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N+I: Users find VoIP deployments relatively trouble-free

Three customers who participated in a user panel this week at N+I Las Vegas 2003 say that voice over Internet protocol is getting easier to deploy. However, ROI can still be elusive, and an analyst says VoIP still requires plenty of planning.

LAS VEGAS -- Once seen as a risky new technology, voice over Internet protocol is becoming easier to deploy and is providing higher quality service than ever before. According to participants in a customer panel at this week's Networld+Interop 2003, the toughest part about implementing VoIP may now be quantifying the return on investment.

The three panelists, from the Seattle Times Co., NFL Films Inc. and Muzak LLC, all implemented VoIP systems from different vendors during the last year or more and, surprisingly, none have experienced much to complain about.

The deployments were smooth, with most following one- to three-month test periods during which small groups of users tried out the equipment.

Tom Dunkerley, an IT communications manager with the Seattle Times, said that his company went to VoIP because one of its private branch exchanges (PBXs), purchased during the 1980s, was losing its support from the vendor, Avaya Inc.

He began the VoIP implementation on a Wednesday, and he said it was up and running by Saturday. The biggest hurdle, Dunkerley said, was getting the quality of service he needed on his multi-vendor network.

Steve Eager, director of network and systems administration for Mount Laurel, N.J.-based NFL Films, said that his company went to VoIP when it moved to a new facility. Since then, it has found huge advantages for employees that travel to cover the Super Bowl.

In years past, the temporary offices that employees have used near the game sites have been hard to locate and communicate with. Now, those same employees simply log on to a phone in San Diego, and it receives all of their calls, which are rerouted from the home office by the new system.

Dave Thompson, director of IT with Fort Mill, S.C.-based Muzak, said that his VoIP implementation took only a matter of days. Unlike NFL Films and the Seattle Times, which both spent extra time deploying virtual local area networks, Thompson said, a virtual LAN was not necessary on his system.

While VoIP is getting easier to implement, it still requires plenty of planning, warned Robin Gareiss, an analyst with New York-based research firm Nemertes Research. Gareiss said companies must ensure that their networks can handle the additional capacity and quality of service necessary for voice traffic.

Though quality has been an issue with VoIP in the past, all three users reported improved voice quality following their implementations. Even the audio engineers at NFL Films, who rely on good sound quality, preferred the VoIP system to a traditional phone system.

All of these companies were able to achieve some savings and some increased efficiency, thanks to VoIP. NFL Films saved about 35% on its cable costs for its new facility and was able to upgrade its cable from Cat5e to Cat6e as a result.

The Seattle Times has a particularly mobile staff, with about 25% of the newspaper's employees moving each year. Rather than using IT resources to address phone issues related to those moves, the new system has enabled employees to do it themselves. Muzak was able to save $20,000 a month on its phone bill and, with centralized reception, now an option, the company was able to do with one fewer receptionist.

Attendee and IT consultant Christopher Guemez said he was glad to hear of the concrete benefits. A company he is consulting for wants to go to VoIP, but it's having a hard time justifying the costs.

Guemez said that the savings on toll calls are likely to be negligible, but he thought the ability to centralize reception services, unify e-mail and voice mail into one interface and let employees move their own extensions would help him to make the financial case for VoIP.


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