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Unified communications technology basics

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Viable voice telecom solutions for small, medium and large enterprises

There is no one-size-fits-all voice telecom solution. The size of your organization determines the viable telecommunication options for you.

Choosing a voice telecom solution isn't accomplished using a one-size-fits-all approach. Very small businesses,

small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and large enterprises each operate uniquely in business practices and telecommunication technology procurement processes. So which voice telecom solutions work best for each business segment?

Where are voice telecom technologies today?

The old TDM world was static, things didn't change much and the gear lasted 10 to 20 years or longer. Customers could migrate their old phones to newer systems to minimize upgrade costs. The new voice telecom systems of today are not static and require maintenance agreements to keep the infrastructure, telephones, hardware and software current.

For the past decade we've been told, "The PBX is dead." Then, we were told, "There will be no more long distance." And during the last couple of years, the telecom death chant changed to, "Say goodbye to desk phones."

PBXes are in decline but far from extinct. Long distance is alive and well with Skype staking claim to 25% of the world's long distance traffic. While desk phones are dwindling, they won't be making a permanent departure anytime soon because businesses of all sizes find them reliable and cost-effective to keep around. It is more likely that telecom departments will be absorbed into the big IT machine and disappear at a faster rate than TDM, PBXes or desk phones.

Thanks to strong product marketing of Microsoft Lync, CIOs of large enterprises are being convinced that Lync and other unified communications (UC) products will render the desk phone obsolete. The assumption is the phone will end up in the client running on a desktop PC, tablet, mobile phone or some other computing device. However, it is an assumption without knowing the full scope of how that telephone desk set plays in everyday life. In many ways, client software just won't fit where the customer still demands hard-wired connectivity. While desk phones won't vanish anytime soon, Wi-Fi will diminish the number of desk phones deployed because of higher cabling costs. 

Voice telecom solutions for very small businesses

For companies requiring 10 or fewer phones, hosted telephony may be the best option. Very small businesses often can't afford the infrastructure and costs associated with owning their own solution, so trading off Capex for monthly Opex is appealing. Hosted telephony providers have a churn rate of about 4%, and half of the customers they lose are companies going out of business.

Telecom departments will be absorbed into the big IT machine and disappear at a faster rate than TDM, PBXes or desk phones.

Hosted voice telecom services may not be perfect, but they rank almost as good as traditional PSTN services. They increase monthly expenditures, but companies avoid having to invest in premises-based solutions. Very small businesses have an easier time breaking away from hosted UC services than they do from more expensive local telephone companies' landlines. This is good because it means they don't have to be locked in to a bad agreement as they would with traditional telecoms; other services require a longer contract and to break that agreement involves extra costs. For small companies that want full unified communication solutions, both Google and Yahoo offer free tools that provide sufficient capabilities for smaller shops.

Voice telecom solutions for SMBs

SMBs are driven by value, need and performance. Technologies like VoIP and SIP trunking exchange bandwidth for wireline services; this is useful for SMBs, since bandwidth costs can be expensive for small companies. SMBs remain conservative when it comes to deploying voice technology such as VoIP because the market has inexpensive solutions like hosted telephony.

With IP telephony, the total cost of ownership (TCO) goes beyond the initial acquisition; maintenance costs are higher and the solutions are more complicated, which often decreases the expected return on investment (ROI). The latest trend is to buy hosted and bundled voice solutions to achieve a predictable monthly cost over making an outright purchase or signing a lease agreement. Hosted and bundled products increase Opex and preserve cash, but they still impact cash flow with higher monthly Opex. Arguably, the hosted solutions can scale lower, but in many cases the breakeven is between two and three years of paying for hosted solutions -- which is enough to pay for a new system.

Schools are akin to distributed enterprises, and unified communications isn't a priority for schools unless access control, network cameras, telephony, school paging and announcements and emergency communications are addressed. Hardened infrastructures are a requirement regardless of the hosted, premises-based or hybrid platform. If a business moves voice to the cloud, it still needs to have an infrastructure that continues to provide bandwidth, reliable and protected uninterrupted power and reliable LAN/WAN hardware resources.

Voice telecom solutions for large enterprises

Corporations and global enterprises are heeding the "voice is just another application" mantra in a big way. They've already invested heavily in network infrastructure and virtualization.

Microsoft Lync is solid, but most companies do not immediately deploy Lync to replace PBXes. Lync licensing continues to be just as confusing as it can be costly. Session border controller technology is deployed in the hosted and managed service spaces. This technology is showing up in Cisco and ADTRAN network gear and even in some PBXes, such as Zultys business phone systems.

Voice telecom solutions for every business sector

What all businesses must face is that infrastructure and secure always-available access to the Internet are paramount to running and maintaining successful voice telecom services and applications.

This was first published in September 2012

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Essential Guide

Unified communications technology basics

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