Users reluctant to embrace LAN telephony

Although vendors are promoting the convergence of voice and data as part of the next significant networking trend, many users are sceptical of sending phone calls over their LANs. They see little or no benefit to this approach to handling voice traffic.

Cisco Systems, 3Com and others are starting to push IP telephones that plug into LAN switches as a successor to the ubiquitous and long-proven private branch exchanges (PBX) that have handled voice traffic for decades.

"My gut feeling is that [the promised] savings are perceived, not actual," said Eric Pylko, global infrastructure coordinator at Eastman Kodak in Rochester, New York. "And how will these IP phones be integrated with your voice-mail system? This vs a new PBX doesn't make sense."

Users are more likely to squeeze as much time out of their PBXs after they're written off than to decide to make the capital expenditure to replace the system with a LAN telephony package, Pylko said. Analysts said that users typically depreciate PBXs over five- to 10-year periods.

"I just don't see where the cost savings are yet, and wonder if you want normal [networked] business applications and bandwidth-intensive video streaming and conferencing impacted by the voice traffic," said Jim Fey, director of strategic technologies at PMI Mortgage in San Francisco. "If you have a PBX that's working the way you want, why would you want to go through the hassle [of changing]?"

George Deyett is slightly more open to the idea of LAN telephony, but won't seriously consider it until the technology matures. "It's in its infancy now," said Deyett, telecommunications operations manager at Polaroid in Waltham, Massachusetts. "PBXs provide more features and can be tied to other systems like automated attendants."

PBXs support roughly 500 calling features on their phones, while LAN telephony systems support 20 to 25, said Maribel Lopez, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. IP phones support basic features such as call holding and call waiting, but not more sophisticated features such as an integrated directory, she said.

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