This will be the year that Australian enterprises fully embrace VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) in an effort to slash operating costs and integrate customer-facing applications and networks, according to network plumbing heavyweight 3Com.
Delivering the company's vision of the year to come, 3Com Asia Pacific managing director Stanimira Koleva said enterprises will integrate fragmented infrastructure, applications and security appliances into a single platform and abandon stand-alone solutions.
"In data and communications we will see enterprises looking for standardised platforms to drive operational efficiencies. IP telephony increases will be led by the US. Major carriers [there] are now adopting [VoIP solutions] - and flat rates [rather than volume-based charges] because cable operators have now entered the market," Koleva said, adding that VoIP technology had now matured sufficiently to be trusted.
Asked when Australia would see "all you can eat" style telephony, Koleva said carriers and resellers will be forced to make their move within two years.
Meanwhile, converged applications, like VXML, will see enterprise bandwidth requirements increase substantially, forcing forklift upgrades.
"Converged applications with greedy requirements will put a strain on infrastructure. Some of this is three to four years old. This is especially true for time-sensitive products such as voice and video," Koleva said.
If enterprises with high volumes of telephony-based transactions such as telcos, banks and airlines are embracing VoIP, other core PABX users are yet to be convinced.
CIO of engineering heavyweight GHD, Trevor Hazlewood, said dropping call rates and frequent PABX software upgrades combined with the high cost of handsets make it hard to justify a VoIP roll out.
"There's no point in saying that a seven-year old PABX is obsolete when it isn't. We have a substantial investment in our PABXs, and the software is being upgraded all the time. We had to upgrade [the PABXs] when Telstra upgraded Macrolink (its ISDN platform)… so effectively they are only 18 months old. We also get a good deal on our call rates."
At around $500 the [VoIP] handsets are just overpriced, he said adding They can't cost that much more to manufacture than the current display phones."
Another factor, he added, was that networking vendors and telephony vendors were skilled at their respective specialisations, but still far less skilled with each other.
Meta Group's senior research analyst for infrastructure services, Bjarne Munch, said that VoIP still had "a couple of years" to go before it became mainstream, not least because large enterprises were still in the process of restructuring their data infrastructure.
Remote chance of VoIP success
If the highlands of West Papua seem an unlikely place to deploy VoIP think again.
While P&H Mine-Pro Services' national IT manager Brent Hasler still feels there is little financial benefit for VoIP over traditional PABXs, he says VoIP may prove useful in far-flung places.
"We tended to avoid [VoIP] because there is a skinny ROI. The trend on STD and ISD is [tariffs] are falling, so by the time you invest [in a VoIP rollout] there's not much return left," he said.
"That said, we are trialling VoIP solution for some of our Indonesian sites, like Freeport [Iriyan Jaya]. We had to invest in a satellite link because of the remoteness of the sites… and the PABX we were using was 20 years old, so we would have had to spend a similar amount to what VoIP currently costs upgrading it."
The solution Hasler is trialling consists of pushing VoIP through an already purchased satellite up-link that would usually separate out voice and data. The aim of the NEC and TSA-based solution is to enable mobile staff to keep their current telephone extensions and log onto Mine-Pro systems remotely.
Hasler said that although establishment of a connection and its quality "were fine", some issues caused by the 400 millisecond latency [versus 100 millisecond for PABX] were still being ironed out.
"Sometimes we've had to reset the system to hang up the connection. That's OK for one user, but you wouldn't want to have to do it for 50. But it seems to have been fixed now," he said, adding that any decision to purchase will have to see a system come in at the right price.