By Yuval Shavit, Features Writer
Voice over IP (VoIP) is a rapidly growing technology that uses a company's local area network (LAN) and the Internet for phone calls, instead of traditional phone lines. As a systems integrator (SI), you can save your clients money and gain services revenue as you help them deploy and maintain their VoIP systems. In this installment of our series on VoIP services, we'll take a look at the benefits of VoIP and how you can pitch VoIP to your customers. In later installments, we'll look more closely at some of VoIP's unique deployment concerns and how you can build your service provider business around VoIP.
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One of the main advantages of VoIP over traditional phone service is savings on long-distance calls. By converting a caller's voice to data and transferring it over the Internet to a VoIP phone on the other end, companies with multiple sites can avoid traditional phone lines and the long-distance charges that come with them.
But the more advanced customers -- and the more lucrative ones -- are those that look to use some of the additional benefits of VoIP, said Alan Bratton, president and CEO of Paranet Solutions LLC, an SI in Plano, Texas. Because it goes through the data network and is run on a server, VoIP can integrate with other applications. For example, in call centers, the benefits of VoIP include integrating the phones to customer relationship management (CRM) applications or providing a "click here to talk to a representative" button on your client's Web page.
VoIP can also connect with other communications media -- a combination known as unified communications. For instance, some cell phones can work in a voice over wireless LAN (VoWLAN) mode, saving airtime minutes. You can also combine email and VoIP, so that users can access voicemail through their email clients. Each of those additional integrations is another potential project for you.
The long-distance savings -- known as "toll bypasses" -- are one of the most well-known benefits of VoIP, but dropping prices for domestic long-distance calls are reducing that benefit, according to Henry Dewing, principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. However, toll bypassing is still a big factor for companies with sites in multiple countries, especially in Europe, where international calling rates can be very high, he said.
Even without toll bypassing, larger offices may save money from VoIP every time an employee changes desks, Dewing said. With a traditional phone system, each move would mean reconfiguring the PBX -- and sometimes even having to rewire the phone closet. Dewing said that some companies reported a cost as high as $300 or $400 per move. With a VoIP system, each phone registers itself using its MAC address when it first connects to the server, so the changeover is automatic.
Benefits of VoIP to be had by all
Several SIs said the question isn't whether a company will migrate to VoIP, but when. Even if a company doesn't need all of the benefits of VoIP, its traditional, TDM-based phone system will eventually break. When that happens, companies will want to replace their legacy systems with the latest technology, and that cycle will steadily phase the TDM systems out, SIs said.
And since incoming IT personnel will want to be trained on the latest and greatest, finding maintenance for those TDM systems will become increasingly more difficult and expensive, said Stan Rosenzweig, founder of Office Technology Consulting Inc. in Salt Lake City. If your client's phone system is getting old, it may be time to start planning its replacement, before maintenance costs escalate.
Steve Vicinanza, founder and CEO of BlueWave Computing Inc. in Smyrna, Ga., said he hasn't had a request for a TDM installation in two years. While that may not be the norm yet, Dewing said that already more than half of the replacements for old PBXs are being done with VoIP. For now, though, as many as 80% of phone systems are still TDM-based, Dewing said.
Of course, it's not just the customer who benefits from a new VoIP system. In the next installment of this series, we'll take a look at the business of providing VoIP services, including some of the business challenges and how to use hosted "Voice as a Service" providers to get started relatively easily.