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Managing Your VoIP Rollout

For mid-size to large companies, implementing VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) for their telephone service can be a tremendous benefit. You know that using VoIP can potentially save your company money, especially if you make many domestic long distance calls or international calls. And, while it all sounds exciting, your business depends on your telephone service and it's more than a little nerve wracking to actually make the switch.

Introducing your new telephone system is not something you can do in a day. It's important to get it right and you can lay the groundwork for a smooth transition with these following suggestions.

Who's in Charge?

The initial step in planning the rollout is to decide who will be in charge of each phase. In most midsize to large companies, the telephone system is managed by one department and the IT structure is maintained by another group. In moving to a Voice over Internet Protocol environment, your telephone system becomes part of the IT structure.

However, IT personnel may be unfamiliar with the special requirements of telephony applications while the telephone personnel might not be familiar with the Internet. It is important to ensure that you have people in charge who understand the intricacies of VoIP. You may need to integrate the two departments or bring in a Telecom Management Professional to facilitate the process.

Bit by Bit

It is very risky to switch over all your phones to VoIP at once. A better way would be to set up an initial test with one department or a small group. This rolling out in phases will allow you to pinpoint, diagnose and fix any problems that might occur within a more manageable group. You can then increase your VoIP footprint as you get more comfortable.

Get Your Network Right

A proper Local Area Network (LAN) is paramount in supporting your VoIP system. It is the backbone for the system to operate and ensuring the integrity of your network connection will ensure quality of service (QoS).

Voice over Internet Protocol only works over broadband connections. Businesses want to save money by making the switch to VoIP, but may forget to increase the bandwidth from their Internet Service Provider (ISP). As a result, you can have delays, static, echoes and even lost connections.

You should do a complete assessment of your network to make sure that all switches, cabling, and any other components are of sufficient grade and speed for your system's needs. An Internet speed test can simulate VoIP phone calls to let you know what you can expect from using your existing connection with a hosted VoIP PBX (Private Branch eXchange). Catching problems early in this area will save countless headaches later.

At this time you should also make sure your server's security is up to date. Also update all operating systems on all networked devices, including mobile phones.

Quality, Security, New Hardware, and Compliance Issues

We are all used to the very high quality of our traditional telephone network (PSTN - Public Switched Telephone Network) and expect the same from any new service. However, voice transmissions are in real-time and thus less forgiving than regular IP transmissions, such as email. Quality of Service (QoS) will depend on making sure your network has sufficient bandwidth and speed so your calls don't have jitter, echoes or degradation of voice quality.

VoIP calls are sent over the Internet. Because of this, those voice packets are subject to the same threats as your data. There are many ways that your VoIP network can be compromised and you will need to treat your phone network just like you do your data - with firewalls, encryption and virus protection. Security should be carefully thought out and addressed at the beginning, not as an afterthought.

It's important to choose the proper phone for your business. Make sure you comparison shop and check such items as screen resolution, HD voice technology, backlit LCD and the many other options that can be used.

If you're in a regulated industry like healthcare or finance, your data network is subject to government compliance requirements. The same will be true for your new VoIP network. Privacy of client data must be protected.

Another important issue that must be addressed is 911 services. Because of the portability of the equipment, emergency centers don't always know the address information from your VoIP phone. In most instances now, using a 911 tool, you can verify your emergency service coverage.

Get Out Your Crystal Ball

While you are planning your VoIP needs, take into consideration your possible future needs. Plan for growth in capacity and possible new applications, such as video conferencing. Sometimes it's easier and more cost effective to upgrade infrastructure now to address future concerns than it would be to have to do the whole process again.

Backup Plans for Network and Power

Unlike your regular phone lines, your VoIP service is dependent on your Internet connection. And, unlike your regular phone that will continue to operate during most power failures, your VoIP service will not. Redundant connections will prevent loss of your phone service if one ISP should go down. Likewise, backup power supplies or backup generators will be needed in the event of a power outage.

You must always monitor and test the network to ensure continuous success. You must also install any code revisions and security updates that your vendor provides. Just as in data networks, a little common sense will go a long way and keeping these guidelines in mind will smooth the way in making the switch to VoIP.

Nermine Shaker has generated tens of millions of dollars worth of savings for her clients. She is a Partner at THE SYGNAL GROUP, a Telecoms Management Company that offers unbiased reporting, analysis and implementation of telecom strategies to businesses of all sizes. www.SygnalGroup.com

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