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How to create a sensible telephone strategy

To VoIP or not to VoIP

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Ed Moore, OpenWeb Product Manager, OpenWave Europe

Telephone strategy depends largely on how old your company is. Any company over ten years old with an office is probably wedded to a standard circuit based telephone infrastructure, and would find it hard to justify changing this. A new company on the other hand, perhaps with many flexible home-based workers, may find it mad to adopt this approach.

This state of flux has been driven by the introduction of VoIP or Voice Over IP telephony, where calls are made and terminated across a data network rather than over good old copper circuits. The problem is it still has a lot of problems in terms of service levels and reliability to match against the undoubted flexibility. It also delights in its level of acronyms and the further you go into the subject - and especially in trying to formulate a strategy - the worse it becomes. Here's a few; DID, DDI, GAN, GERAN, SIP, H.323, ENUM, MGCP, SDP and XMPP - nice eh? As these cover both data networking and traditional PSTN telephony, every technical person asked to look at the subject will have something to learn, given the two worlds were traditionally so far apart.

To formulate a strategy, let's start with two easy areas; office cabling and internet IM. If you're wiring an office then use IP telephones and lay out just a data network to desks, very little argument against this. IM? Staff will use it and let them do so. It's free, informal and quicker than email for text messages and cheaper then a phone line for quick chats and conference calls. Even if not everyone adopts it enough people will, and the extra complexity is won back in lower costs and increased flexibility, especially for remote and geographically spread staff.

The interesting area in strategy is how to combine functions that should be standard, such as a direct dial PSTN number with staff who you may prefer to connect via VoIP. Staff no longer stay handily in one place, but wouldn't it be good if their official office number routed to where they were and cheaply? As more companies start to migrate to VoIP though how do you accept both VoIP and PSTN into a PBX and have these connections routed out to users wherever they are at minimal cost? VoIP may be relatively undeveloped but these last aspects are almost experimental. ENUM and SIP are interesting answers to these problems (I'll let you look them up), but is everything ready now or should you wait? If so, for how long? Given how cheap standard calling has become is it something that'll turn losses into profit and crown you with glory? I'm betting not yet.

Where does this leave mobile phones you may ask? In my opinion, well out of the way. People are used to the idea a mobile number is different to an office work number so you'll need to run this separately for now. There are moves to develop fixed to mobile convergence and to enable VoIP to a mobile handset, but leave this in the lab for the techies to experiment with. You've got enough headaches as it is.®

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