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Editorial: The ROI of VoIP? It's an oxymoron

Why aren't we seeing IP phones on all of our desks, despite vendor promises of cost reductions? Apparently, the necessary investment far outweighs the savings.

This year, Voice over IP (VoIP) promises once again to be one of the few bright spots in a gloomy networking industry. Vendors declare that it delivers voice and data over one, simplified network while decreasing maintenance and increasing productivity. But the biggest lure in our depressed economy is the promised cost savings. VoIP will allow you to call anywhere on the planet for free, drastically reducing corporate overhead. Every business should be snapping up this technology.

So why aren't we seeing IP phones on all of our desks? According to a recent study, only 5% of network architects polled said they have completed VoIP installations. The biggest barrier cited? Cost of implementation. Apparently, in the case of VoIP, you have to spend money -- a lot of money -- to save money.

Making a move to VoIP requires extensive upgrades to company networks. This includes buying, installing and maintaining the VoIP gateways, softswitches and IP phones. It can also mean providing power to IP phones and upgrading network switches.

Adding to the cost of VoIP are the new management tools you'll need. Major quality of service (QoS) measures will probably be necessary to create toll-quality voice. It's also important to extend your security precautions to include voice traffic, which may require additional upgrades.

VoIP vendors frequently point to staff reductions as a cost-lowering benefit, but that's extremely optimistic. At the outset, you'll have to educate your staff to troubleshoot the system. You may even have to hire a few experts in QoS. And expenses at the end-user level could actually increase because employees will need training and time to adjust to the new technology, as well as ongoing help-desk support.

No wonder few corporations are jumping on the VoIP bandwagon. Rates for traditional phone service in most developed regions are reasonable, with high quality, reliable service. Consider that VoIP's promised productivity and converged applications have failed to materialize, and the business case for VoIP falls apart. Companies need a compelling business reason to pursue new technology. So far, VoIP just doesn't add up.

>>What's your take on VoIP? E-mail me and let me know.

>>For a more optimistic view, watch our webcast with Stephen Leaden, The real ROI of VoIP.

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