VoIP On The Cheap - InformationWeek

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03:32 PM

VoIP On The Cheap

It doesn't have to be an expensive proposition to deploy a VoIP pilot project on your network. Here's advice on how to do a quick-and-dirty pilot VoIP deployment.

The promises of VoIP are just too good to pass up, but you can't get past the cost of the investment in hardware and network infrastructure upgrades. Does that mean you have to remain out of the VoIP loop forever? What if you're a small company and just don't have the budget to go whole-hog all at once?

"VoIP can be very expensive, particularly for smaller companies," says Infonetics analyst Matthias Machinowinski. "Large companies can start by consolidating long distance traffic on VoIP and don't have to rip out their PBXes to do it --- they can use gateways."

Indeed, there's an economy of scale in VoIP that favors the large organization over the small. To a certain extent, the larger the number of phones you have behind an IP private branch exchange (PBX) or gateway, the more economical it is to deploy VoIP across the organization. But if you’re a retailer with a couple of locations and 20 phones, the savings-per-call divided by the overall capital cost of deployment probably aren't big savings anymore.

Moreover, knowledge costs money, and VoIP requires a considerable amount of technical expertise to pull of successfully. A Fortune 500 corporation probably has enough of that expertise in its IT department to at least get the VoIP ball rolling, but a company with 50 employees probably doesn't.

For smaller organizations hell-bent on doing VoIP then, the big question is "how do I do this on the cheap?" In fact, there is a whole list of inexpensive VoIP solutions, ranging from Skype --- a favorite of journalists and analysts who talk to each other via computer soft phone ("very soft phone" as one analyst has said) --- to any of a number of service options targeted at individuals and small businesses.

"In the short term, a service provider option would be a much cheaper way to start, since you're looking at service charges rather than capital expenses," Machinowinski says. "That's definitely the market that service providers are going for: smaller locations and remote offices with 10 to 20 employees."

And the market is definitely heating up, with outfits like Fonality and the king of consumer VoIP, Vonage, having introduced or planning to introduce low-cost, small business services recently. "It's a pretty attractive option for some companies," Machinowinski says. "You can start with a $1000 server for a lot less than a $10,000 to $15,000 phone system."

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