Comparing VoIP vendors

For many companies, the tough decision isn't whether to use IP telephony or not -- it's which vendor to choose. There may be considerations of current voice or data vendors already at use in an organization, and each vendor provides a different set of features and management tools. With all of the variables involved, the choice may seem daunting.

To help simplify this task, we've collected some of Carrie Higbie's tips and tricks for vendor selection, garnered from her "Ask-the-Expert" section. Carrie regularly answers your questions on the topic of "Preparing your network for VoIP." At the bottom of this page, we've included links to her answers about comparing VoIP vendors for further information.

Vendor selection tricks
By Carrie Higbie

Carrie Higbie
1. My favorite sneaky trick is to check each vendor's Web site under the press releases section. Find someone that installed the system a year or so ago. Give them a call and ask them how the installation went, what surprises they have had since, and how the current administration of the system is going. Ask if they had to reconfigure their network, as this is not an expense that would normally be included. Also, have each vendor provide you with an ROI/TCO comparison based on your situation.

2. Check whether your local carriers support the same equipment. Also check to see how they handle priority and quality of service. I would also recommend looking at market share and the stability of the company.

3. Do a "bake-off" between the systems. Have each vendor provide you with a list of their features and benefits -- warranty, capabilities, interoperability, scalability, etc. What may be important to me may not be to you, so this method is certainly the best way to review the features-to-price comparisons.

4. Create a scorecard for each vendor, including all the information that is important to your organization. Evaluating the critical things will help you with your decision. Here is a list of examples to include in your scorecard:

 Maintenance costs
 Warranty periods
 Training times
 Ease for moves, adds and changes
 Availability of local support
 Backup power options in the event of a power loss
 E-911 capabilities
 Interoperability with other equipment
 How analog lines are addressed

Carrie answers your vendor selection questions

What edge would Cisco have over Alcatel?
I am trying to decide between two vendors, Cisco and Alcatel, for our new IP telephony solution involving 5,000 phones. Our corporate office already has a Cisco switching infrastructure installed. What is the compatibility of Alcatel IP Telephony over Cisco infrastructure? What edge would Cisco have over Alcatel?

What should be considered when deciding between Avaya and Cisco?
My company has two locations linked by T1. We are considering the Avaya IP Office 406 versus Cisco CallManager 4.2 and Model 2821 Voice gateway/router. Are there any major differences in capabilities?

What edge would Cisco have over Nortel?
For our new IP telephony solution, we are deciding between Cisco and Nortel. We currently have a Cisco switching infrastructure installed. What is the compatibility of Nortel IP telephony over Cisco infrastructure? What edge would Cisco have over Nortel?

What should be considered when deciding between Cisco and Mitel?
My company is in the process of moving to a new building where we plan to deploy VoIP…. In your opinion, what should we consider when deciding between Cisco and Mitel?

Carrie Higbie, global network applications market manager for The Siemon Company, has been involved in the computing and networking industries for nearly 20 years. She has been involved in sales, executive management and consulting on a wide variety of platforms and topologies and has held director and VP positions with fortune 500 companies and consulting firms. Carrie has taught classes for Novell, Microsoft and Cisco certifications, as well as CAD/CAE, networking and programming on a collegiate level. She has worked with manufacturing firms, medical institutions, casinos, healthcare providers, cable and wireless providers and a wide variety of other industries in both networking design/implementation, project management and software development for privately held consulting firms and most recently Network and Software Solutions.

This was first published in October 2006

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