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Analysis

Extending enterprise communications seamlessly and with carrier control
Rob Bamforth By: Rob Bamforth, Principal Analyst, Quocirca
Published: 9th February 2010
Copyright Quocirca © 2010
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The usage of business communications tools—fixed and mobile, voice and data—appears to be growing relentlessly, but there is a strong counter-current from businesses wanting to reduce complexity and, above all, control costs. The current direction, driven largely by an IT industry agenda, looks and feels like offering everything as a network service (XaaS)—either in-house or in the public cloud—unified on common and consistent network plumbing, all based on the big melting pot of IP. This means carrying telephony as if it is just another data application: but that might not be so appealing to traditional carriers and does it completely meet the needs of enterprise customers?

After all, even though businesses are looking to reduce costs and take advantage of some of the benefits offered by convergence of all communications to IP networks, they still require the availability, security and reliability of traditional telephony, whether fixed or mobile. If the flexibility of mobile can be preserved and the promise of unified communications fulfilled, while call costs are cut and security assured, most businesses would probably be pleased. However, that is a big challenge that will not be solved overnight, so how should businesses look at the process of moving traditional telephony services in an all-IP direction?

Quocirca research shows that it is at this point that companies most often look to their existing carriers and service providers for guidance. In turn, these providers, despite long term ambitions to be converged carriers of voice and data based over a IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), still have legacy investments in profitable lines of voice and message-based telephony that both carrier and its shareholders rely on.

Converging or consolidating onto an IP bit pipe too quickly might seem like a bad step for the carriers, who, after all, want to differentiate on more than just price per megabyte of traffic, irrespective of its content or service delivered. However there are a number of stages between the legacy of separate siloed communications systems and the flat and indistinct unified converged nirvana of an all IP connected world.

It is here that carriers can offer something of value—control and quality—while, at the same time, exploiting IP to keep their costs down (and hopefully pass at least part of these reductions on to their customers). To do this, even the most progressive carriers will have to recognise that IP traffic will need to be carried across some networks with legacy terminations or end points, and connected to other carriers that are either further ahead or behind in their adoption of IP. This means a more active operator strategy to carrying IP packets, through managed trunking and routing, and controlling their borders' with other carriers.

It also means that, even in challenging economic climates, businesses need to evaluate their carrier network suppliers—both fixed and mobile—on a broader set of criteria than simply short term cost. They should be asking the carriers questions about quality, integrity and reliability of service, not just about uptime or their network asset level, but about the impact on services, applications and, ultimately, users. This has to include how the network supplier manages its relationships with other external carrier partners, both at commercial and network levels, and the phasing of longer term migration to IP, including what steps are being taken in the meantime.

Those quality, integrity and reliability criteria will determine the impact of communications decisions on business productivity— whether potential gains are achieved or current levels lost. Overall this 'opportunity' cost might be far more significant than a few pounds/dollars or euros shaved off the bill by myopic negotiations.

The telecommunications world is moving to all-IP, but the steps are many and progress will continue to be uneven. Businesses should expect carriers to provide a helping hand and stepping stones, rather than an all-or-nothing approach and, in doing so, seek a route that provides a balance between value and cost.

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Published by: IT Analysis Communications Ltd.
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