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Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP), or broadband telephony, allows users to make telephone calls over a data network like the Internet, converting voice into a digital signal that is then reassembled back into voice. It uses existing lines coupled with software running on the PC to run calls through the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).
At first, the technology was pushed into niche markets such as international voice calling. Later, multi-office businesses began to use it for inter-company calling.

"We initially put VOIP in for five-digit calling nationwide, and it still operates for this function," Grant Thorton's national manager of telecommunication Kevin Lopez said from his Oak Brook, Illinois-based office. "Now, we have begun installing IP soft-phones and have unified messenger in place as well."

Larger Enterprises First to Adopt VOIP

 

Big technology players have brought telephony technology to market in the last few years to widen their net and service customers like Grant Thorton, offering products such as unified messenger, which manages voice, email, and fax messages using either a telephone or a multimedia personal computer.

The birth of these value-added services is a reflection of the overall growth in the telecommunications industry. Earlier this year, research by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) reported a 7.9% growth in U.S. telecommunications revenue, surpassing the amount of growth in the industry over the past three years. As well, Frost & Sullivan reported that by 2008 the VOIP market could grow to more than 16.5 million residential users, specifically.

This growth reflects VOIP's adoption into the mainstream market and consumer demand for VOIP, believes Michael O'Hara, Microsoft's general manager for service provider business. Larger enterprises, however, are currently adopting IP private branch exchanges (PBXs) "because they have the IT expertise to deploy and manage the solutions."

Director of VOIP Services for AT&T Mike Barca said that in 2004 the company's customers were just dabbling in the technology. His company was asked to provide an environment where businesses and their staff could test the technology first "because it was difficult for them to plan out any type of migration." This year, his customers are getting ready to migrate office locations compared to solely Greenfield environments by creating a hybrid traditional/VOIP environment throughout the organization. "A lot of these new IP service providers look for that flash-cut, for that Greenfield environment," Barca explained. "But that's not the how the majority of our enterprise customers operate. They are going to be in a hybrid environment for quite some time as they move their services over to IP."

Regulators and Lobbyists Debate VOIP Regulation

 

This trend toward companies deploying VOIP has gained the attention of federal regulators. For example the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently discussing VOIP's reliability and its ability to replace traditional telephony services.

These ongoing discussions have stalled since the 2005 resignation of FCC Chairman Michael Powell. President Bush designated Chairman Kevin J. Martin only a few months ago on March 18, 2005, and the industry now awaits his policies on VOIP regulation.
"We are looking at a lot of issues," spokesman for the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau Mark Wigfield said about the commission's plans for regulating VOIP. "[This includes] how it should be defined; who should have jurisdiction; a requirement to provide 911 and disability access; and how it fits into the conventional structure of inter-carrier compensation as well as universal service in rural areas."

Tech lobbies are also concerned with these issues. Nick Kolovos is the director and counsel of Government Relations for the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC). The ITIC is pushing for a policy focused on asserting federal jurisdiction, "eliminating regulatory burdens and supporting universal and public interest services" (including U.S. 911 and Europe's 999). The ITIC also supports consumer protections from misleading and deceptive advertising "so consumers can make informed choices about what they are receiving and what their options are."

Education about VOIP, its flaws, and user responsibility came to the forefront recently when Texas sued one of the largest residential providers of VOIP after a customer couldn't reach 911 emergency services using a Vonage connection. It was a service that was offered; all users had an option to sign up for 911 access for an additional fee. It began a regulatory discussion throughout the community over state versus federal authority on VOIP services.

Kolovos said that because of the nature of the technology, it would be "nearly impossible to regulate on a state-by-state level." Because VOIP is a telephone call broken down to packets and those packets travel over the IP network, they cross a number of jurisdictional boundaries. Providers across the globe would then have at least 50 jurisdictions and 50 different sets of regulations. "How would you end up trying to regulate that and attach some sort of pricing scheme or economic stipulation?" Kolovos questioned. "Beyond that, we are not only talking about providers in the United States; they can be located anywhere in the world."

As of now, the FCC is moving toward VOIP as "an unregulated service," according to FCC spokesperson Wigfield. "Initiatives are underway," he noted. "Where they go is up to the new chairman and the support he gets from other commissioners." Kolovos agrees and adds, "It should be regulated as little as possible."

VOIP may become an unregulated service, but one looming question is fair accessibility. Universal service is still an unresolved issue that neither the FCC nor the industry seemingly has any answers to, placing part of the blame on broadband's limited reach into rural areas. In Kolovos' opinion, under the universal service umbrella, it is often still a matter of accessibility to broadband. Other public safety service questions--including the absence of 911 services and law enforcement access (lauded as a major flaw in the technology)--result because VOIP does not tie users to a geographical location. To an emergency dispatcher, it appears as if the call is coming from a home location even if the caller is actually in another state.

Microsoft's O'Hara said the challenge in a voice environment is that a user becomes an IP address. "I could be sitting in London with a Boston number because of the mapping of the IT addresses," O'Hara explained. "When calling 911 or 999 in Europe...you have to specify where you are."

A user must realize that, in most cases, a landline will be needed during an emergency unless a location can be verbally specified. "It is a whole mindset change as you move into the VOIP arena," he said. "You have to think that you're location-independent."

AT&T's Barca concurs. For now, his company offers its traditional landline services that offer the security of 911 access, coupled with VOIP. "911 services we are building allow you to configure your service and put in a location," Barca said about a current project not yet released to the public. "You can also change it when you log on; this way, if you dial a 911 service, it knows where you are."

"No doubt it can be worked out," Kolovos optimistically noted. "The best approach is giving industry time to develop those technologies, instead of having a government mandate that requires them to develop it a certain way."

As far as FCC regulation, it may be awhile. "The Hill is gearing up on this issue, and I think that the bills that are being contemplated take a minimal regulatory approach," said Kolovos. "Whether something gets passed or not is another matter." Microsoft's O'Hara thinks regulations will move forward based on current consumer demand, and they are actually "favorable as they stand today to allow these deployments to go ahead." In his opinion, regulators have an incentive. VOIP offers an effective way to create local competition because a broadband connection creates a shared-line environment automatically. "We believe it fuels competition and a lot of people to compete with features."

Advantages and Disadvantages of VOIP Implementation

When it comes to the value of VOIP, providers like Microsoft tout the pros of implementation, such as cost-effectiveness. But there are also weaknesses in the technology: quality control, public safety, and the aforementioned accessibility to universal services. "Other cons are bandwidth allocation and controlling call quality," opined Grant Thorton's Lopez.

Still, many Fortune 500s continue to use the technology--for example, AOL, Comcaste Cable, and Grant Thorton. Kolovos said the business incentive is the bottom-line savings resulting from being able to deploy an enterprise-wide dialing plan. The ability to customize applications is another advantage, he said, which can allow access to voicemail over the Internet and special programming for the disabled. "It is an array of customized applications that can benefit businesses," he said. "It streamlines things."

O'Hara added that the main benefits of implementing VOIP are reduction of voice services costs and delivery of "value-added services like presence, instant messaging, and collaboration." Enterprises can recognize cost savings that result from moving internal voice traffic from a separate voice-only network to the local IP network. "I would say 30% is a good approximate reduction in cost," claimed O'Hara. An initial cost is preparing the workforce to deploy the technology. "You are going to have retraining. You are moving your phone service away from traditional phone engineers into more of an IT environment. So there is a transitional cost there."

Another set-up cost revolves around the requirement for costly local IP network upgrades or legacy PBXs that have not reached the end of their useful life. Small- and medium-sized businesses have not adopted VOIP as widely as a result. The implementation is "top down" noted AT&T's Barca. Fortune 500s start the trend. They look for a place to test it out, often their branch offices or Greenfield locations because they have to invest in new equipment anyway, Barca clarified. So they use that location to test out VOIP. "It's easier for them," he said. "There is no initial or embedded type of equipment they need to worry about."

Cost savings is the impetus for implementation, agreed Juniper Networks Senior Solutions Marketing Manager Scott Heinlein. "Many of the deployments to date are multi-site businesses that are looking to save toll or long-distance costs for intra-company calling."
However, adding real-time applications such as voice requires a much higher level of network device performance, he continued. Network devices must be able to support the small packet sizes of voice with very minimal latency, jitter, or packet loss--too much of any will render voice communications inoperable. That is why, according to Heinlein, all switches, routers, and firewalls must be analyzed to determine whether they can handle voice traffic. "Many times, this step is overlooked, only later found after voice quality suffers significantly," he said. "One solution is that Multiprotocol Label Switching
(MPLS) technology can be used at the network level for traffic engineering sufficient bandwidth throughout the IP network. At the network device level, sub-second stateful failovers should be supported by the device so that existing calls are not impacted when a network device fails."

Heinlein said staffers should be prepared for retraining to address these issues, both those covering data or voice converged network and IT. They must also be ready for the inevitable: VOIP implementation often leads to staff reductions. "However, the skill set requirements might change since personnel that understand both data and voice are ideal for managing the network."

"Too much of either data or voice experience isn't good," added Grant Thorton's Lopez. "A well-rounded individual with knowledge of voice and data should be able to deal with most issues."

Microsoft's O'Hara explained that businesses must first determine whether they want to manage their VOIP service themselves or purchase hosted VOIP services from an operator. "If the business is deploying a premise-based solution such as an IP PBX, they will require a knowledgeable IT staff to deploy the server, install the software, move/add/change/or delete user extensions, install patches, and troubleshoot problems," he said.

Cost considerations for a premise-based solution, O'Hara said, include purchasing server hardware, IP PBX software licenses, and IP telephones (or adapters that allow you to use regular telephone handsets) and pre-installation costs such as evaluating and potentially upgrading the local IP network. Businesses interested in deploying a premise-based VOIP service need to determine whether their internal IP network can support voice in addition to their current data traffic. They also must take into account possible growth in both voice and data traffic levels. "While it is expensive to rewire and upgrade a wired network, there are wireless alternatives today that offer businesses more cost-effective options for network implementations," he said.

Pundits Debate VOIP Data Security

Another concern is the security of data. Dr. Shashi Phoha, director of the Information Technology Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, has spoken publicly about her concerns with VOIP--such as ease of hacking, fraud, and abuse.

So is VOIP secure? Heinlein said adding voice onto the data network introduces security risks that must be addressed. "Security threats include PBX hacking, toll fraud, eavesdropping of phone conversations, DDos/DoS attacks, compromising the data network by allowing incoming calls to enter the network, and many others," he listed. "It is critical that increased security is implemented to ensure the business network is not compromised."

On the other side of the coin, O'Hara said there is a sufficient focus on security in the networks today; they can exist and happily proliferate and grow. "My experience is that we are not seeing security issues with the technology," he said. "However, you never say never."

It was the network they turned to for security, instead of invention, when Grant Thorton installed VOIP in 2001. "Security is something in this day and age we just have to live with in every way," said Lopez. "Each business must assess the threat and deal with it in a way they feel best."

While the industry sorts out the myriad issues still associated with the effectiveness in the technology, many agree this is the beginning of the end of traditional telephone lines, especially if issues of universal and 911 services are worked out. "Traditional phone service, as we know it, is diminishing," ITIC's Kolovo said. "And what we will have five to 10 years from now will be completely different."

Mary Rose Roberts is a Chicago-based freelance writer and a masters of science, journalism candidate at Roosevelt University, Chicago. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.

     

     

  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption

     

     

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.

     

     

  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

     

     

     

  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.

     

  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.

     

     

  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.