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SMBs To Go Digital Voice In 2011

Digital voice communications, voice over IP and IP PBX will capture a big chunk of the U.S. small and midsize business market next year, but not without significant anxiety. According to a new survey from AMI-Partners ("2010 VoIP Update-U.S. SMB Market"), almost one-third of small (one to 99 employees) and 50 percent of midsize (100 to 999 employees) businesses say that VoIP will become critical to their business operations during the next 12 months.

However, the conversion from analog to digital voice is the single biggest pain point for SMBs, says AMI senior consultant Karen Nielsen. Other pain points include the absence of SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) use and intercompatibility. Nielsen said, "The last several years of recession caused many SMBs to put new technology purchases on hold. Moving into 2011, cost savings, as well as the advanced features available with IP, will impel more and more SMBs to IP architecture implementation."

According to another new U.S. survey ("Lenovo-AMD Small Business Tech Survey"), despite the cost benefits, 70 percent of small businesses are not using VoIP for business calls. Almost nine in 10 (87 percent) are somewhat or not at all familiar with the term "unified communications"--the integration of voice, video, audio and instant messaging tools.

Nielsen says SMBs see the benefits from VoIP in improved staff productivity, streamlined dispersed communications and lower costs. However, the complexity and lack of IT expertise will require SMBs to seek outside suppliers who can "prove that economic benefits stem not only from lower ongoing costs but also from a lower TCO," as well as provide seamless deployment. It's still early days for the vendor market, she says, with the players not fully known and architectures are still being defined.

For the third quarter, eight vendors accounted for more than 80 percent of IP line shipments, according to the Dell'Oro Group ("Enterprise Telephony Quarterly Report"). The top vendors were Aastra, Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, NEC, Shoretel and Siemens.