Look before you VoIP!

As technology would have it, the train keeps moving forward, but at times it feels like we’re losing passengers. A lot of new speak and talk, but what does it all mean? In this ever-changing world, technologies are leap-frogging one another. How decision-makers choose today makes more difference than ever. Not just for the initial purchase, but in coming years. Allow me to me explain.

For background purposes, I have been in technology for over twenty years and have seen a lot, but the VoIP thing has a lot of folks perplexed, and for good reason. Here, I will try to clarify the most common areas of confusion. We want to help you make a smarter decision here as you entertain your next phone system or a move where maybe your current phone system has seen better times.

Understanding the Cost Components. As with any technology, what’s important is to clearly understand the cost components to any system. In doing so, the cost/benefit equation needs to remain in balance. With a phone system, there is: 1) the infrastructure (main pieces), 2) the handsets, 3) the adjuncts (other pieces connected), and 4) the ongoing cost of maintenance which include moves, adds and changes. At the end of the day, we need to have an understanding of total cost over useful life and then employ the cost/benefit equation. The longer the useful life, clearly the less cost per year, so this component is truly key.

Understanding Reusable Items. Here’s where a lot of savings can occur. For many manufacturers, like AVAYA, the reuse of phone sets as much as 5-7 years back can allow you to either significantly reduce the cost, or perhaps buy the infrastructure pieces first, followed by new handsets over time. I cannot stress how much this can save, but over 30% savings is not uncommon. Upgrading from same brand to same brand is typically the only scenario in which this strategy works well.

Another important reuse item is premise cabling, specifically CAT3 cabling still in so many buildings. Only AVAYA can reuse all your existing cabling by using digital phone sets which have the same functionality as VoIP, without the chatter!

Digital versus IP Phones. Here’s where the rubber meets the road. Let’s start with costs. An IP Phone will run you $400 to $500 for Avaya and a bit more for Cisco. Digital sets are $100-$150 less and basically have the same functionality. You also need to know that if you plan on or need to run gigabit Ethernet at the desktop and use the same network drop, the IP phone needs to be gigabit as well. If not, you just slowed down the PC’s network speed tenfold. Ouch!

You may also need to replace your network switch with a PoE (Power over Ethernet) switch at a cost of $3,000 and up for a managed PoE switch offering, which you need to prioritize voice traffic to eliminate VoIP chatter. PoE essentially powers the IP phone, otherwise you’ll have to pay another $50-$80 per power supply. It’s really not structured to save you a whole lot.

So let’s say you are a single facility with 25-75 users. There is no real benefit for VoIP handsets. But say you have 50 people in one location, a smaller location with 10 folks and another 15 sales folks in regional home offices. Now you could benefit from VoIP. It would be nice if there was a best of both worlds scenario. Well, you’re in luck!

What you do in this situation is implement an Avaya IP Office 500, deploy the lesser expensive digital handsets in the office, and deploy VoIP softphones or handsets in the field. The routers we use in home offices are $80 each and properly tag voice packets to minimize or eliminate VoIP ‘chatter’.

VoIP Downsides. I love technology, probably more than most folks. I live it, breathe it, and at times, get frustrated with it. But at the end of the day, the name of the tech game is to not make it more complicated or have more pieces than necessary. This strategy tends to keep costs under control and makes troubleshooting simpler.

But there are a few significant challenges to VoIP. The first is the chatter component. Look, we can control voice packet priority on the one or two ends we control (main site and remote site), but we cannot control the Internet itself and latency and congestion issues within. This chatter can be quite prevalent, especially if you choose a ‘hosted’ VoIP solution.

The second downside is if you have all of the voice and data on the same switch (as is the VoIP model) and the switch fails, you not only lose all of your data traffic, but your ability to make and receive calls as well. Double ouch! A failed router can have a similar effect as well. So you moved up in technology, but added points of failure. Not sure about the win here.

A third issue is that data issues can now affect voice, and this includes troubleshooting, which now gets a bit more involved and costly. So a bad PC network card could bring your voice quality to its knees. Also, you could have a glitch on the data network which could effectively drop every voice call in the building. Not nice!

Summary. The items here are not meant to discourage the newer VoIP technology, but to help in selecting the proper technology best suited for the need and not overcomplicate your infrastructure. It’s important to keep it as simple as possible, which will keep the total cost of ownership (TCO) well in check.

Ed

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