We’ve outlined some of the main areas involved in a Voice Over IP (VoIP) deployment that can result in an either positive or negative impact on your organization. This comes from many years of experience, along with some blood, sweat and almost tears. You’ll notice that each area has the ability to contribute to the success or failure of a VoIP deployment. Our goal is to make you aware of the various components, and potential “gotcha’s” that are often ignored or not explored up front, so that we can ultimately help you make an informed evaluation and determine what aspect of Voice Over IP is right for you.
1) Improper Design
(Issue 1) Using IP phones alone in a branch office, instead of installing another phone system and using VoIP to seamlessly network the offices. This is usually done as an attempt to save money, but can also be due to the vendor’s lack of experience. While on paper, this approach has merit, a hiccup or two in the network and the remote site no longer has communication with the main office or outside world. There is NO survivability at the remote site w/this design, which makes it an ineffective and a very poor choice.
(Issue 2) Setting up centralized dialing for outbound and inbound calls from one office without having local dial tone as a backup at the remote site(s). The same concerns illustrated above in Issue 1 apply here. There’s nothing wrong with centralizing your outbound dialing in the right situation; however, the remote site(s) should always have their own local dial tone for inbound calls, and as an overflow for outbound calls in the event of a problem in the network that would temporarily prevent the interconnection of sites via VoIP.
Please note, when we refer to an issue in the network, that could mean a number of things but is usually based on a broadband problem, a carrier outage, a change to your LAN, or congestion out in the world wide web.
2) Firewall Issues – Voice Over IP and firewalls are polar opposites. Although a firewall is usually an integral part of a VoIP deployment, it’s not always a “plug & play” situation (and hopefully it’s not a “plug & pray” condition). Every installation has a different flair to it. Companies use a variety of appliances from different manufacturers, and sometimes different firmware revisions with the same model can result in a new set of “issues”.
3) Bandwidth – Bandwidth today is cheap; especially when compared to the available choices of 5 or 10 years ago. And it’s readily available in most areas. However, lack of bandwidth for whatever reason can wreak havoc in a VoIP deployment.
4) Voice Quality – Since we’re dealing with the same technology that’s used for transmitting data, there are quite a few variables that can impact voice quality. This is why we recommend using VoIP where it fits, and using digital (and sometimes analog) technology everywhere else.
5) Need – Do you actually need Voice Over IP? What value will VoIP bring to you and your organization? What are your goals and objectives for deploying VoIP – increased efficiency &/or productivity, cost savings, the ability to improve the level of service you provide to your clients, a way to enhance an employee’s situation, a recruiting tool for a new employee(s)? You may be thinking, “Well, most of the vendors that I’m talking to are trying to sell it to me. And I’ve read about it in business publications, so I must need it, right”? NOT NECESSARILY!!! Voice Over IP is a valuable technology solution that is revolutionizing the world and how we communicate. The point here is, just because others are benefitting from VoIP doesn’t necessarily mean that you NEED it. Most modern phone systems have some sort of VoIP component. Whether it’s inherent and simply needs to be activated with a software license, or you can add some integrated hardware, a newer system should allow for it.
6) Vendor Alliance – Deploying VoIP always requires committed support from multiple vendors. At a minimum, this includes your phone system provider, your IT / Network vendor, your internal IT / Network support staff (if applicable), your broadband provider at each location, and depending on your VoIP design, the dreaded public Internet.
VoIP Myths – Demystified
There are some recurring myths about Voice Over IP that we will attempt to clarify. Perhaps these myths have developed due to the way the media sensationalizes VoIP, but it could also be based on how VoIP is marketed and sold by inexperienced providers. Here are a few that we’ve encountered:
1) Free calling – everyone would love to eliminate their phone bill; especially during these turbulent economic conditions that we all face. However, there’s no such thing as “free” calling when you are touching the public switched telephone network. When you dial 1 plus an area code and phone number, you’re paying for the call unless you have an unlimited calling plan on your phone service, which you’re ultimately paying for up front. Where free calling enters the picture is when you have multiple offices networked via VoIP and you are calling an extension in a remote office – that’s a free call. Or, you may have a remote employee that works from home that’s virtually connected to your phone system with an IP phone. When you call their extension, or transfer a call to them, or they call you – that’s a free call too.
2) Digital technology is obsolete – NOT true. Digital technology is still the obvious choice for phones within the same building (unless your looking at a “pure VoIP” phone system that CANNOT support digital phones). In our opinion, there is absolutely no reason to use IP phones within the office unless you have a specific requirement or application. Digital phones are much easier to install, have no impact on your IT infrastructure, cost less than IP phones, and usually support a broader feature set than IP phones. Our mantra is to use digital phones when you’re under the same roof, and to take advantage of VoIP for remote employees or remote offices.
3) I only need to install 1 wire to each desk – in a Hosted VoIP or pure VoIP environment this is a possibility, although it’s not the recommended way to go about it. Most IP phones have a 2 port Ethernet switch built in; however the majority of IP phones still only support speeds of 10/100 Mbps. So depending on your current or future network plans, this may or may not be supportive. It’s best to install each network device (IP phone, PC, printer, etc.) on its own “data” cable whenever possible, even if they’re operating on the same network.
4) I can get rid of my phone system if I move to VoIP – not exactly. Unless you only need one Vonage line to run your business, then you need a phone system. However, Hosted VoIP offers some interesting and cost-effective possibilities when it’s deployed in the right environment. More often than not, you still need a phone system to operate your business, even if it’s a hosted solution.
5) Since VoIP is a fairly new technology, voice quality is as good or better than Ma Bell and the public switched telephone network (PSTN) – not exactly. Voice quality with VoIP can be as good as a call on the PSTN, or better in some cases with Hosted VoIP and Polycom’s patented “HD Voice” technology, but voice quality can also suffer or be affected just by the nature of the technology and how calls are processed. There can be times where it sounds like Darth Vader is on the other end. The conversation can get a little choppy; usually the result of lack of bandwidth (e.g. someone in the office downloading YouTube videos). One way audio issues can arise out of the blue. We’ve seen this as a result of a change or addition of network equipment to the local LAN. When VoIP is deployed properly, voice quality is fine.
6) VoIP is “plug and play” – hardly. Deploying VoIP is not rocket science, but certain conditions can make it a little tougher than usual to set it up and get it right. By now you can see that there are a few variables that can make a VoIP deployment challenging. As long as you have competent professionals that have the interest, skills and ability to work together (between multiple vendors) then you should be fine.
7) Digital phone systems are becoming extinct. I need to replace my system with a “pure VoIP” phone system. Your phone system may be old and there could be valid reasons for upgrading it that include a more cost-effective way to process calls, or difficulty in obtaining reliable spare parts, or simply the concern about the outcome that a catastrophic system failure could have on your company. These are all valid reasons to start evaluating new technology, and it all boils down to your current and future needs. Chances are that you may already have a need that a VoIP solution would satisfy. You should seek the assistance of a qualified VoIP provider like IDeACOM. Also, refer to Myth # 2 above.
This white paper is not meant to be negative. There are so many positive benefits that VoIP can deliver. We simply intended to educate you from a non-technical perspective on things to consider and inform you of the potential pitfalls that can derail a worthy cause within your organization.