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Does the SMB market really need VoIP?

By daverosenberg ·
I have been in Telecommunications for almost 15 years and have seen many changes in that time. By far the most impactful has been the advent of VoIP. As the owner of a small interconnect I am constantly approached by the manufacturers, such as Cisco, 3Com, Shoretel, Switchbox, etc, asking me to look at their "pure VoIP" solution. I ask every one the same question "When you have a single location installation, what is the advantage of putting voice over the IP network?"

Generally, I get three answers to this question. First, they talk about the need for only one cable and the reduced cost of infrastructure. Secondly they point to all of the integrated applications, like Unified Messaging, Find me Follow me, computer based call control, etc. Lastly they talk about "Presence".

Personally I don't find any of these arguments compelling when you consider the cost of investing in the network hardware required to deliver QoS. In the first instance, I have yet to see an RFQ for cabling with a single data cable for each location. The more normal requirement is for a fully managed system with 2 or 3 Cat 5E drops to each location. Most business owners and IT professionals recognize the flexibility inherent in having multiple drops to each location. The built in, 2-port switch on each VoIP phone is nice, but rarely used.

In the second reason is advanced CTI applications. With the exception of delivering XML apps to the phone, I have yet to see an application that can't be done on a TDM system that is IP enabled. i.e. the CPU and the Voice Mail has a presence on the network. Desktop call control, Unified Messaging, TAPI integration, customized desktop apps, we are doing all of these today on TDM switches. So far I have not seen the killer XML app that makes this a compelling argument. I mean how many weather or stock market updates do you need? It?s getting to be a bit like clocks on everything. I don't even wear a watch anymore because every electronic device I carry has a built in clock.

The last argument, Presence, is probably the most compelling, but I think a long way off before it will be ubiquitous, especially in the SMB space. Since the average phone system is replaced every 8-10 years, I think it is still too early to spec out VoIP just for Presence.

Proper deployment of VoIP requires and investment in higher end, more expensive network infrastructure such as Layer 3 switches with POE and routers that can support TOS, DiffServ or some other form of QoS. Most of the small businesses I deal with don?t spend the money on that kind of hardware so this would be an additional expense. In addition there are network management concerns that, seem to me, would give more headaches to the IT department.

Lastly, for those companies that have to have off-premises users, there are converged systems that will allow for TDM deployment at the main location with VoIP integration with branch offices or remote users. For all of these reasons, I advise not to jump on the VoIP bandwagon to early.

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