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Siemens: IP is breaking all the rules

LOS ANGELES -- VoIP is changing more than phone systems. IP communications is at the core of a change in how businesses communicate and how they work. Communications giant Siemens AG acknowledged that recently when it announced plans to merge its wireless and wired business units, enabling it to focus on converged network services. sat down with Bernd Kuhlin, president of the enterprise networks division for Siemens, at the recent Internet Telephony Conference & Expo to learn more about Siemens' plans.

What is driving the reorganization at Siemens?
We see the convergence of data and voice communications, fixed and wireless networks, and even enterprises and carriers. Our mobile business unit used to be separate from our wireline business, and it was hard to work across those boundaries inside the company.

You really need to implement a communications policy that is secure, but you can't make the network so watertight that it is hard to access.

Bernd Kuhlin, president of enterprise networks, Siemens,
From the enterprise perspective, what key factors forced this change?
Everything is being driven by IP communications. This technology will influence the whole industry going forward and is changing the whole business model that the industry works under. For example, in communications, distance used to be everything. The farther you call, the more it costs you. With IP, distance has become irrelevant. Communications can be consolidated into data centers because it doesn't cost you anything more to route a call over a long distance.

Mobility is the other factor. Enterprises no longer look at a concrete building as the enterprise. Instead, it is the human resources that make companies tick. There is more emphasis on flexibility and mobility. No one works in an office from nine to five anymore. But when you do all of this traveling, you need to get the tools in your hand to help you stay effective. This is one of the biggest drivers. For companies making spending decisions on convergence, how important is lowering costs and increasing productivity?
Neither is enough on its own. It is the combination of the two that gets you into the ear of the CIO. It's one thing to simply install an IP PBX and get phones up and running, but how do you ensure that your customers are making full use of the potential of VoIP?
You have to have the right skills and resources inside the company to make it work. At Siemens, we have all the skills in-house to help companies do this. On the customer side, it is important to understand that these things do not come shrink-wrapped. We need to understand the business of our customers and figure out how to integrate VoIP into business processes in a way that drives the business forward. Without knowledge of the customer's business, it is not possible to do this.

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What are the biggest challenges that businesses face in rolling out VoIP?
Security. When you talk about implementation of communications in open IP environments, sooner or later you figure out that you have to deal with communications policy. No one really thought about this in the past; it was a separate network. Now, suddenly, your voice calls can be compromised.

But we're not just talking about protecting your company with zillions of firewalls. They won't solve your problem. Your mobile workforce needs to get across the firewalls somehow. So, you really need to implement a communications policy that is secure, but you can't make the network so watertight that it is hard to access. This will definitely be a challenge going forward, particularly in midsized companies where security is not well thought out. Why are standards important to convergence?
If you want to drive the network into the background, you need a unified domain, a kind of cloud that is independent of the network. Today you have several clouds. If I use a cell phone, I am in the cell phone cloud. If I am on a fixed network using AOL's Instant Messenger, as soon as I switch to Yahoo Messenger, I am in a different cloud, and the AOL information goes away. Today we have silo-like communications. Information can't easily cross network or domain boundaries.

In order to have a unified domain, we need to have interfaces to carry information between one network or domain and another. In that context, open interfaces become really important.

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