Eighty per cent of all voice traffic will run over Internet Protocol (IP) in the next four years, according to William L. Schrader, founder, chairman and CEO of PSINet, a leading world-wide Internet service provider.
Speaking at NetEvents USA 99, a world-wide network industry press and analyst symposium, Schrader noted that the current use of the term VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol), is too "shallow" and it will soon be so pervasive that everyone will be unable to imagine a time without it. He also predicted a flat charge rate for voice traffic in five years.
But while five years is a reasonable timeframe for VoIP providers to match the quality currently offered on the public switched telephone network, it is too soon for broad-scale implementation, said John Armstrong, principal analyst with Dataquest.
"It's going to take some time because there's a lot of infrastructure that needs to be upgraded on the network," noted Armstrong. "So in terms of general broad availability, I'd say the time frame is longer than five years."
Still, vendors are optimistic that organisations will not need to completely overhaul their systems to converge data and voice on their networks.
"The key success to convergence is how well products are integrated with existing infrastructure," said Chuck Olson, world-wide research and development, Hewlett-Packard. "So I don't see people throwing out traditional phone switches for IP phones."
"Companies are unwilling to part with the services their PBX systems provide just so they can get cheaper rates," said Dan Taylor, managing director of telecommunications, Aberdeen Group. "From the enterprise side, a workable VoIP solution has to integrate with the organisation's existing PBX system to preserve their infrastructure investment."
Services and applications will also drive the growth voice and data convergence, said Robert Harbison, chief technical officer (CTO), Starvox. The company provides enterprise level products and applications for VoIP implementation, or what it calls network telephony.
IP telephony can offer features which PBX (private branch exchange) today cannot provide, Harbison said, adding that PBX also cannot interwork when there are different types of PBXs in the network.
VoIP applications, such as Starvox's StarCall, offer call back services where a user who is on the phone, will receive an alert on his PC if a second call comes in, he said. The user then has the option of answering the second call, or sending a text message via the PC to the caller telling him to expect a call back later.
Directory services can also be brought to telephony functions by putting voice on IP, he said.
"Directory services is a tremendous example of the benefits a corporation would enjoy from marrying voice and data," said Taylor. "By integrating data network directory services with the voice networks, organisations can virtually configure their users rather than "hard-wire" them, adding a valuable level of flexibility."
VoIP vendors will roll out features which voice carriers are going to struggle with, Harbison said. "And for those who do provide such applications, they offer them only on their own switches." He revealed that Starvox is heading towards Singapore very soon for discussions with organisations that include Singapore Telecommunications, and will also be on the lookout to form partnerships.
The Starvox CTO is unfazed by the onslaught of stronger competitors such as Lucent Technologies and Bay Networks because the company provides more enhanced applications and better integration.
"These players don't provide integration with other vendors which is what most businesses are concerned about," Harbison said. "They provide solutions on their own switches when customers need open platforms and standards-based products. And that is how we compete with these folks."