September 14, 2009, 5:13 PM — Is your business ready to make the move to Voice over IP (VoIP)? While the voice and data industry pundits have been debating this issue and probably confusing you for over 10 years, the answer is simple if you reduce the question to three basic elements:
1. Do you understand what VoIP is?
2. Is your data network (LAN and WAN) adequate to handle converged media (voice, data and other applications on the same network)?
3. Do you have a compelling reason to change your current telephony system?
The evolution of VoIP
Most innovative and disruptive technologies are initially introduced to large enterprises, followed by the consumer market, and ultimately find their way to the small and medium business sectors.
Large enterprises were the first to utilize VoIP over 10 years ago as a way to network their telephone systems (PBX) together over existing private data networks, reduce the cost of completing inter-office calls, and extend office hours beyond a single time zone. It was a basic and costly solution, but was able to provide a reasonable return on investment.
While the cost of long distance calling has dropped over the past decade, companies have found that with the ability to extend office hours beyond a single time zone, as well as many newer efficiencies VoIP offers, VoIP still provides a compelling ROI.
VoIP hit the consumer market next (the Vonage era), and that’s where the confusion began. The focus on VoIP at this level is to reduce the cost of local and long distance calling to as little as possible. Again, the solution is simple. An analog terminal adaptor (ATA) is connected to a broadband Internet connection (cable or DSL). The ATA converts analog voice into data packets and merges them together into one data stream. A standard analog phone is plugged into the ATA, and the signal finds its way back to a central office over the Internet.
Voice quality varies from call to call, however, causing people to question the viability of VoIP. The element that is lacking from consumer VoIP (but that is more reliable in a business setting) is Quality of Service (QOS)—that is, the concept of prioritizing the voice packets to travel together quickly and arrive in one piece. When this happens, voice quality is exceptional.
In order to deploy VoIP for your single location business, you must prepare your Local Area Network (LAN). For multi-site businesses, you will also be concerned with your Wide Area Network (WAN).
At the LAN level, you will need “Managed Ethernet Switches,” also known as Layer 2 Managed Switches, as opposed to Hubs. Unlike Hubs, Layer 2 Managed Switches manage and monitor the LAN activity and are helpful in setting up VLANs. It is best if they also have the capability to power the telephones via Power over Ethernet (POE). A Managed Switch can be programmed for Class of Service (COS), which separates your applications and prioritizes them.