Voice over IP might be the wave of the future, but network executives speaking at last week's Voice on the Net 2002 conference made clear that the technology's present is still fraught with doubts.
Users are concerned about how long it will take products and services to mature, whether advanced applications will ever arrive and whether touted cost savings will be realised.
"We don't have the concrete evidence at hand right now that VoIP will save money or guarantee new revenues," said Jeremy George, director of advanced networks at Yale University.
Bill Danz, manager of Wells Fargo Services' corporate voice and networks division, is worried that IP voice might actually cost more than using traditional PBXs. While VoIP gear is less expensive than PABXs, its life span is only three years vs10 or more with PABXs. And because the technology is new, it requires more frequent software upgrades, which costs time for staff and injects doubt about network stability after changes.
"Now we have a plain vanilla environment that's been working well and has end users satisfied," he said.
Danz said the lack of a clear need for VoIP makes it a tough sell with corporate budgeters. "VoIP is not a hot-button item with corporate executives," he said. If VoIP can support new applications that save money or generate new revenue, then the executives will listen, he added.
The life span of IP voice gear is of concern to Thomas Magee, communications services manager for Mentor Graphics, a software design tools maker with 67 sites worldwide. The three-year replacement cycle he hears about for VoIP gear would radically alter the replacement schedule at Mentor. "All of a sudden change is happening fast to something you're not used to seeing change at all," he said.
There are also doubts about whether voice and data staffs can get along well enough to pull off a VoIP implementation, but VoIP rollouts can also strengthen an IT staff, some observers say.
Kevin Wetzel, manager of global network services at HB Fuller, warned against promoting VoIP cost savings that include laying off the telecomms staff. Rather, the case should be presented that the data and voice teams will be cross-trained. That gives the company more IT staffers capable of handling voice and data issues and lets the IT staff members extend their knowledge. Also, the more staff that can handle a certain type of problem, the less often each member is on call with a pager to handle emergencies after hours, he said. (HB Fuller worked with an integrator to get its VoIP system running, then took matters into its own hands.)"The time to support it is pretty low once it's implemented," Wetzel said.