VoIP's hidden cost

The truth is that VoIP technology is really as simple as putting another IP-based application - voice and voice-related services in this case - onto the network. And it does provide cost savings as it enables a method of doing away with the legacy voice network by digitising voice into data so that it can ride on the existing data network. Grant Howe, country manager, ANZ for 3Com, poses the question: so what's not to love about VoIP? He explains that VoIP's cost and complexity is really in the licensing.

Customers must be warned that even though VoIP technologies are simple, their licensing could be complex and costly depending on the technology source. For instance, a vendor might require you to purchase a pre-set number of licences beyond what you need or it might put you in a situation where you find your software licence agreement details include multiple licence types, versions, upgrades, renewal costs and payment details that are difficult to track.

When that happens, you are letting licensing costs defeat the cost savings of VoIP deployments.

When moving to VoIP, never just look at technology costs, as it is largely affordable and commoditised. Focus instead on licensing and ensure that a complex licensing structure does not lead you to overbuy.

Look for vendors offering straightforward licensing structures with no hidden agenda that allow you to pay as you grow from as few as 30 users to thousands of devices. That way you are able to effectively match your technology investments with your actual business needs.

So, we know that a converged voice and data network does carry lower infrastructure cost. The other big cost item in a VoIP infrastructure would be VoIP handsets. In effect, the total cost of a VoIP deployment, including fair licensing, must be looked at over a two- to three-year period to see the real cost savings.

However, what is really driving VoIP rollouts is not the cost savings from having voice on the data network and enjoying a medium-term reduction in TCO, but the fact that VoIP offers a strategic pathway to unified communications (UC), which integrates various enterprise communications like email, voicemail, conferencing, presence management, instant messaging, directory services and other messaging and collaboration applications in addition to multiple fixed and mobile voice devices.

Therefore, UC is able to improve aspects of business, such as productivity, workflow, business response times and customer service, that present a positive business impact far greater than the cost savings associated with VoIP.

And even where small businesses are concerned, the cost of VoIP and UC solutions in scaled down comprehensive packages have dropped significantly enough to make it affordable.

While enterprises are generally receptive to the idea of voice and data convergence, the most common question they raise is: ‘When should we make the move?’. Often, companies move to VoIP when their legacy PABX system nears the end of its lifecycle or when they shift to a new office.

Nevertheless, because UC provides a competitive advantage to both large and small businesses, there is an increasing number of companies proactively deploying UC systems now, some choosing to do forklift upgrades and others opting for a migration with gateways linking old and new platforms. Either way, these enterprises find that UC provides enhancements to their internal and external communications that are too good to delay further.

There are many standards supporting UC and what has driven the wide acceptance and deployment of UC is the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) that makes various VoIP systems interoperable. It is worthwhile to note, however, that some vendors offer SIP interoperability as an interface between their own non-SIP telephony systems. The best approach is to look for solutions that use standard SIP among end points like IP phones, video cameras, call controllers and gateways to the public network.

When moving to VoIP, never just look at technology costs, as it is largely affordable and commoditised. Focus instead on licensing and ensure that a complex licensing structure does not lead you to overbuy.

Grant Howe is the country manager of 3Com, ANZ.

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