Voice and IP Communications

What Is IP Communications?

With its long history and deployment to every corner of the globe, Internet Protocol (IP) is increasingly viewed as more than just a way to transport data, but also as a tool that simplifies and streamlines a wide range of business applications. Telephony is the most obvious example, with voice over IP (VoIP) and IP telephony becoming increasingly popular with large corporations to consumers alike. Understanding the terms is a first step toward learning the potential of this technology:

Voice over IP (VoIP) refers to a way to carry phone calls over an IP data network, whether on the Internet or an organization's own internal network. One of the primary attractions of VoIP is its ability to help companies reduce expenses because telephone calls travel over the data network rather than the phone company's network. 

IP telephony encompasses the full suite of telephony services enabled by VoIP, including the interconnection of phones for actual communications; related services such as billing and dialing plans; and basic features such as conferencing, transfer, forward, and hold. These services might previously have been provided by a private branch exchange (PBX). 

IP Communications evolves the concept another step to include business applications that enhance communications to enable applications such as unified messaging, integrated contact centers, and rich-media conferencing that combines voice, data, and video. 

Unified communications takes IP communications a step further by using such technologies as Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and presence along with mobility solutions to unify and simply all forms of communications, independent of location, time, or device. Users can reach one another at any time based on their preferences, and can communicate through any media using whichever device they prefer. Unified communications brings together multiple phones and devices, along with multiple networks (fixed, Internet, cable, satellite, mobile) to enable geographical independence, facilitate the integration of communications with business processes, streamline operations, and improve productivity and profitability. 

Public Internet phone calling uses the Internet for connecting phone calls, especially for consumers. But most businesses are using IP telephony across their own managed private networks because it allows them to better handle security and service quality. Using their own networks, companies have more control in ensuring that voice quality is as good as, if not better than, the services they would have previously experienced with their traditional phone system.

 When voice and data travel over the same network, the need to create and maintain a separate telephone network disappears. "That's one of the benefits of moving to a converged environment, versus maintaining two separate networks," says Helen Chan, senior analyst at the Yankee Group research firm. "A huge cost structure is required to maintain two systems."

"Businesses in which PCs are not prevalent for each worker, such as manufacturing, healthcare, or retail, would benefit from an intelligent phone. An intelligent phone used for database information access as an alternative to a PC is likely to be less costly to own, operate, and maintain, and far easier to interact with."

Allan Sulkin, President and chief analyst with TEQConsult Group and a 25-year consultant on telecommunications technology.

 Installation costs for new systems drop by 40% to 60% because a company only needs to purchase and install one infrastructure instead of two. 

A Yankee Group study showed that VoIP systems were about 22% less expensive to operate than circuit-switched networks. 

Costs associated with employee moves, adds, and changes are virtually eliminated because the tasks can be handled in-house simply by moving an IP phone into a different network jack. 

As unified communications applications become more prevalent in the workplace, more organizations are also realizing the associated benefits. Results documented by Sage Research plainly demonstrate that unified communications applications deliver a multitude of benefits--both in terms of employee time savings and financial savings. Unified communications applications not only facilitate productivity improvements for mobile employees, they can also enhance the way in which all employees communicate. 

Organizations using unified communications clients saved an average of 32 minutes daily per employee because presence technology enabled staff to reach one another on the first try. 

Use of softphones resulted in an average savings of $1,727 per month in cell phone and long distance charges. Mobile workers also saved 40 minutes each day, enjoyed greater communications convenience, and generated annual productivity gains of 3.5 days per year through business continuity impact. 

Organizations using unified messaging reported that employees saved 43 minutes per day from more efficient message management while mobile workers saved 55 minutes per day. 

Companies using integrated voice and Web conferencing reported a 30% reduction in conferencing expenses (by making integrated conferencing capabilities available in-house and on-network) and an average savings of $1,700 per month in travel costs. 

For others, the savings may simply come from having reduced hardware requirements and operating expenses.

And in today's dynamic business environment, perhaps the most important benefit comes from having a phone system that can change and grow at a moment's notice, enabling new capabilities for more effective communications, streamlining business processes, and improving profitability.

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