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Issue of June 2006 
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Infrastructure Strategies '06

Getting there

While some sectors lead in adopting convergence technologies, video conferencing and VoIP are accepted by over half the survey respondents. By Megha Banduni

We have been hearing a lot about convergence in the last few years. It is still talked about, but is it really happening? The adoption level remains very low as compared to other technologies. The IS survey points out that only 15 percent of the 328 respondents invested in convergence technologies last year, and 17 percent are planning to invest this year (2006-07).

That said, many companies which are currently on traditional systems are migrating to new technologies such as IP Telephony, video conferencing and Web conferencing. Among the three, video conferencing (59 percent) occupies the first place followed by VoIP (51 percent) and Web conferencing (31 percent).

Need for convergence

Convenience is an advantage because in an IP-converged environment you need only one cable that plugs into a PC and an IP phone. It facilitates voice, data and video on a single network, and infrastructure cost is also saved.

The need to look at these technologies grows from business requirements. Applications such as enterprise-wide mobility, voice, and video mail messaging; Web conferencing; and integrated access to voice, data and video are helping employees to be more responsive to customers and more productive.

CIO View
Bala Giridhar
Head, Global IT Management
Wipro

Wipro Technologies has VoIP on their data network that connects all offices across the country and overseas. The company uses VoIP for inter-office communication along with video and Web conferencing.

Today, every organisation has separate infrastructure for carrying voice, data, video etc. Convergence helps in combining all these pipes into one. I believe that video conferencing helps connect people spread geographically. Any discussion or meeting can take place irrespective of whether the executives are at home, office or on the way. Moreover, video conferencing is helpful in internal communication as well as communication between client and organisation.

Video conferencing has helped a lot in saving travel time. We need not be physically present in our office, which might be remotely located. Hence VC helps in saving time and focussing on the core issues of the organisation.

Technologies like SIP are gaining popularity. The biggest advantage of SIP is that it is based on open standards. In addition, its scalability in terms of infrastructure is very good. Another benefit is that SIP can handle multiple media.


IP Telephony

Many organisations are moving from traditional phones to IP phones. According to the survey, 51 percent of 123 respondents have invested in VoIP, and 23 percent are planning to invest this year. The use of VoIP is high in the telecom and IT/ITeS sector.

VoIP is easier to set up, and enterprise applications can be woven into a VoIP set-up, something that’s not possible with conventional telephony. Earlier, when the technology was just introduced, many complained about its quality. Now the quality and reliability of VoIP technology has improved to the point where many Indian companies have started using their existing data networks to carry voice as well.

With broadband connectivity easily available, the adoption rate might just go up. According to the survey, telecom and IT/ITeS organisations are the highest adopters of VoIP. 78 percent of the respondents in the telecom sector and 76 percent in IT/ITeS have already invested in VoIP.

NM Recommends
  • Video conferencing makes sense if your executives are spending more time in travelling.
  • To take full advantage of IP telephony, look beyond cost savings and hook your enterprise-wide applications into the VoIP system.
  • While deploying these technologies make sure that the bandwidth available is sufficient for maintaining a high QoS.

Video for Group Conferencing

In today’s world, with its busy schedules and diverse locations, it is difficult to get in touch with right person at the right time. Video conferencing helps to overcome this difficulty. The survey points out that it is achieving mass acceptance and deployment.

Large enterprises have implemented video for group conferencing applications. It is useful in holding large meetings and presentations, significantly reducing travel expenses, and enabling the conduct of more productive meetings leading to more efficient and effective decision-making.

Features such as session initiation protocol (SIP) within soft phones have made video conferencing easier. This protocol lets users trying to set up a video conference know if the person at the other end has the ability to participate in a video call. The IS survey shows that adoption of video conferencing is quite high. Of the total respondent base in IT/ITeS, 76 percent have already invested in video conferencing and a further 18 percent plans to invest. 65 percent of the respondents in FMCG have a video conferencing facility, and 63 percent in chemical and pharma.

Regarding planned investment, 60 percent among government and PSU organisations are investing in video conferencing.

CIO View
Amit Sheth
Head, IT, Sun Pharma

We are using video conferencing for effective communication. It has helped us reduce executive travel time and expense, and enabled face-to-face meetings. The company has also benefited in terms of resources saved.

I think convergence has neither moved ahead nor is it losing importance. The reason is that once people get used to a technology they do not want to move to a new technology. With any new technology, people are sceptical about its use in the beginning. The cost does not justify the immediate returns in the beginning, and there is a comfort-level associated with the old one. In convergence, only video conferencing has taken off well. Traditional technologies will still remain more or less a back-up system.

Web conferencing is still not widely accepted due to high bandwidth cost. Our company is not looking at it at present. We are evaluating the benefits that can be derived from VoIP technology.

Before deciding on having video conferencing, we conducted a survey in our organisation and found that 40-42 percent of our executive travel time would reduce if we went in for it. What was happening earlier was that an executive was required to travel to branch offices for petty issues or to attend meetings; this would take four-five hours of travel time. Now with video conferencing the whole process is completed in 30 minutes to an hour.

I do feel that VoIP will definitely overtake video conferencing because people are becoming aware of the power of the Internet. The cost of VoIP is also going down drastically, opening opportunities for people to go in for it.

Quality is a concern

Though there are many benefits of converging technologies, a few concerns remain. Quality is one of them. The transfer of voice and video over networks raises many issues related to voice quality. Many organisations feel that the quality of voice and video is still not satisfactory. Bandwidth is another area of concern; for such applications, enormous bandwidth is required.

Another area that bothers many organisations is migration from a traditional infrastructure to a new one. Migration is not an easy task. Organisations which have already invested big-time in traditional infrastructure may find it very expensive to shift to IP infrastructure.

The other aspect which the survey highlights is that organisations using these technologies are doing so with limited access. Only 22 percent of the organisations allow VoIP to be accessible to 10-50 users. Again, not all the branch offices would have such facilities. 51 percent state that they have provided such equipment in just 3-5 branches.

Certain security issues still remain unanswered when it comes to implementation. With technologies like VoIP and Web conferencing, there are concerns such as data and voice security, long-distance call fraud, and hacking. Since the network is shared with IP phones, safeguards have to be put in place to protect against someone hacking from the voice network into the data network or vice-versa.

In addition, companies have to maintain security in their internal LAN set-up and ensure that their existing security infrastructure can protect next-generation IP networks. Apart from this, inter-networking between circuit-switched PSTNs (Public Switched Telephone Networks), PBXs (Private Branch Exchanges) and other networks such as wireless networks also raises quality management issues.

Bandwidth is cheaper and this should help convergence gain ground. With ever-increasing competition and the demand for collaborative solutions such as audio-video conferencing, the enterprise segment is shifting to IP—even though it is shifting slowly.

 
     
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