Voice as a Telecom Tool

A: What are the pros and cons of going with VOIP as my company’s main telecommunications set-up?B: Here’s why you might want to switch to VOIP:• The cost of VOIP calls is significantly lower than use of traditional telecommunications. Many providers offer a flat rate and unlimited calls within the continental United States. Some include flat-rate charges to selected countries as well.• If you have staff that travel extensively overseas or are opening a branch office, many providers will let you ship a pre-configured handset to other countries. All they have to do is plug it into a network with Internet access and immediately, they appear as another extension in your office.The two key areas where we see VOIP adding tremendous value are office moves and reconfigurations and unified messaging/Outlook integration. With moves, whether of whole offices or cubicles, across the floor or across the country, simply unplug your handset, unplug it, move to new space, plug it in and your phone number just moved with you. This initiative saves tremendously on reprinting costs, since – no new business cards or letterheads need to be printed. This also saves on move costs and setup costs. Unplug/plug—it is not necessary to reconfigure or changie PBX configurations.When it comes to unified messaging and Outlook integration, VOIP straddles both voice and data, with the VOIP packet routed the same way as are emails or Web traffic. In addition, many providers allow integration of your VOIP phone with Outlook. Suddenly, your entire Outlook contacts list is your phonebook / speed-dial list. Going a step further, you can have your emails, faxes as TIFF or JPG attachments and emails as WAV attachments with or without automated text-to-speech conversions show up in one place.Further down the road, we see the next logical step for many companies will be to integrate email + fax + voice + instant messaging + video chat + video conferencing + virtual meetings into a single system. Voice as a standalone product will disappear or become subsumed into a larger communications suite.There are, though, downsides to VOIP. Among them:• Services are changing rapidly and there are no large, well-established, single vendors that everyone uses. So you’re going to have to deal with startups or at best mature but small companies. The larger telecommunications players–Sprint, Verizon, ATT, etc.–still haven’t embraced VOIP as a core product to sell to customers (though they all use VOIP internally to route calls).• Each VOIP company has their preferred handset and backend platform, so if you switch providers, you may not be able to take your handsets with you. Or when you switch providers in 12 or 24 or 36 months your choice of providers may be limited by the handsets you adopted.• Like PCs, laptops and cell phones, and unlike traditional phones, VOIP technology is constantly changing. What was state-of-the-art just six or 12 months ago is now a paperweight. So if you adopt VOIP, plan on upgrading your phones every few years, just as you upgrade PCs and laptops.• Regular phones get hacked–that has been true since phones were invented. PBXs have been hacked for ages, whether by the vendors shipping with standard passwords or users selecting weak passwords. VOIP can also get hacked. Just as VOIP makes re-routing calls to new locations or countries easier, it makes hacking easier. VOIP security is a brand-new field, and the IT security community is still wrapping its head around the subject. Meanwhile, we’ve already seen attacks ranging from fraudulent calls to hackers cloning the complete voicemail tree for banks and calling victims from spoofed phone numbers.Furthermore, unlike traditional phones, where the voice team rarely, if ever, worked with the data team, going forward, the integration between the voice, data and IT services teams will have to get stronger.Overall, though, the advantages to using VOIP outweigh the disadvantages. VOIP is here, and it is the future. The only question is: When will you adopt it? And will you adopt it proactively or will it be forced on you by the market?Send your technology questions to Rajesh Goel, chief technology officer at Brainlink International Inc., via Suzann.silverman@nielsen.com.