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TELECOM & INTERNET | Contributed Content, Singapore
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Bruce Downing

What Singapore businesses need to know about IP telephony

BY BRUCE DOWNING

Globally, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers have seen rising adoption rates, particularly within the enterprise sector. Frost & Sullivan reported Singapore’s IP telephony market revenue in 2012 was US$ 41 million and grew by 2.1 per cent from the previous year, whilst traditional telephony’s revenue was only US$ 6.1 million, having dropped by 15.2 per cent.

In Singapore, IP telephony continues to comprise the most significant proportion of unified communications (UC) spending of all applications used within an enterprise for business communications. From the total UC expenditure in 2012 of US$136.1 million, IP telephony represented 30 per cent – meaning that businesses in Singapore are spending more on IP telephony than they are on conferencing and collaboration, email, contact centre apps, instant messaging/presence, unified messaging or mobility.

Today’s employees want to be able to collaborate and communicate wherever, whenever and however it is convenient – and UC solutions give them that freedom. With a UC system that integrates VoIP telephony with other UC components into a seamless business environment, organisations can boost employee productivity and lower costs.

However, a UC deployment must be carefully planned and executed to ensure the move to an IP phone system is a success. Below are seven best practices to follow for a successful IP telephony migration:

1.         Conduct a Network Assessment

Do a thorough assessment of your network to determine whether an upgrade, additional capacity or segmentation is required to avoid congestion and bottlenecks. Your network may be able to adequately support data applications, but additional measures may need to be taken in order to support IP voice over the top. VoIP is highly sensitive to packet loss and jitter, which may result in poor speech quality or dropped calls.

In addition, network switches need to support Power over Ethernet (PoE) to connect and power the IP phones, which may entail upgrading older switches. To ensure call quality, Virtual LANs (VLANs) can be set up to isolate voice traffic on the local network, as well as add quality of service capabilities to WAN connections in different locations.  

2.         Consider the State of Your Wireless LAN

Many workers want to be able to use their smartphones and tablets for voice and video calls whilst in the office. However, these applications are highly demanding on the Wi-Fi network, especially if the network was designed for guest or casual usage. If you are using old wireless LAN technologies, an upgrade may be needed to the higher performance 802.11n network. You may also need to add both capacity and coverage to support voice and video.

3.         Conduct a Pilot Test of the new IP Phone System

Set up a trial or proof-of-concept test of your UC system before the full implementation. A pilot gives your IT team a chance to familiarise themselves with what will be needed to deliver a good user experience and a reliable, secure UC service, whilst uncovering any last-minute issues before implementation.

In addition, the business can gain confidence in knowing that the chosen solution works as advertised. Create a plan to test a variety of basic and advanced call scenarios – inbound, outbound, internal, external, transfer, forwarding etc. – to make sure that calls are set up quickly and the sound quality is as expected. You should also test capabilities such as conferencing, instant messaging, and hot desking.

4.         Plan the Migration

An IP solution can typically provide a flexible, staggered rollout in phases to different locations or departments, so that the legacy system operates in parallel, until the migration is complete. Consider the various migration paths available in terms of user impact, operational risk and technical complexity. A phased migration gives you a longer runway to identify and resolve problems and to migrate on your own terms.

5.         Address Disaster Recovery Requirements in the Planning Stage

With voice services being a mission-critical application for many organisations, it is important to understand and consider dependencies on various components in a solution. A ‘what-if’ scenario assessment can help identify break points and develop a rational set of requirements in line with expected availability in various circumstances. Each site should have an appropriate level of survivability so as to be able to sustain critical operations in the event connectivity or remote services are unavailable.

6.         Train Users and Administrators Before Migration

If you are moving from a legacy phone system to a UC solution, your workforce will have new and more efficient ways to communicate. Keep in mind that an IP telephony solution that is simple to use and manage shortens the learning curve and fosters rapid adoption. Be sure to provide training and quick-start guides to help users and administrators adapt quickly and optimise the new business phone system.

7.         Consider the Security of Your UC system

As we have already highlighted, unlike a legacy phone system, an IP phone system shares the network with data and other applications, which necessitates additional steps for security. You need to safeguard the UC solution against malware and other attacks that could bring your organisation’s communications to a halt. Having a firewall is essential.

If you are using SIP trunks, you should have a session border controller as well. If your industry is highly regulated, you may want to consider encryption for selected employees’ communications, such as those in the finance department, as well as your top executives.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Bruce Downing

Bruce Downing

Bruce Downing is the Managing Director for Asia and South Africa at ShoreTel Inc. He is responsible for managing operations, sales, channels, and the go-to-market strategy across the ShoreTel business in the Asian and South African regions.

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