Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Managed IP Networks Enable Voice and Data Convergence

Many companies have been eying their computer and telephone networks for opportunities to save money without losing services. A popular approach is to combine or converge those two networks into a single multi-functional LAN that can be extended to connect with the public Internet and telephone network. One network, one connection per desk, and one support team are the goal. Sadly, the reality can fall short of the dream.

What's the reason for this? The way computers traditionally use a network is quite different from how a telephone uses its network or a security camera uses its video network. Most of what we use computers for is to shuttle data from one place to another. The main requirement is that the data remains intact. What is received must be bit for bit identical to what is sent. It doesn't really matter if there are short delays in the transfer or if some parts of the data set need to be resent because they arrived corrupted. As long as data integrity remains intact and the transfer time doesn't impact productivity, the computer network is doing its job.

The telephone network is a different animal. Telephony is a real time process. You speak into one phone and your voice comes out of another. It's a continuous process in analog telephony, consisting of an varying electrical signal that is present for the duration of the call. Any delays, interruptions or added noise are noticeable and objectionable. They are perceived to be degradations of the service.

What convergence does is convert analog telephone signals into data packets that are compatible with an Ethernet computer network. The phone, in essence, becomes a computer. But to emulate a telephone network, any phone packets need special care and protection from being pushed out of the way by large data file transfers. A stream of telephone data representing a voice signal can't be retransmitted if it is corrupted. That would make two-way conversations even more confusing than a few glitches from missing packets. When voice is added to a data network, it needs to be treated as first among equals.

That's the challenge of network convergence. The techniques often adopted are to have enough bandwidth to accommodate voice, video and data simultaneously. In addition, real time signals such as telephone or video cameras are given priority over less time sensitive packets such as computer file transfers.

Now, consider the Internet. The Internet treats all packets the same and gives no priorities to voice, data or video. In addition, parameters such as latency (time delay), jitter (variations in time delay), packet loss and bandwidth have no guarantees. You get what you get and it may vary from second to second.

That's the impetus behind managed IP networks. A managed IP network is like having a private Internet. You use the same equipment, the same protocols, and connect to the same places. But the network you travel on is carefully managed to ensure quality for your critical packets. Where it connects to the actual Internet to give you access to this important public resource, there are protections so that you still have quality assurances for your telephone services that don't travel on the Internet.

If you've been disappointed by the results you are getting from company initiatives to move to enterprise VoIP telephone services or converged voice and data networks, then you may be pleasantly surprised by the results you can get with managed IP networks. Take a few minutes and find out what a managed IP network can do for you.

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