Posted on Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 12:02PM
Implementing Voice over IP (VoIP) should not be done on a whim. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a customers office who’s complaining about call quality and other issues only to find out that some vendor has installed a system with no regard to whether, or not the network was capable of providing an adequate platform to support it.
While by no means an exhaustive list - here are some things to consider when planning a VoIP deployment (and any new voice deployment):
1. ASSESS YOUR NETWORK TO SEE IF IT CAN SUPPORT VOIP | First is the nature of VoIP technology. It is a "real-time" protocol. Unlike e-mail, or database queries, or surfing the internet - VoIP REQUIRES that you receive the transmission in the same order as it was sent. For example, if you are looking for a website you type in the address in your browser hit enter and the request is sent. If there is a hiccup along the way - it's ok. The servers at the other end will wait until all the data is received and if it's not in the right order it will rearrange the data, figure out what you want and send you back the result - the webpage you wanted. It doesn't matter is there was a slight delay in the data being sent, if the last part came first and the first part last. It will figure it out. The same goes with e-mail.
But, a phone call needs to be received exactly as it was sent. If you said, "I need the documents sent to me ASAP", it cannot send "documents to need I the me". It would make no sense. Furthermore, if that same hiccup cause part of the information to get lost you would lose whole words altogether. The listener has no idea what you said. Anyone who has had bad reception on a cell phone knows what this is like.
This is a very basic way of saying that if the network at your business is not properly setup, or is using outdated cabling, switches, and routers, etc. you VoIP deployment may turn out to be a costly disaster. The cost of updating your network may be more than you can, or want to afford. Your VoIP vendor should be able to assist you with this. Here are some things to look at (not an exhaustive list):
- SWITCHES: Managed switches are preferred and if you want share your voice and data on the same network and VLANs are a tool to help separate your voice and data traffic while still sharing the same wiring. Layer 3 switches provide the most flexible solution for VoIP and VLANs.
- CABLING: Cat5e at a minimum and CAT6 is preferred. Also, if you are not sure of the quality of the cabling, or you are in an older building with questionable cable it can be tested to make sure that you are getting the appropriate throughput and that it has all been terminated properly.
- POWER: PoE (Power-Over-Ethernet) provides power to network connected devices. IP phones can be powered by power supplies at the phone that plug into a power outlet. They generally are an extra cost, are yet another thing to plug in at the desk, and add another layer to deploying, or relocating a phone. POE provides power from the network switches eliminating the need to provide power at the desktop to each phone. This makes them easier to deploy and relocate as needed. Power requirements are often overlooked as another cost of deploying VoIP.
2. DO A COST ANALYSIS | Many believe that moving to VoIP can save money - and indeed it can. However, you must consider if it does so in you particular situation. ROI (Return on Investment) can be calculated from a number of factors such as cost of equipment, savings on toll-charges, ease of management, etc.
Cost savings can come from reduced toll-charges between remote offices, or simplified deployment and management of new users. But if you network needs a major overhaul with new switches, routers, VPNs, cabling, etc. then the costs can be high. However, this cost may be mitigated by the ROI in simplified deployment & management of users requiring less frequent calls to a vendor who needs to come out ever time a new voicemail, or extension needs to be added. More efficient call usage between offices and better integration with IP applications such as voice messaging, unified messaging, hotdesking, & presence, may also mitigate these costs.
These are all things that must be considered and weighed to make sure that a sound fiscal choice is being made.
3. KEEP IT SIMPLE | Do not do a mass deployment across your locations. Start with one location - it will be the test site for the rest of your deployment. Once you are satisfied with the quality of your initial deployment plan your future ones considering the requirements for voice-over-IP. Also, be aware that depending on what system you are deploying, you may not need to have VoIP everywhere. Some systems (hybrids) - such as Nortel and Avayas offerings - allow you to have a mix of IP and traditional digital phones. If the cost of upgrading a location is cost-prohibitive you can use digital sets for those places and IP where it works.
Make sure you discuss these options with your vendor.
4. NETWORK USAGE | How is your network used? What types of applications does your company rely on? It's good to know what it using the most bandwidth on you network. If you have a lot of streaming media on your network, or there are frequent and large uploads/downloads this can affect the quality of the call. Knowing this will help on deciding if and how many VLANs may be required to help separate and alleviate data traffic congestion.
5. MAP OUT YOUR CALL FLOW | This really applies to any voice deployment VoIP, or otherwise. How are your calls routed? What type of phone lines do you have (analog line, T1, PRI?). Do individuals have dedicated phone numbers? Do call rings on all phones, are they answered by an Automated-Attendant, or by a receptionist? This should all be planned out with your vendor and not left as a last minute decision.
Also, if you are planning on connecting multiple sites you'll want to look at how your sites are connected. Do need point-to-point T1, or are there other alternatives? Do you have the hardware to support VPN (Virtual Private Networking)? Do you have enough bandwidth to handle the number of calls you think will be active along with your data requirements? Do your extensions number ranges conflict with each other?
6. MANAGE AND PLAN YOU TRANSITION | Are you getting new service, or relocating services from the phone company? Who will coordinate the time and date of the transition with the phone company? Will it be done during office hours, over the weekend, or after-hours? Do you need to port you toll-free number to a new location? Who will coordinate with your IT department to make sure they ARE NOT left out in the cold? This is crucial - a VoIP implementation will directly affect you network. The lat person that should be left out is your IT personnel. Not only do they need to know how this will affect the network they have to manage, but they may have legitimate reasons against deploying VoIP. They should be involved form the beginning.
As I think of more things I will post them here. The most important thing to take away from this is that before embarking on a VoIP deployment make sure that you have adequate infrastructure to support it. The good thing is that most modern networks (within the last five years) are most likely up to the task (with some tweaking). As long as the equipment and cabling were properly installed and managed you should be fine, but all care should be taken to assess what you have.
The best solution is to have an authorized vendor do the assessment so you can be confident in your decision.