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Putting a voice to your data Featured

9:35am EDT July 22, 2002

To stay ahead of the competition, your business must maintain a competitive edge.

You've analyzed the marketplace, your customers' needs and capital resources, but have you considered any up-and-coming technologies? Taking advantage of a new technology can place your business ahead of the competition by allowing you to cut costs and improve efficiency or provide your customers with cutting-edge products.

One such technology is Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

The basics

VoIP is the method for sending real-time, digitized voice signals as packets using Internet Protocol (IP) over a public or private data network. The technology is implemented through networks consisting of VoIP gateway switches that interface between the public-switched telephone network (PSTN) and IP networks such as the public Internet or a private data network.

The gateway receives the incoming PSTN call and compresses the voice transmissions into electronic data packets. The packetized voice call is sent over the data network to a destination gateway, which depacketizes and decompresses the call and sends it to the PSTN for call termination.

The benefits

Low-cost long distance and international calling. Because VoIP calls travel over a data network, they are less expensive. Data networks do not charge for the distance a call travels (PSTN does) and they are not regulated (and, therefore, not subject to access and transmission fees).

Many businesses and consumers often save more than 50 percent on their long distance and international calls when using VoIP. Long distance calls using VoIP technology also can consist of PC-to-phone calls over the Internet or Internet-based phone-to-phone calls.

Unified messaging. Provides a single in-box for voice, fax and e-mail messages that are accessible by telephone or PC. With unified messaging, you can access voice mail messages on your PC or e-mail messages via the phone.

Voice-enabled e-commerce. Allows click-to-chat and click-to-conference for enhanced interactivity on Web communities; click-to-talk to a live agent, who in turn, can "push" Web pages and video clips to the customer to help explain a product or provide additional information; and pay-per-use services such as access to information services like news, sports or stock market reports (normally available through Interactive Voice Response -- IVR -- systems, but now available through conversion of Web pages to voice, also called voice portals).

Real-time. Most VoIP calls are in real-time, meaning you are not simply receiving a video stream, but you are "live."

The issues

Although analysts have deemed VoIP one of the next hot technologies, there are still issues to be resolved. Quality of Service (QoS) remains the biggest issue. VoIP calls can experience such QoS issues as speech degradation, packet loss, latency and occasional interference such as echoes.

Interoperability is another issue. As a VoIP call travels through various data networks, it can experience problems with interoperability between networks. A number of leading VoIP carriers are working to resolve these issues.

Is VoIP right for your business?

If you are a consumer or business looking for inexpensive ways to make long distance and international calls, then VoIP may be for you. Or, if you are a business looking at ways to stay connected to your clients, you can use VoIP enhanced services such as unified messaging and follow-me features.

Users who may find VoIP particularly beneficial are college students, call center hosters, business travelers, small- to mid-sizedbusinesses and business with high long distance and international voice and fax call volume.

Tom Cox is vice president of retail sales for ICG Communications. ICG Communications is a fast-growing telecommunications company with a nationwide voice and data network. The company is a competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) and broadband data communications company, as well as a provider of network infrastructure, facilities and management. For more information about ICG, visit www.icgcom.com.


Carrier checklist

If you think VoIP technology may be right for you, determine the following about your potential VoIP carrier:

  • Is the carrier using the public Internet or a private data network? (QoS and reliability are higher in a private data network.)

  • What is the footprint of the carrier's data network? (The larger a carrier's footprint, the less likely your call will have to travel the public Internet for completion.)

  • Do the benefits of VoIP -- low-cost long distance and international calls, VoIP enabled applications such as unified messaging and voice enabled Web pages known as voice portals -- solve your business needs?

  • Does VoIP allow you to better reach your customer base by allowing your business to make inexpensive long distance and international calls and enhanced voice + IP (Internet Protocol) services?