Five Reasons Not To Implement VoIP

Think VoIP is for everybody? Think again. There are plenty of reasons why VoIP might not be right for your network -- yet. Here five reasons to wait or hold

July 5, 2005

6 Min Read
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After a decade of technological hang-ups and poor connections, voice over IP (VoIP) has finally reached critical mass. It has gone from being the perpetual technology of tomorrow to the must-have technology of today. Everyone, it seems, is jumping on the VoIP train.

But maybe they shouldn't be, just yet.

"It isn't for everyone," says Info-Tech Research analyst Carmi Levy. "Yes, it's promising, but it's not a communications panacea and, like any disruptive technology, there are a while lot of caveats to keep in mind before you jump in."

None of this is to say that VoIP is not the wave of the future. The technology is turning up everywhere, from carrier backbone networks to IP-enabled mobile phones for some very good reasons. In theory, at least, it offers a level of control, flexibility and economy unheard-of in traditional telephony.

"If I was a betting person, I'd put money on VoIP being where voice communications are headed," Levy says. "It's almost a no-brainer. They key issue, though, is one of timing and maturity. The technology, the regulatory environment and a whole lot of other things are still unsettled, and we're not at a point where everything has gelled. So organizations have to ask 'do I jump in, or do I wait to see where it goes?'"Indeed, with that question in mind, Levy says that, for all the excitement and hype around VoIP, there are still some very good reasons not to implement the technology...for now, at least.

Internet Insecurity: As the onslaughts of worms, viruses, spyware and spam have shown only too well, the Internet can be a nasty place. Unlike the proprietary, controlled, and safe environs of traditional telephony and the public switched telephone network (PSTN), virtually any traffic on an IP network is vulnerable to attack. And considering the mission-critical nature of voice communications, a worm that is only a nuisance when it takes down a Web server could cause catastrophic damage to a phone system.

"We know how insecure the Internet is for e-mail and Web servers," Levy says. "And you're going to put your phone system on that?"

While most companies almost expect mail servers and Web servers to go down from time to time, Levy points out that few companies can take a shut down of their voice communications as casually. "Companies are much more sensitive to voice connectivity," he says. "No phones usually mean no business."

The bottom line is that VoIP security is still in its infancy, and if you can't guarantee the availability of your phones, you might not be ready for VoIP.Shifting Regulatory Sands: The Federal Communications Commission's recent Emergency-911 decision made it clear that regulatory bodies still haven't made up their minds about VoIP. In a way, it's neither fish nor fowl -- not quite telephony, but not just data -- and that could mean that regulators still have a fair bit of rehulating left to do, Levy says."Not a week goes by without a regulatory body like the FCC or the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) ruling on something, or vendors complaining," he says. "How are you supposed to make plans for a mission critical solution when the landscape is so unsettled?"

To make matters worse, there's no way to predict what the next regulatory issue will be. E-911 in VoIP wasn't an issue until someone died, but the FCC ruling has had the effect of forcing vendors and service providers back to the proverbial drawing board to work out how they're going to do it.

"I think the vendors thought 'if we don't mention it, no one will notice,'" Levy says. "The truth is that we don't know what will be regulated next, but something will come up. Whatever plans you make, plan to change them."

The Upgrade Cost: VoIP is not quite as simple as some vendors make it sound. Although, IP voice is data, it is not just data. Unlike traffic like e-mail and web pages, it is highly sensitive to network conditions and congestion. You can't hear a delayed packet in an e-mail but you sure can in a VoIP call. And the amount of traffic generated by VoIP can be staggering, so if your network can't handle the load -- and most it can't, says Levy -- your voice communications will barely work.

"You're taking an entirely new data type and dumping it onto your network," he says. "And your network is supposed to support that? This is something that vendors never talk about, but you have to upgrade your network to do this stuff."If you aren't ready to pay the pay the price of the upgrade, then it's probably better to put off the VoIP migration, at least for now. "Costs can spiral out of control," Levy says. "This is an immensely high-bandwidth application, you could be talking about a whole infrastructure replacement."

Bad Timing: This might not be a big problem if your network is due for an upgrade anyway. And Levy says a good percentage of enterprise local area networks (LANs) probably are. "Timing is everything," he says. "If you time the migration to the roadmap you've already planned, then you're not incurring any unexpected expenses."

The problem, however, is that VoIP holds out such promise that many organizations are willing to throw out their long-term planning to implement it. Levy's advice is simple: don't do it.

"If you installed a new phone system a year and a half ago, then it's just wrong to jump on VoIP just because it's the hot new technology," he says. "If it's off your roadmap, then you're just not ready."

The Skills Gap: The important thing to remember is that VoIP is not an evolutionary change to traditional telephony, it's a whole new and revolutionary technology. With that in mind, it's entirely possible that no one in your organization has the skill set to see a VoIP implementation through to completion. The telecom department knows voice, but not IP networks, and it's quite possible that, despite their eagerness, your IT staff might not have the skills to do voice.

"That's where a lot of the real problems lie," Levy says. "It costs a lot of money to bring your staff up to speed on this technology, and if you're not able to do that, then you're not ready to implement it."Indeed, it is almost guaranteed that a VoIP implementation will have ramifications far beyond technology and infrastructure issues. "You might be looking at a process of firing and hiring, or training," Levy says. "Either way, you're looking at a substantial expense."

Of course, organizations that last upgraded their telephone systems for Y2K compliance before the turn of the century might have to swallow the bitter pill of retraining, hiring and network upgrades, and implement VoIP anyway. If you can sit on the sidelines for a couple of more years, though, Levy says that the best strategy is to wait until both the technology and your organization are ready.

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