Optus: Australian VoIP uptake doubling

The uptake of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) within Optus network almost doubled in the period 2002-2003, according to results published in the latest Optus IP Index.

The report, which details the usage trends of Optus’ IP networking customers, found VoIP has recently become increasingly popular.

The key benefits it offers are promises of new telephony applications and reductions in call costs, especially over long-distance.

However, the rate of adoption was sluggish in the years following its inception - despite the allure of applications such as teleconferencing and powerful reporting and tracking.

Discussing the Optus report findings at a roundtable in Sydney earlier this month, representatives from Optus and its key IP networking partner, Cisco Systems, debated the degree of cost-savings VoIP offers and the hidden “human” cost of poor quality of service (QoS).

One key problem identified was that when applied over public Internet channels, VoIP performance could be hampered – if packets were not delivered in a timely fashion, delays could result that may make a normal phone call unworkable.

In explaining the recent surge of interest in VoIP, Optus cited “the demonstrated ability of Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS)-based networks to prioritise traffic” – resulting in increased confidence in the ability to run critical applications such as voice.

MPLS is a standards-approved technology that sets up a specific path for each sequence of packets, reducing load on routers and allowing easy management for quality of service.

Optus’ message is that by employing a “carrier grade” IP VPN, the performance of VoIP can be made reliably robust. This advice shouldn’t be surprising. Optus had just launched its latest VoIP service, Optus IP Centrex.

Centrex is exactly this sort of decentralised service. It allows customers to avoid the difficulties of guaranteeing quality of service for VoIP and other network applications.

However the surge in VoIP across its network is due to a mixture of self-managed voice services, as well as managed voice like the Centrex offering.

Managed voice services took up a modest percentage of usage at 14 per cent in 2003, compared to self-managed services, which grew by 30 per cent in the same period.

Considering the apparently obvious cost savings and extra features VoIP offers, one might wonder why large scale adoption hadn’t occurred sooner.

“Interestingly, most of the time it’s lack of awareness,” products director with Optus, Christophe Bur, said. “It’s not fear of security [or] fear of the technology not being stable.”

Cisco Australia and NZ director of channels and commercial, Kip Cole, said he believed the adoption rate was normal.

“What you’re seeing, I think, in voice over IP is a classical adoption curve,” he said. “Three years ago, we went through the early adopters, the innovators.”

But he didn’t consider voice alone to be driving the adoption.

“They’re not buying voice over IP because it’s IP,” he said. “They’re buying it because it’s a contemporary voice solution that provides convergence mobility and measured service opportunity.”

Optus’ voice over IP projections for 2004 see self-managed voice more than doubling again from 30 per cent to 56 per cent. Managed voices is expected to make a giant leap from 14 per cent to 57 per cent.

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