The much-fabled age of convergence is finally upon us, claims John Broaders (pictured) business manager of Cable & Wireless Global Networks in Ireland, as a result of internet protocol (IP) networks appearing in traditional businesses enabling them to enjoy applications such as IP telephony and video conferencing at much reduced prices.
For Broaders, whose parent company manages one of the largest Tier One global IP networks in the world, the biggest battle of recent years has been connecting SMEs and large corporates to this global backbone, out of a country where the last mile problem of connecting businesses to the local exchange is unresolved, unlike the majority of other modern European countries.
According to research from IDC, after years of hype and little reality, European enterprises are now deploying voice over IP (VoIP) in their corporate networks or plan to do so in the near future. IDC’s European WAN Manager Survey 2003, which looked at 625 companies in 10 European countries, found that 12pc of enterprises have integrated their voice and data traffic, with an additional 33pc planning to do so in the next two years. Use of IP internet protocol private branch exchanges (IP PBXes) has increased since 2002 when 7.2pc of enterprises used a pure IP PBX and 7.8pc used a hybrid IP PBX. The survey found that the availability of cheaper broadband in local access connections and lower leased line prices was a key driver of the growth of VoIP in Europe. Growth in the deployment of IP VPNs (virtual private networks) was also a major factor, with 53pc of companies stating that they use an IP VPN service, up 30pc on the year.
For Broaders, the changing IP landscape is almost like the unblocking of a dam in terms of providing much needed accessibility and applications to businesses after a period when such capabilities were tantalisingly just out of reach for many firms. As far as Broaders is concerned, the sorry state of broadband in Ireland has been preventing the adoption of IP technologies. “The last mile has to be deregulated and we have to have competitive pricing available not just nationally, but globally. The lack of a competitive wholesale offering really hurts small companies and large companies alike,” he told siliconrepublic.com.
As far as Broaders is concerned, the fact that IP networks have begun sprouting up in the business arena means that firms can enjoy uninterruptible communications that would leave them open to reducing their overall telecoms costs and embark on new communications strategies. One of these, he says, would be IP telephony, which would provide companies with a means to cut the cost of calls by as much as 50pc by making their calls through the internet instead and using alternative carriers to the more traditional and expensive copper PSTN networks. “It’s been around for years and is around today. We’ve been doing it for a long time. We are dealing with companies in Ireland whose entire systems are built on IP telephony through existing DSL services.”
But it’s not just telephony that can benefit, he says. Deeper links with suppliers and a host of other communications strategies can be embarked upon. “Critical procedures such as purchase transactions, or anything that affects commerce require quick response times. The only way that it can be handled will be on the infrastructure that would guarantee quick response times. It has to be up all the time, guaranteed. If IP networks do their job correctly, the user would never see it, and would just takes for granted that critical communications can be done quickly. The real success is that the user cannot see it and take for granted means it is working,” Broaders said.
But how should firms prioritise their business communications in today’s business world? “This is a crucial question and underpins why the industry sees so many competing ways for transporting data: the internet, frame relay, ATM.
“From a business-critical perspective, some data cannot afford to be slowed or dropped. The internet is a mesh of interconnected networks with varying degrees of service, performance and capacity. You can minimise the likelihood of performance issues by connecting to a single provider’s infrastructure, but the public internet will always be subject to fluctuations. With IP standards, you need to decide which data traffic is most important to organisation. You need to ensure that the infrastructure is capable of carrying that prioritisation request from start to finish. It is essential that if you are looking at high-priority data like voice, it needs to be transported across an infrastructure that safeguards it. This is not the Internet per se, but a privately managed infrastructure using IP standards to ensure the prioritisation.
“With IP standards, there are ways of guaranteeing low latency and high performance. In the same manner, non-critical applications like web browsing and email can be done over low performance networks, leaving the high capacity free for higher importance tasks,” Broaders concludes.
By John Kennedy