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Which phone system is right?

The days of traditional, analog-based phone systems are numbered, as vendors increasingly concentrate on voice over IP (VoIP). For most companies, the decision is less a matter of if they should switch to VoIP, than a matter of when.

There are two main VoIP categories to consider: hybrid private branch exchanges (PBXs) and pure IP PBXs. The hybrid approach combines VoIP with traditional telephony. With a hybrid solution, an organization can upgrade its existing PBX to handle VoIP traffic by connecting IP-based handsets via a LAN interface. Some companies choose the hybrid approach as a cost-effective way to implement VoIP within their organizations. As the name implies, a pure IP PBX approach relies completely on IP-based technology and equipment to transmit calls.

In addition to hybrid and pure IP PBX solutions, businesses must also choose between premise-based and outsourced IP phone systems.

While some organizations with the prerequisite technical expertise and upfront capital may appreciate the increased control and sense of security in managing their VoIP phone system in-house, others find the task daunting. In that case, an outsourced IP phone system is a viable alternative.

The next step in choosing the right system is to compare what you currently pay with what you can expect to pay in the future. Pull out your old phone bills and examine your company's usage patterns. How much outbound traffic do you generate, and where do the calls go? Are the calls mostly domestic, or are a substantial number international? How much do you pay per minute? If you have heavy call volume, consider an unlimited calling plan if you do not already have one.

Do a quick head count of end-users you currently support, and consider your company's expected growth rate for the next few years. If your company plans to grow, you need a system that scales easily to accommodate additional users and locations. You also need to consider how much service, support and training you will need to get comfortable with a new phone system.

Determine if your company has substantial investments in existing phone system hardware and circuitry and whether existing lease and/or service contracts have to be broken to switch to a new system. Evaluate your local area network, as your existing infrastructure may need an upgrade to support Vole Typical LAN upgrades include installing new CAT 5 wiring, cables and jacks at each end-user station, and a managed switch. Also, examine financing and leasing options that could significantly lower your initial investment.

When comparing your options, keep in mind that upfront costs are only one factor. Consider on-going fees and soft-cost savings to determine the total cost of ownership for the new phone system. Quantify what your organization would save in terms of soft costs and benefits, such as increased productivity, unified messaging and off-net productivity. Finally, fully analyze at least three deployment scenarios when doing your cost comparison.

Answering these questions can point you toward the best solution:

* Does your company have adequate internal resources to manage a phone system in-house?

* Does your company have frequent business travelers or employees who want to work remotely (from home offices, hotels, client sites)? How will you accommodate them?

* Do you have multiple offices that need to be networked?

* How will the phone system integrate with your business-continuity and disaster-recovery plans?

* How quickly do you need to implement the new phone system? Is there an impending event on the horizon (office relocation, expired lease) that will impact the installation timeline?

Interview each service provider and its technical support, project management, service delivery and sales teams--every possible point of contact your organization will have with theirs.

Do they seem competent and knowledgeable about their product? Are they professional and responsive when you have questions or concerns?

Dan Hoffman is president and CEO of Manhattan-based M5 Networks.

For more information: rsleads.com/604cn-252
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Title Annotation:Voice Networks protocol; internet protocol
Author:Hoffman, Dan
Publication:Communications News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2006
Words:643
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