VoIP: Get to Know The Many Flavors of Hardware

In Part II of a series on voice over IP here at The Channel Partners Conference & Expo, panelists will pick up where todays general session left off and discuss the hardware aspects of implementing VoIP in a PBX business environment. There are hosted models and premise-based approaches, and of the latter there are solutions from the data world (from vendors like Cisco Systems Inc.) and those from traditional PBX providers like Avaya Inc. Panelists will discuss the pros and cons of each approach.

According to technology analysts ABI Research, the enterprise IP PBX market has moved well beyond the days of protracted testing in enterprise IT labs, and into substantial numbers of user deployments, leading to greater revenue opportunities and a bigger user target. In fact, IP PBX seat shipments are projected to grow from 3.2 million in 2003 to 26 million in 2009, according to ABI, albeit with a slower growth rate than the technology enjoyed before. This simply indicates a more mature market, says the firm.

Many of these solutions are being offered for small and medium businesses.

Cisco, Avaya and Nortel have all rolled out IP PBX solutions targeting the SMB space, says ABI senior analyst Julia Mermelstein. Channel partners may go after the Fortune 1000, but with an edge approach. Maybe theyll target one branch, or new offices.

With the market there for the taking, channel partners should be aware that routers, switches, IP telephones and other hardware pieces are all part of the mix along with the PBX itself.

Dale Stein, co-founder and director of strategic planning and business development at TAG National, a group of 80 interconnects and VARs, will discuss premise-based approaches available from the traditional telephony vendors such as Avaya, Mitel and Nortel Networks. Dean DeGrendel, regional manager at Appia Communications (a hosted IP telephony provider) will tackle data-derived premise-based solutions like Cisco and Altigen. Jeff Veres, CEO at IPtimize, an emerging managed VoIP provider, will take the hosted PBX perspective.

The panelists will list vendors and core applications available, and will focus on helping the audience understand how to evaluate the customers needs and act accordingly. We really need to educate the community that there are different flavors, that the market is evolving and you have to understand what your customer is looking for and what productivity enhancements they need, says Veres. There are different ways of buying it, just like there are with trunking.

A customer just looking to pick up a phone and have dial tone is not a target for VoIP, says Stein. You need to do an assessment of the wide area environment, and who hes looking to connect to, he notes. The plusses and the negatives depend on what the business needs. Technology must increase profitability or give a competitive advantage. If it doesnt, a customer wont buy it.

The education process goes beyond understanding a customers business needs. The agent also must present herself as technically knowledgeable to the customer if she wants to be successful. Customers see that their contracts are expiring so they think, should I look at IP telephony? says DeGrendel. The agent says, Heres what I know. Here are the options. The agent needs to understand the terminology, the router concept and so on, and be able to discuss with the IT department and say, This is how I will connect it. Thats how you win.

Veres adds, Agents need to dig deeper, its not just price and products. If a customer comes to an agent and want to try VoIP, agents have to know how it works and how it integrates with the computers. Its not simple for a customer whose house is still split between voice and data, for instance.

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