Harnessing The IP Advantage

When it comes to network connections, do you have one or two in your office? Take a look around: is there one wire connected to your phone and another connected to your computer? 

In a perfect world – especially when it comes to security – it would be nice to have the funds to build and maintain dedicated networks that carry only voice or only video or only data. But transport efficiencies, advancing technologies and today’s fiscal climate are demanding not three networks, but one network that can handle your organization’s unified voice, video and data communications requirements.

What IP Telephony Can Do 

Government sites of all sizes are replacing their traditional PBX-based PSTN phone systems with IP Telephony to reduce costs. Savings can be realized by reducing infrastructure and operating costs because IP Telephony systems share a single infrastructure across multiple offices for voice and data, and these systems are easier to manage and change with the needs of the business.

Ask Networx awardees AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, Qwest and L3. Ask leading manufacturers such as Cisco, Avaya, IBM and Juniper. All sing the praises of IP Telephony because it can produce both cost savings and significant business benefits inside the agency and with partners, suppliers and customers.

In addition, agencies can automate administrative tasks, such as “moves, adds, and changes,” and may experience lower charges for long-distance calling and conference-call hosting. Organizations are benefitting from cost savings and beginning to realize the full potential of IP Telephony. They are extending the capabilities of telephony to collaboration and business applications to deliver business advantages around increased productivity, streamlined business processes and increased customer satisfaction.

Here’s a sample of what a complete IP Telephony suite with on one easy-to-manage system—or even part of a system shared with other applications can deliver.

You can integrate your voice, collaboration and business applications to unify communications, streamline business processes and boost customer satisfaction and loyalty; and connect co-workers, suppliers, partners and customers to improve productivity and collaboration.

So, if you work in a two network office with separate voice and data networks, your two network days may be numbered. More and more government agencies are upgrading their infrastructures and are in the process of moving voice, video and data to one network that is not only more efficient to manage, but costs less to operate.

To bring voice and data – historically two separate operations – together is a cultural as well as a technology issue. But to get their toes in the water, many organizations are following a path that starts with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) pilots or limited installations.

Then it segues into IP Telephony (as opposed to Internet Telephony – there is a difference – see sidebar page s9) with its increased IP applications capabilities. Finally, the evolution is complete when a total Unified Communications (UC) capability is in place.

That timetable – if the new Administration has to say about it – will be quicker than some organizations are prepared for. So, get ready to invest in technology refreshes that lead to better ways of doing business.

Common Benefits
The most common benefits of IP Telephony are reducing infrastructure and operating costs because IP Telephony systems have a single infrastructure for voice and data; and organizational advantages by increasing productivity and collaboration. But there are issues such as: Quality of Service (QoS); security, technology refresh plans, budgets and sometimes, just selling senior management on a plan that takes an agency from Point A to Point B – or the past to the future. 

These issues are not lost on government senior executives and practitioners such as DOE’s Pete Tseronis.

“First there was VoIP and the realization we can do that. Now there is the term IP Telephony and it is a term that is being redefined to be more than just voice,” explained Tseronis who is Deputy Associate CIO in the Office of Technology and Innovation at DOE, in a recent interview with 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media. “We are moving towards this concept of Unified Communications and converged communications.”

VoIP Is The Building Block
VoIP defines a way to carry voice calls over an IP network including the digitization and packetization of “voice streams” explained Tseronis. “Voice over the Internet Protocol, using the Internet to make phone calls, that’s Voice over IP.”

A common notion of customers is that it is necessary – or even preferred – that voice comes out of one wire, while Internet and TV come over separate wire. And never shall the two meet.

“You are sending television, you are sending data, you are doing faxes, you are sending information over one wire, so why not throw in voice,” countered Tseronis.

“Because voice ultimately is data; it’s no different than video and it’s no different than your email and your data. So voice, video and data became this concept of converged Unified Communications. But Voice over IP was the start. That was the first initial, yes, I want to do Voice over the Internet. That’s what you see today with Comcast Triple Play. That’s what you see with Vonage.”

But VoIP installations will always have to answer the age old question of customers worrying about their dial tone and whether if Internet service is cut, will phone service go down as well? If government is going to truly move to being a one pipe enterprise, that objection that is going to have to be overcome; even as phones with hours of battery life promise to keep the lines open no matter the emergency.

IP Telephony Is More Than VoIP
“IP Telephony utilizes the VoIP standards to create a telephony system where higher level features such as advanced call routing, voice mail, contact centers, etc.,
can be utilized,” Tseronis noted.

“When you pick up that phone in my office here, that’s got a direct line separate from the CAT 5 cable that feeds that computer, I have two networks running in this office,” Tseronis said when describing how DOE networks are currently organized.

Don’t Call IP Telephony Internet Telephony

To the untrained eye IP Telephony and Internet Telephony might seem like the same thing. Not so. If it is consumer grade, like Vonage or Skype, call it Internet Telephony according to Sprint’s Joel Whitaker.

IP Telephony is Internet Protocol Telephony and it is different (than Internet Telephony). I think of it as a business class version,” explained Whitaker.

The uncertainty of dial tone, voice quality and how 911 works are all obstacles for consumer grade Vonage and Skype Internet Telephony solutions said Whitaker. That’s not going to happen with a carrier backed IP Telephony backed solution.

I tend to differentiate Internet Telephony from IP telephony in that way explained Whitaker.

“If you just want a simple service and you want it cheap and you are not concerned about security, voice quality and always being able to make calls, then Vonage or Skype are fine. If you want something that’s real, then you need more of a carrier grade version.”

Whitaker thinks many have a ‘bad taste’ when it comes to making calls over the Internet. But government and industry are not the consumer markets.

“If you think about how we do it in the business space of IP Telephony, it’s night and day, it’s totally different and there are multiple ways to go about it,” said Whitaker.

But in his previous job at Education, “I had one cable coming out of the wall and it would differentiate between my phone and my laptop and the camera that was working on the top of my desk,” said Tseronis.

“Voice, video and data were all coming out of one wire. IP Telephony evolved into asking ‘what are the services that we want to start pushing over IP that are beyond voice’,” noted Tseronis.

“Telephony doesn’t have to just be to pick up the phone, punch in some codes and talk to somebody,” said Tseronis. 

Telephony is the piece where you are getting voice mail, caller ID, call forwarding, looking at your missed calls. If you looked at an IP phone, just having the ability to use the Internet or accessing applications and services such as E911, call trees and IVR systems, then you are getting into more of the applications of beyond just VoIP Tseronis added.

The Carrier View
As one of government’s chosen Networx providers, Sprint professionals such as Joel Whitaker work with government on VoIP and IP Telephony implementations.

Whitaker describes VoIP as the larger umbrella with all kinds of components underneath it. “VoIP is the super center of all the stuff we are going to talk about. VoIP is simply the capability of encapsulating voice into packets rather than circuit switched stuff like we do on the legacy public switched networks.”

VoIP includes the transport component, which typically is a dedicated Internet connection from a major carrier that has to be able to offer class of service and all kinds of SLAs with respect to jitter class packets with all those kinds of things that you need,” said Whitaker.  “I would tell you that every major company in the country has done that and is going down that path.”

The next natural step according to Whitaker is for organizations to upgrade their infrastructure to something that is more IP enabled (e.g. an IP PBX) where you can offer features based on IP (e.g. what Tseronis said) rather than old legacy systems.

You’ve got a couple of different options when you are doing that said Whitaker. “You can either buy it yourself or you can look at having somebody else manage and maintain it for you or you can have a hosted version of the product.”

“So IP Telephony, the way I’ve defined it is taking that next step to put in an IP feature set with an IP PBX type model.”

Taking that next step takes a plan. Read the rest of this Snapshot and learn about some of the things you can do. But if you ask Tseronis, he’ll say the path is clear.

“Build a strong business case. Sell the vision to the highest level. Build a single communications team. Set end user expectations accurately. Facilitate the transition and acceptance through training. Implement security best practices a la the NIST SP 800-58 guidelines.

“Ensure that there’s a high degree of availability; meaning with your network if something goes down you build in redundancy,” said Tseronis. Finally, “have a plan in place and show ROI – plain and simple.”