Power Struggles: Controlling voice

By Susan Breidenbach, Network World |  Networking

Kole says the latest upgrade removed the last perceptible imperfections in the voice quality of the IP phones, and he now has no reservations about rolling them out anywhere.

IP PBXs are another story, however.

"We played with an IP PBX, but we were concerned about the reliability issues. Even if I had a green-field opportunity in a new branch office, I would put in a PBX with a gateway card to deliver [voice over IP] to the desktop," he says.

Fomenting a revolution down under

In Wellington, New Zealand, Neil Miranda, IS coordinator for the Ministry of Social Policy, can’t understand this halfway approach. The agency recently replaced a nationwide network of 160 Nortel PBXs with voice-over-IP technology based on Cisco’s AVVID platform. The infrastructure supports about 8,000 IP phones in more than 200 government offices and handles more than 150,000 voice calls each day. Except for Cisco’s internal network, it is the largest deployment of AVVID soft PBXs in the world.

"Telephony is becoming a system," Miranda says. "You don’t half roll out a new [human resources] or financial system, and it doesn’t make sense to do so with a telephony system."

Miranda settled on convergence when the government decided to expand the agency from 6,000 to 8,000 employees but wouldn’t budget additional funds for network operations. Combining voice and data into one infrastructure seemed the only way to achieve the necessary cost reductions.

The implementation took less than a month and required no end-user training. The network has been up and running for three months, and Miranda says his staff is fielding fewer complaints than it did when the old PBXs were in use.

"In addition to the efficiencies of having a single network, we also get so much new capability. The ‘power of one’ is starting to come together. I spoke at a recent [chief information officer] conference and told IT executives they need to embrace this technology now," he says.

Wireless LANs are ripe for convergence

But gateways still might be more practical in some specialized areas. Symbol Technologies in HHoltzville, N.Y., has carved a nice niche delivering wireless converged voice and data to sites with mobility requirements, such as retail stores and hospitals. Wireless infrastructures are a lot more expensive than their wired counterparts, so users often have more upfront incentive to converge them.

Base stations mounted on the walls in a building create microcells with which wireless phones, PDAs and laptops communicate. Retailers such as Rite-Aid, Sears and May Co., find the setup ideal for taking inventory and keeping in touch with personnel roaming the sales floors. Hospital staffs use wireless devices to enter patient data or access information from anywhere.

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