In the red corner we have the traditional phone system providers; in the blue are computer retailers and network support companies. At this stage, both have equal rights to claim this emerging space but VoIP logically sits more in the IT networking domain than that of the phone suppliers. However, like the multimedia convergence battle, will the IT industry lose another market it is best equipped to service?
The problem is that when businesses want to buy a phone system they go to the phone guys. They don't overcomplicate things - it is handsets, existing wiring and PABX/key systems. Sort of white man's magic - it just works and they charge accordingly.
When talking about VoIP (which really means overlaying voice on your local or wide area network) IT people still seem to think it is about quality of service (QoS), switches and routers. They forget that to the average user a phone is just a phone. All you use it for is to make calls!
I took the headlong dive into VoIP (a company I chair has offices Australia wide) and it was the easiest and co-incidentally the lowest cost route to take. The journey began by contacting traditional phone companies such as NEC, Samsung, Panasonic and then the newer IT based suppliers like Mitel, Avaya, Cisco, Splicecom and a few other contenders.
Being IT savvy I knew that all these offerings would replace my aging PABX/key system and allow for VoIP (read no cost) access over our VPN to the other offices. Anything else was a bonus.
The response from phone companies was similar with expensive solutions based on lots of hybrid hardware, reasonably high installation costs and a promise of 'she'll be right mate'. There was little to differentiate. Most did not know what I was talking about when I asked for a total IP environment using my existing VPN and many tried to talk me out of pure VoIP.
We settled on a lesser known UK-based company called Splicecom for reasons that may make a computer reseller happy. They understood IP, they treated the phone system as part of the LAN/WAN and ran it on pretty open standard Linux-based hardware that is infinitely more flexible.
To say the solution was elegant, cost-effective and simple would be an understatement. In each office we placed a 1U rack-mounted IP call server, connected it to our WAN, plugged in IP phones or no-cost software phones running on PC, Mac or Linux workstations, opened up the browser-based configuration tool and got the system running internally. It took less than a day for 60 staff to be able to dial each other.
The next step was to connect the ISDN On-Ramp (BRI) or PRI cables that ran to our old PABX/key systems. We were up and running without downtime or angst. As we get to know the software we are enabling more and more features and I truly believe this is a product that should have traditional phone companies shaking in their boots because it is so simple and so flexible.
There are two keys to selling VoIP. First, invest some time in studying the technology, go to a training session and maybe install a small system in-house. A few grand will cover it.
Then data mine your clients and approach any of them who has remote offices (anyone with a WAN or VPN) or anyone that wants to offer a hot-desk environment for telecommuters. All you have to say to potential clients is that they can have all the functionality of a normal phone system and they can wrest control of the white man's magic back from a telecommunications industry that has relied on proprietary solutions to make higher margins than the IT industry.