Rule number one in any voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) installation is to make sure the network is capable of handling the technology. That may sound obvious, but it is, surprisingly, sometimes overlooked.

In addition, VoIP systems require some extra testing that many contractors may not realize. As VoIP usage continues to grow in popularity, newer tools will be developed and released and so, too, will maintenance and monitoring philosophies. That is where good relationships with vendors and distributors become important, as these parties are usually aware of emerging products and offerings.

In fact, a report published by Frost & Sullivan, “World VoIP Test Equipment Market,” projects that this particular market will surge to an annual growth rate in excess of 30 percent, reaching $208 million by 2008. Staying abreast of new offerings will serve contractors well, especially those who are installing (or intend to soon) VoIP systems.

Pretest

Predeployment testing is one way to ensure a network is capable of handling VoIP. During this phase, cabling, bandwidth limitations and the like should be analyzed to ensure that the network is ready to migrate to VoIP. These assessments’ value is beginning to be appreciated by contractors as they are instrumental in helping avoid common pitfalls.

Tools that measure end-to-end voice quality and reliability simulate what a VoIP deployment will add to the network and can find areas on the network that may cause problems such as jitter, delay and packet loss—all issues that could compromise the quality of the VoIP system.

Predeployment is fast becoming a necessary function, and a report by Gartner Inc. supports that idea. The report found that 85 percent of existing networks are not capable of handling VoIP traffic, and 75 percent of those that opt not to analyze their networks prior to a VoIP rollout are met with unsuccessful implementation. Those figures are almost staggering when one considers how popular, and in demand, VoIP has become.

A thorough assessment would evaluate the overall well-being of network components, such as the cabling infrastructure, ISP connection, bandwidth availability and even the power and cooling available to the network. Contractors could easily add assessment to their roster of offerings as most of the functions involved are part of their expertise.

System monitoring

Prior to any problems occurring, the VoIP system needs to be monitored. Even after a VoIP rollout and a predeployment assessment, routine monitoring is critical as networks are constantly being modified in various ways. Though most changes may seem small, they could end up affecting VoIP functionality.

One of the biggest points of discussion relating to VoIP these days is quality of service (QoS). It is simply not enough to just have VoIP, it needs to be quality VoIP. Monitoring helps ensure QoS and helps pinpoint problems early; it is the maintenance component of VoIP.

Comprehensive monitoring would not only assess the current status of the VoIP system, but would also check on voice quality and bandwidth usage.

Troubleshooting

Emerging testing tools are starting to penetrate the market. The key is employing tools that can have functionality beyond just VoIP, since most VoIP networks are blended with traditional time-division multiplexed (TDM) telephony systems. Other testing tools provide comprehensive results and measurements in a software-based format, where a laptop is required for testing on-site.

Regardless of the testing method used, it is clear that VoIP testers are evolving. As VoIP becomes more popular and standards are fine tuned, newer tests and associated tools will become part of the market.

VoIP appears to be here and seems to be part of the future. Companies and users familiar and comfortable with VoIP have been making sure the benefits, such as lower operating costs, are well known.

Contractors can place themselves in a unique position by helping their customers not only prepare properly for VoIP, but also help them ensure that their system of choice operates well over time. This is also in addition to the design and installation components that are also prime endeavors for contractors. Approached properly, contractors can benefit from VoIP projects in numerous ways. From assessment to design, VoIP just may be a contractor’s new best friend after all. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.