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by Scott Bennett

Pain-free VoIP

Opinion
Aug 09, 20043 mins
Small and Medium BusinessVoIP

Timing the conversion carefully ensures a quick return

Timing the conversion carefully ensures a quick return.

Editor’s note: Technology Partners is a regular column written by members of the Information Technology Solution Providers Alliance.

Small businesses know switching to voice over IP will save them money. Trouble is, first they have to spend money swapping out existing phone systems — a notion that keeps many away. But there’s a trick to implementing VoIP that ensures a quick return on investment. It all comes down to good timing.  

If you already have a high-quality data network, most of the cost will come from new telephone equipment, namely, devices that connect traditional phones to the Internet. But if your data network is already strained to capacity, you’ll need to upgrade it first.

If your company times the conversion carefully, you can make the transition less painful and boost ROI. Consider switching to VoIP only if:

  • You currently use IP Centrex lines, which allow for phone and Internet service on the same network. These lines are extremely expensive, so moving to VoIP will immediately reduce costs.

  • You’re moving to a brand-new office building. Since no wiring will have been installed, it will be simple for your company to create the consolidated data and voice network you need.

  • You’re nearing the end of your PBX lease or service agreement, or your current phone system is becoming obsolete.

  • Your company maintains offices in different area codes, or your employees place a large number of long-distance calls. A VoIP service will immediately eliminate toll charges for domestic calls.

If none of these circumstances apply, hold off, but start thinking ahead. Find out when your current PBX lease or service agreement will expire. Consider when your business might move to a new location or purchase an upgraded network. Time your VoIP switch to coincide with these plans, which will decrease the financial pain and make implementation easier.

If you find the time is right, now you need to thoroughly review your current network — everything from computing power and memory to routers and servers. Most importantly, you need to evaluate the amount of bandwidth available through your high-speed connection. It must have enough capacity to handle voice traffic without affecting call quality, losing calls, impeding e-mail or slowing Internet traffic.

To figure out the amount of unused bandwidth on your network, test it when it’s under the greatest stress. Find a time when the maximum number of employees typically check voice mail and answer e-mail, say 9 a.m. on a Tuesday morning.

Now analyze the results of this test. If the additional capacity is not enough to handle voice traffic, discuss the results with your service provider. It can tell you how much additional bandwidth you need and the cost.

Next, decide whether your in-house IT staff should deploy and manage the system. Consider your staff’s level of networking knowledge and availability to handle the project. If they can’t handle it, consider choosing a managed service. This can include equipment and software, either installed on-site or hosted by a service provider.

Bennett, vice president of the  Information Technology Solution Providers Alliance, is also a principal in Dallas professional services firm ChangeAgent.