Most analyst groups and vendors will tell you that the road to a fully converged voice and data network is still a couple of years off. However, this is not stopping many proactive companies from beginning tests in their enterprises, launching voice over IP (VoIP) experiments on their networks. Typically, these experiments connect participating departments at different locations using existing data connection lines such as T1/T3 or frame relay.
VoIP is largely based on the H.323 standard, a packet-based multimedia communications system. When VoIP was first gaining momentum a few years ago the buzz was all about toll bypass (i.e. free calls). Now toll bypass has taken a back seat (except for companies who plan to roll-out VoIP internationally). New touted benefits include simplification of network topology, easier moves, adds and changes (MACs), resource consolidation, call-center centralization, and increased mobility.
Before VoIP enters the mainstream of voice communications some hurdles must be overcome. For instance, due to slow routing, the sound quality of calls can be somewhat variable. Depending on the speed of the users' Internet connection, the calls can sound occasionally spotty, with a few dropped words in any given conversation. There can also be delays that may interrupt the flow of discussion.
Equipment costs are another factor. Some companies are developing tools that allow them to utilize their existing PBX and handsets while still reaping the benefits found in VoIP. However, not all hardware is created equal, and determining a good fit for your enterprise must be done looking at the your company needs for not just today, but for the next several years.
If your company plans to experiment with VoIP then begin with the assumption that your entire enterprise will not embrace this change all at once. Work slowly; adding new pieces like messaging and forwarding gradually so that neither your IT department nor the department you choose to experiment with is overwhelmed.
Barrie Sosinsky (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of consulting company Sosinsky and Associates (Medfield, MA). He has written extensively on a variety of computer topics. His company specializes in custom software (database and Web related), training and technical documentation.