Voice Over IP? No Thanks!

Tags: voip, Telephony, Phone Systems

Everyone's talking about the next big leap in telephony, Voice-Over-IP (or VoIP). It's supposedly the hottest, cheapest, best and newest way to make phone calls but after a few years working in the telecommunications industry I ask, does VoIP live up to the hype?

There is a defense contractor here in the Seattle area that recently adopted a VoIP system, with a dedicated connection to their Southern California office. Their plan was sound enough: establish an always-on connection between the two offices. That way, the California people become extensions that the Seattle folks can intercom directly, rather than long-distance numbers they have to dial; conference calls would become simpler too, right?

Not quite. The missing syllables, the delay and the drop in general voice quality was immediately noticeable. "Sounded like robots talking in tin cans," said one of the company's officers, but it was "livable." The company was willing to trade a little quality for convenience, and some cost savings - at least, at first.

The cost savings went away when they found that they had to add more bandwidth if they wanted to make more simultaneous VoIP calls but by then, they had already made the investment in the phone system and were determined to make it pay for itself. Dissension in the ranks had begun immediately but now, the folks who generally abhor change were attracting followers from the "willing-to-try-it-out," and even the "sounds-great!" camps but the system remained in place until one day, someone installed a color printer.

Suddenly, the Monday morning call to California became so garbled that it had to be conducted with a cell phone in Speaker mode in the middle of the conference room table. Calls to clients and suppliers became indiscernible. Was the IT staff responsible? What about the Telephony folks?

After much debate, the decision was made to disconnect the color printer from the network, but that didn't fix the issue. Whatever damage had been done, had been done and no one seemed to know how to undo it.

In the end, the company reverted to their older, digital Nortel MICS phone system and abandoned the VoIP idea, along with the tens of thousands of dollars they had invested in it.

What's the moral of this story? If VoIP is the wave of the future - and it may well be - then the technology is not yet in place to make it a reliable option for most companies; at least, not without a good deal of planning ahead of time.

Call quality does not increase with VoIP. Ever. A VoIP connection is never as high-quality or reliable as a purely digital one. Even with digital phones on desks, a connection which includes VoIP components is only as strong as its weakest link. You wouldn't go VoIP for this reason, but you might adopt the technology so that your employees could take their desk phones home with them or so that a satellite office could be included as an extension on your own phone system.

In situations where VoIP has been deployed effectively, there have typically been months of planning between IT and Telephony professionals. Although call quality does not increase, other benefits can be gained.

That having been said, my office is quite happy with our purely digital Vertical Comdial DX-120 phone system and I see no reason to change what's working just fine.

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