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Planning is Key to Voice over IP

Voice over IP (VoIP) is one of the latest and greatest digital technologies to hit the business sector. VoIP refers to voice communication transmitted using the IP protocol either over the internet or over dedicated lines treating voice more like data.

The most appealing feature of Voice over IP is the cost savings it offers. Calls are routed over existing data lines, meaning your phone bill is eliminated. Another benefit to businesses is that the length and distance of calls are no longer relevant. With the added capabilities of IPT (IP Telephony), fax, universal messaging and other features can be added to VoIP systems.

While this is of great concern to telephone carriers who have monopolised the market for years, it is a very exciting technological development for those who make long distance telephone calls. This is especially true for companies whose phone bills comprise a significant portion of their annual expenses. Telephone companies have realised some benefits as well. Some industry estimates state that 35% of all voice calls are carried over VoIP at some portion of the call. This has helped telephone companies reduce costs and has opened the door for them to offer other services that were not a traditional part of their portfolio.

While Voice over IP is a technology that companies will readily embrace because of the cost savings, it is only as good as the planning that goes into the entire system. Siemon, a global manufacturer of high-performance network cabling solutions, encourages businesses to plan carefully before implementing any Voice over IP system.

Start at the foundation. Is the cabling infrastructure capable of handling the new VoIP system? If installed years ago, does it meet today's standards? The benefit of VoIP is that voice and data can run over the same cabling system, therefore, it is critical to assess in advance whether the increased traffic slow could possibly slow down existing applications and affect business operations. Does the current cabling infrastructure offer the transmission throughput required for a smooth-running system?

All VoIP manufacturers recommend an infrastructure audit prior to implementation. This is because VoIP/IPT traffic is considered "live" transmissions rather than a data type transmission where retransmissions would be acceptable. Using a Certified Infrastructure Auditor will assure that your network is prepared for this and other next generation IP applications.

"Encouraged by the prospect of saving money, people often rush into installing a new VoIP system and later are surprised by poor quality and how it affects the performance of their network," says Carrie Higbie, Global Network Applications Manager for Siemon. "They forget their cabling infrastructure must now support both voice and data. The first step in implementing a VoIP system must be to review and evaluate the entire network infrastructure, including the cabling system. Does it offer the performance, speed and throughput necessary to handle the added demand? If it doesn't, upgrading the system or some remediation will be necessary.

The quality of transmission for voice packets is much more demanding than data packets, and transmission delay, packet loss and jitter must be kept to a minimum. Therefore, the construction of the network framework must be addressed. What types of electronics are currently being used? Do they support the Quality of Service required for the VoIP system? Depending on the type of system you plan to implement and the transfer mechanisms used by the system, you may need to upgrade the electronics or add additional feature sets to your active operating system.

"It's not as simple as putting a VoIP system on an existing network. It would be rather pointless to build the capability into a system if the network's edge devices such as routers or hubs lack the intelligence and technology to handle the VoIP packets," explains Carrie Higbie.

Another planning consideration is the installation of the system. Can current IT staff handle the design and installation of the system? Are they trained in VoIP and understand the intricacies of the technology? If not, an outside professional may be your best bet. Here lies another consideration: the quality of installation from one vendor to the next is not always equal. A VoIP system can be crippled by an improperly or poorly installed infrastructure and network. In addition, troubleshooting and remediation can be the most costly factor in any network. Therefore, it is important to have a certified professional perform the work. A Certified Infrastructure Auditor will evaluate the overall health of the network by examining the capability of the cabling and electronics and identifying the source of errors. They will also make suggestions for improving the network through the removal of unnecessary protocols, understand the requirements of a VoIP system, properly design and install the system, and monitor the service after it is in place. Companies cannot make the assumption that because their cabling is printed with a certain category rating, the cable plant will perform to that rating. Poor installation, degradation over time and minimally compliant products can cause a network's physical plant to fail testing. Using a Certified Infrastructure Auditor will solve those problems.

Voice over IP is an exciting new technology that is beginning to explode in popularity and use. Before implementing a VoIP system, however, remember: there is no substitution for proper planning.

For further information on Voice over IP, Siemon offers a comprehensive white paper entitled, "Voice over IP - Is Your Network Ready?" You can read or download it at www.siemon.com.


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