COMMUNICATION: Convergence Emergence – Combining networks can save you money

A new market has been created from the idea of converged networks, defined as a number of applications on one connection. “Applications can be voice, video and data and, when converged, create significant cost savings to the customer,” explains Sterling Enfield of BCS Networks, Inc. in Traverse City.

Adds Dave Ingle, branch manager for Optimal Solutions’ Traverse City office, “a business only needs to have one set of cable running to any work station or office to have both network access and telephone service.”

A converged network eliminates the need for separate voice and data infrastructures, drastically streamlining staff overhead, network management and operating costs. Because you receive one bill instead of two or three, “combining both the information systems and the phone systems in one department increases efficiency and helps to keep the reoccurring monthly costs down,” Enfield says. Over the long term, companies can save up to 50 percent on their total cabling costs within the office.

Most telephone systems in northern Michigan currently transmit calls using circuit switched technology, a highly reliable but less flexible way of transferring information. In the future, more and more voice traffic is expected to run over the expanded data highways, especially IP (Internet Protocol) and ATM (Asychronous Transfer Mode). Advances in technology have allowed converged networks to explode.

“Voice compression (reducing the amount of bandwidth required) and dynamic allocation have driven the usage of converged networks,” Enfield says. “We are headed toward higher speed application with less equipment.”

To get started using converged networks, Enfield recommends a T1 circuit as a good application for area businesses. This would allow one connection for Internet access and voice, while providing the ability for future growth.

With this type of circuit you would get your local and long-distance calls at discounted rates because of the direct connection to your service provider, such as AT&T, Ameritech, Qwest, etc. He also suggests a Web server that includes built-in templates that enable you to easily design your own Web site. This server runs off your phone lines and includes e-mail, Internet access and voice.

Ingle advises using IMAP4 e-mail software (like Microsoft Outlook, Exchange, Novell Group Wise), which allows a user to manage both e-mail and voice messages from the e-mail client.

The voice message can be listened to both via soundcard in PC or the telephone device. Important voice messages can be forwarded around the globe via e-mail, saved to a folder on the network, etc. Unified Messaging is standard with the voice mail system.

System scalability and availability are key requirements for companies that trust their voice traffic to data networks. Cisco Systems’ next-generation voice-over-IP products, introduced in March, are designed to ease concerns about migrating from reliable PBX systems to converged voice and data networks.

The cost savings are driving most organizations to at least explore convergence options. And while some are opting for consolidating voice and data over ATM or frame relay, ultimately most users likely will migrate to IP, analysts and vendors say.

After evaluating your company’s business goals and current investments in voice and data equipment, you will quickly discover there is not a one-size fits all answer for network convergence. The key is to access the risks and benefits then choose the solution that best fits your company’s priorities. As Enfield says, “this is only the beginning for converged networks.”

If you would like to explore this option further, contact Sterling Enfield, BCS Networks, at 935-4900 or Dave Ingle, Optimal Solutions, at 888-832-3400. BIZNEWS