Telephony is the most basic form of communication, and we are not talking about the kind that carries you through a cocktail party. Being involved in the world of systems, contractors have quickly become well versed in such crucial operations, especially since voice and data offerings have added a healthy number to the bottom line of most contractors.

The specific communications tool up for discussion is that of IP Telephony, also referred to as VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol). No matter what you call it, it is the IP part that makes the whole thing work. Either way, you’re utilizing the power of the Internet to operate a voice network.

By utilizing an Internet Protocol, one is able to transmit phone calls over a data network. In addition to traditional voice calls, usage of IP also allows for fax transmissions. The Internet part of the system often causes some confusion. The funny thing about IP applications is that using the Internet Protocol does not always mean you need to tap into the Internet itself, though that is an option. If you choose this particular path, the entire data network is opened up to security breaches, which can be alleviated through the use of firewalls. Sounds confusing on the surface, but it makes sense in the end.

If usage of the Internet is something that you wish to achieve, you will need to operate off of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to help control access and alleviate some of the security concerns. This is something that can be obtained from the Internet service provider; otherwise you would revert to using the public network where everyone else taps into the Internet and incorporating the Internet Protocol that is an application standard.

There are two distinct aspects of IP Telephony: the systems side and the software side. Both are equally important to system operation.

The systems side includes such staples as cabling, peripheral hardware and the like. As far contractors are concerned, this is the part that fits into their areas of expertise. Cabling is cabling, and as far as IP applications go, the cabling controls the bulk of the systems operations.

The other side

The software side is often the most problematic for contractors to deal with since most electrical contractors (or voice/data contractors) are not expertly trained in software. That is not to say that they do not understand the concept; in fact many have become quite adept in this arena since most systems manufacturers have personally made sure that system designers and installers understood both sides of the equation.

Most of the IP offerings in the voice market are by some of the major players in the communications industry. The top three would probably be Avaya (www.avaya.com), Cisco (www.cisco.com) and Nortel (www.nortelnetworks.com).

Though each particular manufacturer has its pros and cons, all IP Telephony systems essentially operate off of the same platform and perform in the same manner.

As with any product in the communications market, it frequently comes down to individual choice and manufacturer loyalty.

How to sell this concept

By this point, you most likely want to know how to sell this to customers. The primary answer would be, as always, becoming familiar with all aspects of the issue. Knowing both the product and associated technology helps you to educate your customers, generally making your sales efforts more fruitful.

Perhaps the most obvious and convincing argument in the great debate on whether or not to go IP is the long-distance savings it provides. This is doubly important for companies that have multiple locations or those with widespread customer bases; IP Telephony almost completely eliminates long distance charges and for some companies those long-distance charges are more than a small company’s annual revenue.

Another key selling point, especially for contractors, would be the fact that since a traditional voice network is all but eliminated from the overall communication equation, companies can save even more time and money by just focusing attention and investments on their data network. EC

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