Problem solve Get help with specific problems with your technologies, process and projects.

How VoIP is changing telecommunications for businesses

A look at some alternatives to VoIP and traditional PBXs.

There is growing competition for voice traffic, both in this country and around the world. How many ways can you carry a voice conversation? That depends, at least right now, on which part of the globe you reside. There are lots of options depending on a company's needs and, of course, budgets.

In many areas, you can get VoIP from your phone company. They provide the switches at their local office or central office and all you need is a VoIP phone and router, which by the way they are also happy to provide for a reasonable fee.

Cellular companies are building towers close to large enterprise networks. They will provide these customers with cellular phones for all employees. The cell company will lease a channel or two to the enterprise customer with no per limit charges while the supplied cell phones are communicating on the tower with the leased lines. Per minute fees only apply when the cell phone hits another tower. This eliminates the need for a company to have an internal PBX and all customers of the user company will need to dial direct numbers. The problem is that a central PBX does not exist and call transfers are not possible. There is a trade-off between convenience and the cost of maintenance for a PBX, moves, adds and changes, monthly telecommunication line fees, etc.

Cable providers are offering VoIP services via purchased or leased headsets that communicate (usually through SIP) to the cable providers. This also eliminates the need for an internal PBX or if there is an internal PBX, the VoIP/IP Telephony services are backhauled through the cable operator.

Phone companies are offering like services in a variety of configurations for both data and voice services. Depending on your area and the configuration of your central office, cable infrastructure and cellular infrastructure, a variety of options exist. Each service must be weighed against the lifetime of a system and its related costs with additional factors for customer convenience, the cost of changing numbers and toll charges or the lack thereof.

This is true not only for your central or corporate office, but certainly for remote and telecommuting offices. The options are numerous. Remote offices can now connect through a corporate PBX with only an IP connection. New SIP phones offer "find me, torture me" options where a phone call can be routed to your desk phone and then a cell, and then a pager or universal mailbox.

Universal mailbox options have been around for quite some time. These integrated systems have grown with the new SIP technology and now offer better services and the old computer generated voice is now much more pleasing and can even be selected from a variety of voices. I am told that there is a system incorporating famous voices just like the answering machine tapes so you could actually have your email read by whomever your heart desires. The features of these services have matured. You can set it to read only to and from information for your emails and then select whether to have the entire message read. You can even reply over the phone by sending a recorded wave file.

The biggest hurdle in these considerations it thinking outside the box and certainly expanding your comfort zone. An IT department that remains only within a comfort zone can cripple an organization just as bad a an IT organization that only wants new gadgets or follows advertisements rather than technical abilities. The bandwagon is not always the better place to be. Challenge, grow, learn, and you will be in a far better position to provide great services to your internal and external customers without the extra headache.

Carrie Higbie, Global Network Applications Market Manager, The Siemon Company
Carrie has been involved in the computing and networking industries for nearly 20 years. She has worked with manufacturing firms, medical institutions, casinos, healthcare providers, cable and wireless providers and a wide variety of other industries in both networking design/implementation, project management and software development for privately held consulting firms and most recently Network and Software Solutions.

Carrie currently works with The Siemon Company where her responsibilities include providing liaison services to electronic manufacturers to assure that there is harmony between the active electronics and existing and future cabling infrastructures. She participates with the IEEE, TIA and various consortiums for standards acceptance and works to further educate the end user community on the importance of a quality infrastructure. Carrie currently holds an RCDD/LAN Specialist from BICSI, MCNE from Novell and several other certifications.

This was last published in August 2004

Dig Deeper on Telecommunication networking