Voice over IP technologies surged into the mainstream in 2004, with vendors posting unprecedented sales figures and carriers reporting record traffic levels. Sonus Networks alone recently announced that it had carried 10 billion minutes of VoIP traffic in the last month of 2004, a figure representing more than 200,000 concurrent calls at any one time.
However, for all of its attractions, including consolidated network operations, reduced overhead, and the ability to deliver advanced in-call features, the path to VoIP deployment can be tricky. Nothing is easier than making a phone call, but VoIP vendors and analysts alike caution that creating the infrastructure that carries that call is a bit more complicated than picking up a telephone handset.
"The recurring theme is 'what is your entire communications strategy?'" says Alex Hadden-Boyd, Cisco Systems' director of Enterprise IP Telephony. "In the past, people thought on a site-by-site basis, but you can't do that anymore. You have to think about your network as a whole."
Indeed, the bottom line is that enterprises should look before they leap into VoIP deployments. Unfortunately, according to Lisa Pierce, vice president in Forrester Research's Telecom & Networks research group, many companies fail to do just that. After all, you can't just plug VoIP hardware into your network and expect it to work flawlessly.
"Many enterprises fail to consider network upgrade issues," Pierce says. "Bandwidth is part of it, of course, but a lot of companies don't necessarily have the real-time network management equipment to monitor traffic. And if you don't have a MPLS infrastructure on the WAN side, then don't even talk about it."