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VoIP Raises Its Voice

The gates for VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) seem to be fully opened now. With momentum moving toward a deregulated environment seemingly by the day -- and every significant telecom player jumping into the market -- there's not much doubt anymore that this is the telecom trend of 2004, one that will have a significant effect on networks and network administrators alike.

The regulatory framework, evenly split in major markets between moves toward regulation and a more laissez-faire approach, has tipped toward freedom with two recent developments: Moves by California, previously a strong-regulation market, toward a more wait-and-see approach, and a bill filed in Congress by Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) to establish an unregulated market at both the federal and state levels. Sununu's bill, were it to pass, would particularly cement the temptation that telcos are feeling to cast aside their circuit-switched networks, which just happen to be subject to access regulations and taxes.

In fact, analysts think that's just what recent Verizon moves are aiming at, as the company undertakes a huge expansion of its IP backbone. Other huge players such as AT&T and British Telecom are following suit; AT&T is already touting its long-established worldwide IP backbone and its history of VoIP at the business level to potential customers. Meanwhile, smaller companies, such as Vonage and Level 3, that have previously been at the forefront of VoIP are scrambling to nail down as much business as they can while the big boys are still ramping up.

For network administrators, VoIP may mean some headaches with regard to costs, network loads, and bandwidth. But the move toward IP-based networks also brings an opportunity to finally have networks that truly integrate voice, video, and data--in other words, true digital convergence.

With the Session Initiation Protocol standard in place to handle converged traffic, and the bigger telcos looking to justify moves to VoIP by selling converged services (which is where analysts think the real big bucks are), network admins could be looking at the next step in their enterprise's network evolution.

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