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Today's Environment Requires Taking a Systems Approach to Communications.

The economic realities of the 1980s have made communications an indispensible tool for increasing productivity, profitability and competitiveness. Deregulation makes the benefits of private communications ownership both possible and desirable. Advancing technology offers more-effective ways to conduct business while reducing costs through applications such as videoconferencing and electronic mail.

Indeed, the deregulation and technological growth of the last decade have made the telecommunications industry a crowded place to do business--whether buying or selling. There are so many suppliers offering so many different (yet similar) products that confusion often seems the most-prevalent market condition.

Systems suppliers are capable of meeting a broad range of needs by customizing existing products and services, and by using different technologies to meet specialized and specific communication needs.

The differences between product-oriented and systems-oriented suppliers is key to determining the total cost and actual value of communications investments. Therefore, these factors have become critical as corporations move to gain the economic benefits offered by private ownership of communications.

Deregulation makes private ownership of communications equipment a cost-effective approach for government, institutions and most large and many smaller businesses. Private ownership through outright purchase or new lease/ purchase arrangements provides tax benefits, long-term cost savings and greater control over system design and operation. In short, investing in communications equity rather than renting communications facilities can save money--lots of it.

Deregulation has also led to the development of numerous economical long-distance and bypass communications options. Private satellite networks, public and private packet-switched data networks and numerous long-distance services all offer savings for specific applications. However, at the same time that deregulation has opened the door to new long-distance savings, it has also spurred an increase in the cost of local leased trunk lines used to connect local networks to long-distance services. This has created a market for a number of "bypass" technologies and services, while making it essential for businesses to use their existing leased lines as efficiently as possible.

Private Satellite networks that offer reduced long-haul point-to-point communications costs, for example, must be connected to local voice and data networks to provide a high-quality pathway from the satellite downlink to the user's desk. Packet-switched networks offer reduced long-distance data transmission costs but also require local networking of data communications in order to get the data to the packet-switched lines as economically as possible. Thus, in order to reap the benefits of deregulation while avoiding its costs, corporations must now improve the quality of their local voice and data access pathways.

In addition to the new economic advantages available through deregulation, and the resulting "wide-open" marketplace, a key advance in local-loop technology now makes it possible to gain substantial savings in voice and data communication: the integrated voice/data PBX. With its revolutionary ability to switch voice and data independently, and to transmit voice and data simultaneously across standard twisted-pair phone lines, the integrated PBX saves users money by increasing the effectiveness of local-loop-to-long-haul connections. Through the integration of voice and data, the new-generation PBXs have solved a longstanding communications dilemma.

Until recently, PBXs were voice-only devices. Data communications may have been switched on some PBX trunks, but the PBX switch treated data the same as voice traffic. Because data used voice capacity within the switch, it degraded the switch's voice capabilities, thereby reducing the number of calls that could be handled at any given time. This data-induced degradation of switch capacity and capability made it virtually impossible to use the PBX as the basis of a local network for data. Thus, PBXs were used to switch voice, and high costs were incurred to install specialized data lines or local-area networks. There were no savings in the local loop, nor any feasible way to produce savings. Integration of Voice and Data

This communications dilemma, the need for two separate and mutually exclusive local-loop systems, has been largely solved by the integrated PBX. Through various approaches, PBXs introduced in the last year have gained the ability to switch data without degrading voice performance, and to transmit both voice and data on the same standard twisted-pair phone lines. Both of these abilities are critical factors in the integration of voice and data on a single system.

For example, GTE's Omni series of PBXs uses two new technologies. The first, known as the dual-bus architecture, allows voice and data to share switching facilities. The second, known as the mini-packed protocol, allows voice and data to share local transmission facilities. Together, these technologies provide a comprehensive solution to integrated voice and data communications.

The dual-bus architecture uses two separate buses internal to the PBX switch to handle voice and data, respectively. Voice is switched via a PCM bus using standard circuit-switching techniques. Data is switched via a unique packet bus that uses packet-switching techniques. This "separate-but-equal" approach solves the communications dilemma from a switching perspective by allowing the same switch (PBX) to handle voice and data, while ensuring that there is no interference between voice and data.

The proprietary mini-packet protocol uses packets of voice and data as the basic transmission currency between the user and the PBX switch. Voice and data are converted into "mini-packets" at the user's desk. These packets are then transmitted to the PBX switch along standard twisted-pair phone wiring. This makes it possible for voice and data traffic to share the phone lines already installed in most offices.

The combination of the dual-bus and mini-packet technologies produces an economical alternative to duplicated and redundant local-loop communications facilities. Transmission-oriented developments like the mini-packet protocol allow the use of existing wiring as both a voice and data pathway, and new switching designs like the dual-bus architecture enable the PBX to handle voice and data effectively once it arrives at the switch. This new ability for voice and data communications to share the same transmission and switching facilities offers substantial cost savings for the following reasons:

The same technology used to consolidate local-loop voice and data communications into a single PBX system often reduces the number of outside data trunks and ports as well (including dedicated data lines).

By dynamically allocating bandwidth capacity, the Omni data bus can switch hundreds of virtual connections within the same bandwidth that older PBXs devoted to a single channel. This in turn reduces the number of computer ports needed to service terminals, reduces the number of data trunks necessary to access long-distance services (public or private) and eliminates the need for multiplexers and concentrators.

PBX packet-switching technology also offers additional data-handling benefits formerly offered only with peripheral devices, such as speed conversion, error correction and direct interface with X.25 packet-switching networks--a capability that reduces system costs while increasing performance and reliability. Leading to Advanced Voice Features, too

In addition to their data capabilities, integrated PBXs are able to provide advanced voice features. This includes "user productivity" features such as automatic redial, speed dialing, voice mailbox and teleconferencing, as well as cost-saving features such as most economical long-distance route selection, centralized attendant service and automatic call distribution.

Finally, many PBXs are able to be networked on a local, regional or even national basis--serving as the central switch or as an individual node in such a network.

Thus, deregulation and technological developments have presented new opportunities for increasing the value, capabilities and applications of voice and data communications. Integrated PBXs have become a major component of an effective private communication system. But individual products--even integrated PBXs--are not solutions unto themselves.

In order to be completely effective, such products must be integrated and designed into a system that specifically addresses the needs of each user. This demands a high level of planning, hardware engineering, software engineering and service support, as well as products and services that are capable of adapting to different and changing communications environments. In short, complete effectiveness demands a turnkey systems approach coupled with on-going sales and service support.

Implementing a turnkey network requires a highly developed systems design, engineering and implementation capability. As the name "turnkey" implies, the customer does not have to worry about the technical details of designing or installing the system. By specifying the needs to the supplier, the customer places the responsibility for the entire process--from planning through personnel training--in the hands of the supplier. This deeper level of understanding and involvement ensures that the system is designed and implemented to best meet customer needs.

A major benefit of a turnkey system or network is that it has been designed as a complete system from the beginning based on customer needs. Instead of adding on system components, turnkey networks are designed from the outset to gain the greatest level of performance from all components for optimal operation at the lowest possible cost. Turnkey networks are also well-organized. Network-wide numbering, standardized transmission volume, transmission from private to public numbers and other user-transparent network operations can be implemented in an effective fashion. Such "unseen" factors can become serious problems when trying to integrate unrelated products in an unplanned environment.

The connection between the private network and public long-distance networks is also critical, and as already noted, is an area that is imposing increasing tariff costs on users. Front-end planning such as researching common carrier costs, and even negotiating prices on behalf of the customer, enables the selection of the most cost-effective combination of long-distance and interconnect services and technologies to connect the customer's local loop network to the outside world.

Another benefit offered by turnkey networks is their ability to incorporate network control facilities. These provide complete diagnostics that check the status of all network transmission lines and nodes, enabling the user to quickly isolate any problems, and to exercise complete control over the system. (Users can also have the supplier operate the system for them.)

A final advantage of using a system supplier is enhanced field engineering, service support, and training. Thus, the customer reduces management costs while minimizing the organizational disruption that can take place any time a major system is installed.

While high-quality project management and engineering is a critical part of a total systems capability, highly adaptable products are equally important. The key aspects of such adaptability are modularity (the ability of equipment to expand through the easy addition of new modules) and extensibility (the ability of equipment to incorporate new technology). Check for Modularity

Modularity can have a major impact on long-term system cost, as expansion through the addition of modules is easier and less expensive than replacing a smaller product for a larger one. Extensibility is also extremely important when buying equipment, because, if the equipment cannot adapt to new technology, it faces rapid obsolescence.

The first step in finding the right communications system is to make an analysis of how your voice and data communciations equipment is currently used, the needs that are currently being met and those that are not. Such a survey should include a look at future needs, growth patterns and corporate goals.

When analyzing needs and usage, there are three basic areas to be studied: voice, data and long-distance interface and access capabilities. The goal of such an analysis, whether conducted by your organization or by a supplier, is to determine the most cost-effective way of providing voice and data communications locally and to the outside world.

Voice Communications (Current)--An analysis of the level and type of usage would include the current number of users, the types of features they currently use (system and station features), the way the system is used (such as teleconferencing or telemarketing), the amount of long-distance service used and the overall usage costs.

By compiling this information, you have an effective benchmark by which to compare the (voice) features, applications and benefits of a new PBX system.

Other questions that should be asked about your current system are: Is it easy to use, or does is discourage use through difficult procedures? Does it control my voice communications costs, or does it increase them unnecessarily? Does my current system meet my overall business needs? (That is, what combination of features do I need to improve my business communications?)

Data Communications (Current)--Again, an analysis of your data communications should look at how equipment is used, what it is used for and the effectiveness of its use in those ways.

* Types of data equipment is use (such as mainframes with dedicated terminals, mainframes with intelligent terminals, mainframe-to-mainframe communications, micro-to-micro communications, time-shared terminals, remote access to mainframes).

* Types of communications "pathways" in use, such as local-area networks, leased lines, dial-up lines, methods of access to long-haul systems and networks (terrestrial, satellite, fiber optic, coaxial) and the number of external modems, protocol converters and other "black boxes" needed for external and internal communications.

* Level and type of usage, such as inquiry/response, inquiry/update, on-line batch processing, high resolution graphics (CAD-CAM).

* Overall data system cost-effectiveness, including operating costs, maintenance costs and cost of expansion (if available).

Service support after the purchase is an area that is often overlooked in the planning process, but is a critical consideration. The areas that should be analyzed in respect to service and customer support are: Level of system operation support needed (will the supplier be managing day-to-day operations or will it be an internal function?); level of regular system maintenance required; cost of regular maintenance and emergency service, including average service response/repair time; level of training provided to staff personnel (system users) as well as customer system support personnel; ongoing training to update system users and support personnel about new capabilities or system applications.

Once you have determined your "benchmark" needs, you should then sit down with your business plan and estimate what your rate of growth will be over the next few years. With an awareness of your current usage patterns and your planned growth, you will have a much better idea of your communications needs, even if you are not sure about the best way to meet them.

The only constant factor in the communications industry is change. Technology will continue to develop. Needs and applications will continue to evolve. And suppliers will continue to develop products to meet changing needs.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Wexler, P.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Sep 1, 1984
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