to a business on a user-by-user basis. For a smooth migration from PSTN to VoIP, some organizations opt to keep their existing TDM PBX within the call path, relegating it to basic gateway service. The approach allows IP and TDM phones to be used concurrently.

Final Point

No matter how large or small your business is, or its field of expertise, an enterprise VoIP will cut its telecommunications expenses, add new capabilities and help employees to work more productively.

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