Avaya tackles issues facing IP telephony

A number of network and telephony vendors, including Avaya, Cisco and 3Com, have been touting IP telephony within the Middle East for some time. Their converged data and voice solutions are not only meant to simplify management, but also lower maintenance costs and improve functionality.

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  November 24, 2003

|~||~||~|A number of network and telephony vendors, including Avaya, Cisco and 3Com, have been touting IP telephony within the Middle East for some time. Their converged data and voice solutions are not only meant to simplify management, but also lower maintenance costs and improve functionality.

Such benefits have already resulted in a small number of implementations in the Middle East, such as the recent installation at the Saudi food company, Almarai. Many more are expected too, as the local market’s fragmented nature means many companies could benefit from linking their scattered regional offices through a single integrated solution.

“For enterprises that have multiple offices spread across the region, IP telephony gives the added advantage of being able to integrate them as a single entity whereby all the applications, voice and data are shared across one network using a common IP,” says Louay Osman, chief technology officer at Avaya’s local business partner, Universal Solutions.

However, before most local users can truly reap the benefits of IP telephony, or even begin confidently implementing such solutions, a number of changes have to occur. Foremost among these is the legal positioning of the region’s governments, which, as it stands, means the use of data networks for voice calls is illegal.

“Within the Middle East we have issues with regulations. We have started to see some deregulation, but in reality, until a country becomes totally deregulated, in terms of monopolies, we will see little larger scale converged communications,” says Osman.

“The words IP telephony are even difficult to discuss and while there may be small instances of it within offices, it doesn’t really provide real benefits until there is a single IP architecture through which data, voice and applications can run,” he explains.

In an attempt to help local governments overcome their aversion to IP telephony, which appears to be based primarily on its potential to remove valuable revenue streams for monopoly PTTs, Avaya is working on a series of long term value propositions for incumbent telecom providers.

“We will propose an IP centric service network whereby the service provider or telecommunications company has all the equipment and provides the service. This, in turn, means the telco does not miss out on revenue,” explains Osman.

While there is little end users can do to alter government strategy, there are other problems facing IP telephony installations they can turn their attention to, including the creation of the correct infrastructure. According to Osman, this is harder than many companies imagine because almost every implementation will include complicated integration.

“IP telephony is not just running voice packets over a data network — it has to be designed properly and secured properly. When speaking on the phone users need guarantees that the information will get there immediately, as it has with legacy systems for years,” he says.
“Therefore, the key to making IP telephone successful is the correct converged infrastructure that is capable of carrying voice and data at the same time,” Osman explains.

However, ripping out and replacing systems to introduce IP telephony, which would be the simplest way to solve such convergence problems, is not an option for most users due to the expense involved.

“We have to help users maintain their investment and IP enable the existing PBX to allow it to handle IP traffic and data, along with voice,” says Osman.
A further issue that users can work on is the creation of the correct skills base ahead of an IP telephony deployment. In fact, most organisations will need to do this as the majority currently have separate staff to maintain their data and voice networks.

“One problem that has existed in the past is that the IT manager for telecoms has not been speaking to the IT manager on the data side. This has to happen at the end user level to ensure there is converged support,” explains Osman.

Again, Avaya is helping the local market address these issues so that, once the regulatory issues in the region have been addressed, the region’s businesses will be able to take advantage of the benefits IP telephony has to offer.

“Vendors such as Avaya are going to the IT managers and getting them to exchange information. Joining forces is the key,” says Osman. “Only when they do [exchange information] can companies think about converged communication and the advantages it provides.”
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