Within the next few years, 75% of phone calls will be made over an IP network. The converged network is here today. The question for IT directors is not whether to switch to a converged IP network for voice and data, but when to switch.
Businesses have invested heavily in existing voice and data infrastructure and are wary of upgrading for the sake of new technology. Moreover, there is always a risk in tinkering with something that is not broken.
After all, how often does the phone system break? Compare that to the bottlenecks network administrators have to manage every day across the corporate network.
But people are prepared to abandon their voice networks and move to a converged infrastructure because it allows end-users to work in a different way.
For instance, Leeds City Council has introduced a multimedia IP-based contact centre that allows residents to contact the council via phone, e-mail, fax or the web.
The setup at Leeds even offers video-over IP, to enable the council to communicate with deaf citizens using sign language.
With IT budgets still pretty static, rolling out a converged network is an excellent way to lower network costs, since the IT director only needs to pay for and maintain a single network, rather than one for telephony and one for data. This frees up cash to spend on other projects.
At Kent Police, telephony is just another application on its IP network. The cost savings can be justified on this fact alone. But there are numerous benefits. As the network is modernised and upgraded, all applications benefit.
Increasing the network bandwidth or adding Power over Ethernet, technology that makes sense in a VoIP set-up, can be justified in terms of spreading the cost over every application that runs across the network.
Furthermore, by making greater use of the network, a business is in a stronger bargaining position and should be able to negotiate a better rate for its data service and maintenance contract.
Beyond VoIP, IT directors should also give serious thought to mobile/fixed convergence. The idea is that a single supplier is able to provide mobile phone, mobile data and fixed network services, all of which can be seamlessly accessed.
Some of the technology is still at an early stage, but it is only a matter of time before end-users will be able to use a single device to switch seamlessly between wireless hotspots, corporate wireless networks and mobile networks.
On a converged fixed/mobile network, it will be possible to keep tighter control of voice calls. This should avoid the costly bills that companies face as a result of staff using the company mobile rather than desk phones when in the office.
An IP-enabled handset would be able to find the lowest-cost method of making a call, by routing the call to the corporate wireless local area network or a wireless hotspot instead of using a more expensive mobile phone network connection.
Some IT directors may be convinced by the case for a converged network, but are unhappy at having to discard a working telephone system. They needn't worry. Such concerns can be addressed.
Translation software exists that bridges the gap between the VoIP world and analogue telecommunications. This allows an IT director to add IP telephony functionality as and when there is a business rationale, rather than take a big bang approach.
So now it is even easier to begin a converged network strategy.
Read article: Converged networks: The VoIP revolution
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This was first published in September 2006