Telcos Embrace VoIP as Never Before

By Allen Bernard

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With advances in VoIP technology finally reaching the stage where voice calls can seamlessly share data IP lines, America's telcos have decided now is the time to finally put the technology onto the corporate desktop.

Over the past few months all of the country's major telcos have announced coming VoIP services on dedicated, purpose-built IP networks, said Jon Arnold, VoIP program leader at Frost & Sullivan, a market research and consultancy firm. AT&T, which has been offering some form of VoIP since 2001, for example, is already running TV ads touting the company's re-emerging image as a networking company.

Why? One word: Revenues.

"The phone companies are seeing the growth is in data, not in voice," said Arnold. "So, if they want to keep those customers and go where the revenue streams are going to be growing, they better find a way to get that data business."

And that is precisely what they plan to do, said Dave Ferguson, AT&T's vice president of Professional Services.

"The benefits that we will derive from being good at this is more business," he said.

Today's telcos have already invested heavily in IP backbone networks in order to save on internal costs. By taking the next step and extending these networks to the corporate desktop (figuratively and literally), traditional voice carriers can offer customers a whole new palette of services from simple office-to-office VoIP over the corporate LAN/WAN (available today from any number of vendors in all manner of configurations) to the "Mother of All Offerings": converged services that tie voice and data streams into one very portable desktop application.

Bring in WiFi and the promise of anywhere, anytime unified messaging, so ballyhooed during the dot-com bubble, suddenly becomes a reality. No longer will workers be tied to a desk or office. With VoIP, employees (for better or worse) will take their extensions with them wherever they go.

"What you start doing is, you start being able to serve the customer more like they work today," said SBC's Marianne Gedeon, director of Voice and Data Convergence.

This is particularly advantageous for facilities and traditional circuit-switched telecom managers because it can eliminate the costs of moves, adds and changes (MAC). Also, instead of enterprises fielding two separate, disparate teams (network and voice), re-trained network admins can now handle the phone system as well. And this equals cost savings while simultaneously increasing the number and, hopefully, quality of communications services for employees.

While it may seem VoIP is only one small service among an ever-increasing number of services telcos will soon be fielding, it also is the linch-pin offering that signals the reinvention of the industry as providers of much more than just voice communications.

"It (IP) allows us to be more efficient in the way we manage the customer's network," said Tom Roche, Verizon's director of Advanced Products and Services. "It also provides us the platform to manage much more than just (customers') voice or just their data network. I now have a platform in place I can provide multiple services and start adding additional layers of applications like security or a redundant capacity, a storage capacity ... I now can start to capture some that business that I've never been able to do for that customer in the past."

Given all these factors -- a tested technology that finally works, significant market opportunity with interested and buying clients, a new wave of revenue-generating services for the telcos, and the potential cost savings that come from a simplification of the entire communications network for both sides, and it seems apparent that VoIP is the future for telcos and, therefore, the rest of us.

"Absolutely," said Verizon's Roche.