VoIP fights for position

BUSINESS phone bills never seem to go down. Even a dedicated communications policy may prove ineffective when Telstra decides to jack up line charges [again].

And, while there are plenty of other telecommunications carriers offering a range of cost-competitive services, the effort required to switch providers often appears too great.

Given such a situation, the average business manager might well be frustrated, but whether they are sufficiently frustrated to move towards implementing VoIP is another matter.

A slow take-up rate indicates the business community doesn’t believe VoIP – Voice over Internet Protocol – is the pill for all ills telephonic, despite the potential for it to be so, since high-speed Internet connections have been made available to major centres in the past two years. It’s also true to say that, where it has been adopted, VoIP has frequently been a problem child.

VoIP is notorious for causing distracting delays of up to half a second between when a person speaks and when the listener actually hears what is said. And sometimes, some words just don’t make the journey.

These problems are a legacy of the technology’s need to turn the human voice into digital data packets, transfer those packets along a network, and then turn them back into a voice at the other end. Every so often, some of those packets don’t make the whole journey, especially if the network being used is transferring other data at the same time.

VoIP could be seen as a quasi-reversal of ADSL technology – ADSL involves the transmission of digital data along analogue phone lines, while VoIP transforms analogue voice data into digital packets.

If a company has the right equipment in place, phone calls – and faxes – can be transmitted across the world over the Internet for next to no cost. Indeed, the more long-distance phone calls a company makes, the more money it can save by using VoIP, in theory.

Paul Budde, a Sydney tele-communications consultant, quest-ions whether VoIP is still useful for international communications, given that the cost of international phone calls has fallen dramatically in recent years.

As well as this factor, he says, at least half of all business calls are to local numbers, but only a small percentage of calls are to overseas destinations.

“If you analyse it, you cannot save anything on your local calls, you can’t save anything on your access, you can only save a little bit on your long distance [calls],” Mr Budde said.

“If you are a company that makes a lot of calls to Vietnam or Germany or England or America, then yes, it makes sense; but otherwise, it doesn’t make sense.

“It comes down to an extremely small niche market of an extremely small number of companies that are basically making a lot of daily calls to international destinations.”

Nonetheless, Mr Budde suggests up to 90 per cent of large corporations conduct internal communications over IP networks exclusively.

In this instance, VoIP is also useful if a company has a number of offices, be they in one city or across the country. The company could set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) between its offices and pay nothing for inter-office calls.

The catch here is that both the caller and receiver have to be on the same network, either virtual or real. If a call is made to a normal, non-VoIP phone, that call has to pass through a Telstra exchange, for which the caller is billed.

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