Mar 17 2011

5 Tips on Migrating to VoIP

As broadband emerges, here are pointers to ready your network for unified communications.

As the Internet plays an ever-increasing role for all things IT, VoIP inevitably enters the conversation. Voice over Internet Protocol began as a hobbyist technology, but as Internet networks have evolved from dial-up to broadband (copper to IP), VoIP has matured to a carrier-grade service that organizations of all sizes routinely use today.

For any IT manager looking to reduce costs as well as make better use of networks, VoIP has a lot to offer. So how can your state or local government reap the benefits as quickly as possible and begin moving web services to VoIP? Here are five tips to get you started.

Tip 1: Ensure Control Over QOS

VoIP is not a bandwidth-intensive data application, especially compared with other modes such as video. In that regard, VoIP is manageable to run, and your network will not likely need any upgrading. But unlike most data applications, voice is a real-time communications mode and behaves differently in the network.

That's why QOS -- quality of service -- is so important, and not all VoIP providers are created equally. If your VoIP service runs over the public Internet, you likely will not have control over QOS, especially in terms of prioritizing voice for bandwidth access. To address this, your VoIP provider should be operating its own network -- mostly or entirely private -- or it can provide QOS tools to optimize performance over a public network.

Tip 2: Plan for Security

Another way VoIP differs from other data applications is that it interfaces with endpoints that have only one function: IP PBX to enable telephony. In this regard, VoIP poses new security vulnerabilities that aren't shared with other data applications.

Existing security solutions -- primarily firewalls -- are perfectly adequate for their intended purpose but are not an effective proxy for VoIP. Again, the real-time nature of VoIP requires a different feature set, which is better addressed by purpose-built network elements such as Session Initiation Protocol–aware firewalls and session border controllers.

Tip 3: Do Not Assume Apples-to-Apples

VoIP offers advantages over conventional telephony, but it isn't always a straight-up exchange. The aforementioned QOS issue is a good example at a meta level, but there also are items on a more granular level you need to consider. One would be the accessibility of toll-free numbers (such as 800, 866, 877 and the like).

Within the United States, these numbers are pretty universal from any public-switched telephone network access point. This should be the case with VoIP, but it may not hold, particularly if the service is routed through a data center located outside the country.

Tip 4: Plan for More Traffic Monitoring

VoIP provides more options for communicating, making you more accessible for inquiries. Besides toll-free numbers for calls into districts, you can provide a web-based option with click-to-call from a PC. Unlike toll-free numbers, however, these won't add cost and will make it easier for people to reach you.

Furthermore, most VoIP services include free domestic long distance, so cost is no longer a barrier for making outbound calls to respond to inquiries. This also means that inter- and intra-district calls are free, making it easier to engage others who may be better suited for a complex inquiry.

All of these options should increase the volume of telecom activity, but being IP-based, VoIP calls are logged, making it easy to track and manage call flows.

Tip 5: VoIP Is a Means, Not an End

There is more to VoIP than lowering telecom costs or consolidating voice into your data network. Many metrics exist to help you show a positive return on investment, but VoIP's greater value lies in making your employees more productive and responsive. With VoIP, parents and other stakeholders have more options to communicate, not just with voice but also with other modes.

As broadband adoption grows, everyone will communicate more over the web and via their computers -- and less over traditional phones.

Over time, VoIP will become integrated with other modes such as video and web services, creating new opportunities for serving stakeholders. The possibilities for broadband-based communications are just emerging, and VoIP is the first step a district can take to future-proof IT investments as the information economy continues to evolve.