Amy Arnold

Network Computing Blogger

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VoIP Planning: 3 Critical Steps

When implementing voice over IP (VoIP), technical teams often overlook key elements. Without proper planning, these issues will come back to bite you. Here are three things to include in your plans to ensure a successful deployment.

No. 1: 911 Emergency Services Location Reporting

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I put this in top slot not only because it could wreck your voice deployment budget if you don't properly plan, but because there could be legal implications if you don’t have accurate location reporting with emergency calls. With VoIP, phones usually talk to centralized servers in the network and calls are often routed out of gateways not local to the site. This wreaks havoc on accurate 911 location reporting, so you must plan accordingly.

Several options to address location reporting exist at varying price points. The most common solutions are a PSTN line with a voice gateway at each site, a CER (Cisco Emergency Responder) or similar application, or a carrier-provided 911 services system. The option you pick depends on your budget, IT goals, and so on, but in all cases, make sure location reporting has a prominent place on your cut-over test plan. Tacking on a 911 solution as an afterthought is often cumbersome and can be costly in equipment and professional services.

No. 2: Compatibility With Current Infrastructure

This category is purposely broad because the phone system integrates with the business in myriad ways--and not all of them are visible to IT. Sometimes the integrations are obvious, such as a voice mail server or an IVR that distributes calls from the main line. Some are less so, such as a paging system in a warehouse, a call accounting software package that only finance uses, or an automatic dialer that makes reminder calls to customers.

In my experience, these systems are often tied to analog devices tucked away in offices and long since forgotten about. Failure to include these devices in your rollout will rob you of the good will of the departments that own them and expect them to work. They could also blow apart your budget if you have to deal with them after the fact.

To avoid surprises, thoroughly examine your current phone system dial plan and follow up on unknown extensions or patterns. Walk through offices and MDF closets to examine current cabling and punch-down blocks. Finally, parse the various business workflows, and look for tie-ins to phone numbers and phone system applications.

[Find out how a filtering tool can ease the process of going through pages of debug output from a Cisco Voice Gateway in "Debugging Cisco Voice: How To Streamline The Process."]

No 3: End User Training

You might be tempted to skimp on user training. DON’T! The success of your voice implementation depends on your users and their acceptance of this new-to-them technology. Don't let their fear and unwillingness to embrace change thwart your hard-earned victory.

A little training goes a long way toward mitigating disgruntled attitudes, and if you take the extra step of getting feedback from users during the planning process, you will earn even more points. Untrained users will stumble and blame the new "crummy" phone system for their ineptitude; be especially wary of this happening with "power users," such as administrative assistants and switchboard operators. These users happen to have the ears of the decision makers high on the totem pole; trust me, you want those people to hear nothing but good things about the new phone system and all your hard work.

The intricacies of VoIP implementation planning could fill volumes. I haven't even addressed licensing, redundancy or capacity planning, just to name a few issues. However, work emergency service location reporting, infrastructure compatibility and user training into your implementation plan, and you'll save yourself some headaches and even earn yourself and your project some good will.

Have you implemented VoIP? Do these issues resonate with you? Do you have any advice to share with others for a successful VoIP deployment? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Learn how to structure QoS in a Cisco environment. Check out Ethan Banks' workshop How To Set Up Network QoS for Voice, Video & Data at Interop New York, beginning Sept. 30.

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