TECH NOUS : Talk is Cheap

As anyone who has ever used Skype will tell you, it is far from perfect product. However, while it has had its limitations, this increasingly popular technology has certainly raised awareness of VoIP (voice over internet protocol) and its potential.
IP telephony – that is, the ability to deliver voice traffic over the internet or an IP-based data network – is finally hitting its straps in the business market. It is becoming the communications technology of choice for more and more companies, and it’s not just about its ability to deliver significant savings on toll calls.
Of course, the ability to eliminate toll call charges was the whole reason why Skype became so popular in the first place. There have been other initiatives targeting residential callers as well – the most recent in this country is Slingshot’s iTalk service that allows customers to make voice calls over the internet to local numbers on broadband connections. This means that student based in Auckland, for example, can select his or her family’s Christchurch number, allowing them to make unlimited free local calls to each other.
Getting back to the business scenario, VoIP’s rising popularity is borne out in recent PBX installation figures. Ken Erskine, alliances and marketing manager for IPFX, an IP telephony solution provider, says that his company’s research shows that more than 90 percent of new PBXs are IP based, and last year IP systems held 50 percent of the New Zealand market.
While there are savings to be made on toll calls, the biggest gains for companies are likely to be through the converging of two networks (voice and data). This is simply because it costs less to develop and support one single infrastructure than two separate ones.
IP telephony is to large extent self-managed technology – which is important if you’re moving office or growing your company. Rather than have technician camped on your doorstep, as happened in the old days of analogue, often it’s simply case of plugging the phone system into the Ethernet port. IP telephony is easy to install, and provided you’ve dialled up enough band capacity, quality should never be an issue either.
You’ve really got to see VoIP technology put through its paces to appreciate what it can do for your business. If your telco can’t arrange demonstration (and I’m sure it can) then I suggest you arrange to visit the IP Voice Demonstration Centre in Telecom’s Auckland headquarters. There I was able to witness how IP telephony software can be integrated into existing communications applications such as MS Outlook and Lotus Notes.
I like how both email and voicemail are listed together (this is known as ‘unified messaging’) and how it’s possible to now manage voice and data all from the one site. Unified messaging has particular relevance in call centre applications where callers use different media to communicate including voice, email, the web and SMS or texting.
Making phone call isn’t about pushing buttons on handset any more – it’s just couple of mouse clicks. VoIP puts all your communications needs at your fingertips.
Erskine says IP telephony is about functionality, and software products like his company’s IPFX for Outlook can have big impact on the organisational service levels within company, as well as to clients, partners and suppliers.
Presence-based VoIP call management is another key differentiator of IP telephony – this is the system’s ability to work out the ‘present state’ of staff members. So it’s possible for users to go into the system directory and see the status of every user with an extension – in meeting, on break, gone for the day, on annual leave, whatever.
It’s also possible to have single call attendant in one country who can manage and monitor staff in branches based in other countries.
What we have seen with IP telephony so far in this country is merely the tip of the iceberg. Microsoft’s recent announcement that it is setting up partner framework to concentrate on transforming voice, video and data communications into single unified communications platform is sign of bigger things to come. Some of the world’s leading manufacturers are teaming up with the software giant to market audio-video collaboration devices, IP-enabled business desktop phones, USB handsets, wireless headsets, webcams, AV-equipped PC monitors, and whole lot more. All in the name of VoIP. It’s communications integration on broad scale.
The future of business communications is looking very exciting indeed.

Glenn Baker is regular contributor to Management.
[email protected]

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