Voice is still the core of converged communications
IP telephony is still in the center court
The focus in the first iteration of converged communications was almost wholly on how to get voice services onto IP networks. The goal was to capitalize on the cost savings that would be produced in moving away from pricey dedicated phone lines and because the telecommunications companies themselves, in building extensive IP backbones, were signaling their eventual move away from networks based on time-division multiplexing.
That’s not the focus today. Now, converged communications is seen as the process underlying many new enterprise capabilities — from online collaboration to unified messaging and applications such as videoconferencing and the rapidly expanding universe of social media. Voice seems almost like an afterthought.
But that perception is a mistake, according to Scott Anderson, vice president of cloud strategy at Avaya Government Solutions. Most civilian agencies still see IP convergence as a replacement for central office exchange service communications, and they are still very much focused on basic voice services. Only over time are they looking to layer other IP-based applications on top of those voice-over-IP (VOIP) services.
“It’s voice — and the ability to use voice in a telework environment or to use your personal phone in an agency setting — that is the primary driver for converged communications on the federal side — much more so, in most cases, than things such as videoconferencing,” Anderson said.
Even if the ultimate goal of converged communications is to build the infrastructure for unified communications (UC), IP telephony is seen as a core component and VOIP is considered an essential first step along that road. Even though descriptions of UC don’t often highlight voice, most UC applications include it as a feature or as an alternative for users.
Some key government organizations are already well advanced in moving to an IP-based environment for voice. For example, the Defense Information Systems Agency, which expects to be a primary provider of UC services to military organizations, completed a network backbone upgrade for VOIP in 2011. Its goal is to have both IP-based voice and video enabled on its network for around 80 percent of its Defense Department customers by 2017.
Voice doesn’t get as much play these days because other things that have been added to the mix speak more directly to current government requirements and to the cost-cutting dilemma agencies find themselves in, said Lauren Jones, a senior principal research analyst at Deltek.
“We’re hearing about these things more because they can help offset some of the effects of the budget constraints,” she said. “Voice is still the bread-and-butter foundation [for convergence], but it’s understood to be a given so no one is talking about it.”
A potential problem with that, said Bill Long, vice president of enterprise voice services at Level 3 Communications, is that organizations might also think everything that needs to be considered in convergence as far as voice is concerned is taken care of. The reality is that voice is probably being used even more in a converged communications setting than when it was delivered over separate circuit-switched networks.
He likens it to the advent of word processing software on computers, which many people heralded as the beginning of the end for the use of paper in the office. As everyone now knows, it boosted the use of paper because people ended up printing out “a zillion PowerPoint documents,” he said.
“I don’t think there are nearly as many voice minutes hitting the [public switched telephone network], but I do see more intra-company voice communications being conducted between people who are federated within a UC platform,” he said. “So I don’t think voice is ever going to go away, but how it’s being delivered is changing, and agencies need to think about how to deal with that.”