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Voice over IP gets wake-up call

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(IDG) -- IP-Based networks are emerging as important cost savers as IT managers try to hold down their expenses in a slowing economy. VOIP (voice over IP) technology in particular is finally picking up steam after much experimentation, largely because it enables companies to save money on telephone charges.

One of the stumbling blocks to adopting VOIP has always been the difficulty of deployment. But at this week's NetWorld+Interop 2001 show in Las Vegas, Cisco, Oracle, and Hewlett-Packard are expected to announce a best-of-breed partnership that could yield the first true plug-and-play VOIP system for enterprises and CLECs (competitive local exchange carriers).

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The alliance will see Cisco providing the networking technology, HP contributing data storage capabilities (in conjunction with storage company webBASIS of Bakersfield, Calif.), and Oracle handling database management. "This is a complete system aimed at helping enterprises and telecommunications companies, particularly CLECs, move to VOIP," said a source close to the initiative.

The rollout is a follow-up to Cisco's announcement this week of a line of VOIP products that could reduce VOIP deployment costs by sidestepping the need for PBXes.

The new line, which includes six software releases and a hardware gateway, allows companies to centralize management in distributed environments and provide readily deployable features, ranging from personal call rules to speech recognition. "Cisco's strategy gives us the ability to layer a variety of other services on the network," said John Freres, president of N2N Solutions in Schaumburg, Ill., a networking services company that uses Cisco's IP telephony gear.

Many companies, such as Macmillan Publishing in Indianapolis, are already testing how well IP-based systems cut costs. "Imagine an all-IP call center [in which] customers could call up information on the Web, click on an icon, and connect to a live [representative] on a Net phone," said Eric Goldfarb, CTO of Macmillan, who is beta testing IP storage switches from Nishan Systems, an N+I exhibitor. To observers like Goldfarb, such a scenario would not only introduce new features but also limit telephone expenses by repurposing existing IP networks.

Other companies are already going forward with VOIP deployments. For example, La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, Calif., recently deployed Alcatel's VOIP solution. Quoc Vo, the school's IT administrator, maintains that VOIP technology is sometimes easier to deploy than traditional phone setups, particularly in dispersed environments such as school campuses. "We could have pulled new phone wires through all the buildings, but that would have cost quite a bit," Vo said.

Menlo College in Atherton, Calif., another early VOIP adopter, has expressed a need for high voice quality. The school recently laid a Cisco VOIP system over its data network. And according to Patrick Olson, Menlo College's IT director, instructors and students wanted an IP telephony system that sounded and acted like a conventional phone system. "The students wanted it to work like a regular telephone," Olson said. "We had plenty of bandwidth so it wasn't an issue, but [the sound quality] has actually been better than an analog system."

Quality of voice service will be a theme at N+I, as many observers think it needs improvement for VOIP to gain a firmer foothold. Acterna, in Germantown, Md., will showcase Fireberd DNA-323 H.323 Analyzer, a QoS (quality of service) network management application. Another company, startup Telchemy of Atlanta, will exhibit its QoS management product, which models the effects of burst packet loss on voice quality.

IP PBX toolkits will be on display as well. By aggregating voice lines, they allow enterprises to save the cost of leasing individual lines.

"We'll be hearing about capabilities that make the early IP PBX systems more scalable," said Dave Passmore, an analyst at The Burton Group in Sterling, Va.

NEC America plans to reveal a PBX that supports IP-based telephony and peer-to-peer switching.



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RELATED SITES:
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webBASIS
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