Is VoIP a good bet for the enterprise?

Voice over IP is ready for prime time in the enterprise network for three reasons. First, voice over IP helps companies begin to integrate corporate data applications with voice applications. Second, voice over IP can bring significant savings on international calls. Third, an organization doesn't have to "go it alone" to make the transition to a voice-over-IP network.

Voice over IP enables applications that are not available from today's pubic switched telephone network (PSTN) voice switching equipment. Enterprise call centers can use voice over IP to voice-enable Web pages. Using voice-over-IP-enabled browsers and a "click-to-talk" feature, customers, road warriors and telecommuters can connect across Internet and intranet connections. Integrated e-mail, voice mail storage and call records are also made possible using voice over IP. A calling party can leave voice mail that is stored on the called party's e-mail system. The called party can retrieve his voice mail and click on the text message to return the call or leave a voice mail reply.

Voice over IP can save the enterprise customer big bucks on international calls. When I visited Kuala Lumpur recently, a call from Malaysia to the US cost US$1.10 per minute over the PSTN. But by using a high-speed Internet connection in my hotel room at a flat rate of $18 per day, I could launch a voice-over-IP call for 8 cents per minute to connect to the US PSTN. A two-hour voice-over-IP call offered a $104.40 savings.

Applications that launch a Web-initiated call can also create savings for enterprise customers. For example, by downloading NetSpeak's plug-in, businesses in China can let customers anywhere in the world contact them at no charge using a click-to-talk feature.

However, from a cost-savings standpoint, implementing voice over IP for domestic enterprise calls doesn't make much sense. Domestic PSTN long-distance costs 3 cents to 4 cents per minute; domestic voice-over-IP calls on public voice-over-IP networks and VPNs cost about the same.

When making the transition to voice over IP, enterprise telecommunications managers have many architectural choices, and wholesale changes in existing equipment are not needed. The company can upgrade from traditional PBX configurations with existing vendors such as Nortel Networks Corp., NEC Corp. and Avaya Inc., or install a next-generation IP PBX. Premises-based voice-over-IP gateways from incumbents such as Lucent Technologies Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. and new entrants like Vpacket and Clarent Corp. let enterprise customers use existing equipment. Or companies can opt for end-to-end voice-over-IP services, such as those recently announced by AT&T Corp. and WorldCom Inc. This option lets businesses combine voice, fax and data traffic on a single integrated IP connection managed by the service provider.

Indeed, voice over IP is ready for the corporation - it brings new integrated applications, saves money on international calls and many partners are ready to help users implement it.

Hettick is vice president of consulting at TeleChoice Inc., a telecommunications market strategy consultancy. He can be reached at

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