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A Stronger Network Voice

Posted on 02/11/2012

VoIP technology is at the centre of a continuing power struggle between the voice and data worlds – as the two rivals battle to reign supreme in a fully converged market.

 Whilst VoIP is now firmly established in the market, in many ways it’s in danger of being overtaken by the ‘new kid on the block’ Unified Communications – a dynamic and flexible platform that brings different technologies and applications together, such as instant messaging, conferencing and presence – knowing where staff are and if they are available.

 Richard Carter from distributor Nimans says VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) is just one piece of a much bigger jigsaw. “If a customer is moving towards a global IP platform then the efficiencies a business would gain won’t be fully realised by VoIP alone. When businesses are deploying a VoIP solution they don’t always recognise the wider picture.”

 He continued: “Voice installers are still seen as specialist and then you have the data experts and the integration companies who don’t always have the skill levels in voice. They might hold the overall management package for the network but they would still need to bring in a voice specialist when required.

 “Equally there are integrators that would argue they are true VoIP and IP specialists. They might hold various accreditations and have the knowledge about blades going into chassis’s (with voice functionality as well as data) so there’s definitely a mixed bag out there. There’s a variety of different skills, with people coming at it from various different angles.

 “Some of the latest trends see structured cabling and voice specialists sitting underneath the umbrella of an integrator that manages the whole network service. Different skills are backed off through service level agreements because the third party is still providing the specialist service. It’s not necessarily the headline integration company - the one interface to the end client.

 “Arguably it’s good that they have specialist sub contractors in each field to offer the services that are amalgamated to the end customer. This could depend on the size of end user – which then influences the type of packages and services that are ultimately offered.

 “Between the two different sides the data installers would probably argue theirs is the more difficult job than the voice and vice versa. Essentially it comes down to programming and configuration of software that sit on controllers. “

 Planning is paramount in any implementation process, Richard advises. “Many companies already have a network in place, the challenge is to make sure it has the bandwidth capacity to handle voice which is essentially just another ‘packet’ of data.

 Richard also points out how one of the most important factors is quality of service. “In the data world if the switch fell over then people would be more inclined to put up with a slower delivery to their terminal. But if the phone doesn’t work when it is picked up then an instant complaint is usually made.  For me traditional analogue voice will always be the benchmark for reliability. VoIP is very robust but from a user experience it’s not as catastrophic as it used to be if problems arise. People are more likely to try and call again whereas a few years ago it would have been a much bigger problem. The finger of blame was always pointed at VoIP which was perceived to be flakey. But that’s definitely not the case today.

 “In today’s tough economic world there’s an argument that VoIP can drive cost efficiencies across many levels – from personal productivity to a competitive edge. VoIP is ultimately a marriage of convergence.

 “From a customer point of view, is VOIP seen as just another tick in the box or is it an integral part of a strategy to upgrade a network across all disciplines and services? Equally there’s a danger that an installer can think because he does data then he is automatically going to be able to implement voice. That’s not always the case.

 “When you are looking to add voice to a network it’s important to have all the building blocks in place. Is the cabling infrastructure there to support everything you want to put on it? It’s almost like going back to the Open Systems Interconnection model (OSI) where there are seven traditional layers. Layer 1, the physical layer, is it robust to cope with everything in the higher layers of the network we are now going to stack on it?

 POE  (Power Over Ethernet) for phones is another vital consideration, according to Richard.

 “IP phones can be powered either through a mains adapter or over the Ethernet network via POE switches.  Standard PBX telephones are line driven so the system sends out the appropriate power voltage, but with IP phones that’s not the case because they need their own power supply for backlighting the display, showing caller details and operating function key LED’s.

 “If you are an installer there are immediate benefits of choosing the Power Over Ethernet route. It’s far easier to set-up because you don’t have to worry about installing mains cables. There’s also an advantage from an aesthetic point of view with less cabling on a desk and running throughout a building. This results in less electrical dangers and associated Health and Safety issues. Power Over The Ethernet is seen as the way forward. I am a firm believer in this.”

 Richard pointed out how voice is very much black or white, it either works or it doesn’t. “If a standard network goes down or it slows then it is simply rebooted but if a voice call suddenly ends then it’s a completely different scenario.  You have to see it as going beyond VoIP. For example there’s video and audio conferencing to consider and even cloud based services.  VoIP then becomes an integral part of the network fabric. It’s not standalone. Quality of Service is key.

 “Contention ratios with other services can also be a factor, but if you have a high bandwidth structured cabling system as your foundation then you’ve got an ideal platform to build from.  You can then go where you want. It’s how services are then integrated which is crucial. Voice traffic generally takes priority because you don’t want to drop that call.”

 Today, it’s not just IT Managers responsible for the network, says Richard.  “In the past it would have been your IT Manager but network management has moved into the remit of Facilities Management. Certainly in the city ofLondonthe network is viewed as another essential utility of a business much like water, gas and electricity. Because of this trend the FM Manager has become a very integral part. This change in dynamics has also thrust a Security Officer into the spotlight. He could be responsible for door access control that would also sit on a network. with firewalls and more software led security applications. If all of the assets of a company are in the cloud for example then priority needs to be given to protecting outgoing data and obviously stopping any threats coming in. Security is crucial.”  

 Danger can lurk from hackers who once they gain access to a telephone system can re-route calls anywhere in the world, leaving the victim to pick up the bill for calls. Nimans stocks several solutions to combat this growing menace.

 Another dynamic to consider is the balance between in-house and outsourced networking requirements. “Of late especially in the financial markets there’s been a lot of outsourcing so if any next generation of equipment is needed it’s the responsibility of the third party provider. It’s going back to who provides the VoIP solution. Has the customer bought the equipment, is it even resident in the building or are they just literally getting a ‘pipe’ of services that come in?

 “This type of ‘hosted’ solution is changing the goalposts even further where all a company requires is a set of telephone end points.  It’s a more consolidated approach based on a single point of contact. Do you want it inside your building which should it need fixing brings costs, or do you go down the outsource route, which if there’s a problem you don’t have the same level of control. It’s a very subjective argument which basically boils down to risk.

 “If you are building a network today it’s an integral part of everything. It’s not just at the higher echelons of the OSI model where VoIP is lower down.  Fundamentally everything sits on a solid platform.

 “What IP telephone system is being used, how many extensions are required, is SIP trunking a consideration? These are some of the factors to be aware of. In theory it’s easier to install a telephone system as its becoming a software-based application. Maybe it’s easier to make mistakes as it’s easier to implement compared to legacy systems, but this can lead to complacency and over confidence.”

 Richard concluded: “VoIP is renowned as a cost effective, reliable and flexible communication medium that plays a key role in shaping the convergence of voice and data applications - opening the door to a new wave of sophisticated and seamless solutions.

 “The take up on the deployment of IP technologies in the workplace continues to grow. We can see it with the increase of IP end points of all kind, spreading beyond the traditional communications arena into areas such as security surveillance.

 “VoIP shouldn’t be viewed as a standalone voice service, but part of a bigger comms solution. People say they’ve got VoIP when they have just made their voice ‘IP’. They haven’t put it in as part of a strategy of applications that run over their network. Voice is a component like security, like data. The guys who offer voice are still a different animal to the ones from the IT world. But Unified Comms will see the coming together of the people who offer these services. This will see a rise in understanding and knowledge simply because installers recognise there’s a danger that a rival may take their lunch away. There’s a competitive race going on with ultimately only one winner.”

eCommerce by: Cohesion Digital