Some 80 per cent of all voice traffic will run over Internet Protocol (IP) in the next four years, according to William Schrader, founder, chairman and CEO of PSINet, a worldwide Internet service provider.
Speaking at NetEvents USA 99, a worldwide network industry press and analyst symposium, Schrader noted that the current use of the term VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol), is too "shallow" and it will soon be so pervasive that everyone will be unable to imagine a time without it. He also predicted a flat charge rate for voice traffic in five years.
But while five years is a reasonable timeframe for VoIP providers to match the quality currently offered on the public switched telephone network, it is too soon for broad-scale implementation, said John Armstrong, principal analyst with Dataquest.
"It's going to take some time because there's a lot of infrastructure that needs to be upgraded on the network," noted Armstrong. "So in terms of general broad availability, I'd say the time frame is longer than five years."
Still, vendors are optimistic that organisations will not need to completely overhaul their systems to converge data and voice on their networks.
"The key success to convergence is how well products are integrated with existing infrastructure," said Chuck Olson, worldwide research and development, Hewlett-Packard. "So I don't see people throwing out traditional phone switches for IP phones."
"Companies are unwilling to part with the services their PBX systems provide just so they can get cheaper rates," said Dan Taylor, managing director of telecommunications, Aberdeen Group. "From the enterprise side, a workable VoIP solution has to integrate with the organisation's existing PBX system to preserve their infrastructure investment."
Services and applications will also drive the growth voice and data convergence, said Robert Harbison, chief technical officer, Starvox. The company provides enterprise-level products and applications for VoIP implementation, or what it calls network telephony.
IP telephony can offer features which PBX (private branch exchange) today cannot provide, Harbison said, adding that PBX also cannot interwork when there are different types of PBXs in the network.