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Commentary: Ringing in the new

It's almost inevitable that in the next two to four years, most enterprises will begin to make the switch to IP telephony technology.

By Bob Hafner, Gartner Analyst

It's almost inevitable that in the next two to four years, most enterprises will begin to make the switch to IP telephony technology, relying less and less on old circuit-based phone systems as they go.

IP telephony is an emerging and evolving

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technology, and the transition to it will be gradual, not quick. Cisco Systems' recent announcement that it has lifted its IP phone technology to another level says as much about marketing as anything else.

There are some features that are easier to use with an IP system, such as personal agents. Other features, such as e-mail and call forwarding, are just as easy with the existing phone networks. But while the IP features might be interesting, and perhaps friendlier, are they sufficient to justify an immediate migration?

The new generation of IP telephony will ultimately replace the old circuit-based systems, but enterprises should make the transition only when it makes sense for them to do so.

Cisco and other IP vendors such as 3Com are constantly improving and upgrading IP telephony. Other companies such as Avaya, Nortel Networks and Siemens--makers of circuit-switched and IP systems--are working on improvements for both worlds.

To get enterprises to change systems, vendors must demonstrate how their IP products offer significant value. If the value isn't there, why bother? Enterprises should also examine what their business needs are, and what services their existing phone systems are not providing.

The move to IP telephony is a key decision point in the evolution of an enterprise's network. Enterprises should begin to plan now for the transition to IP, but they also must be certain why they are changing systems and how much it will cost. As IP voice systems become more entrenched, feature development on circuit-switched alternatives will decline--a good reason why enterprises will need an IP solution.

If an enterprise does decide to move to IP telephony, it should go through a competitive request-for-proposal process to determine the most appropriate approach and vendor. Gartner estimates that enterprises skipping this process in their move to IP telephony will pay at least 25 percent--and up to 60 percent--more for their IP telephony solution.

The market for IP technology is good, and it will get stronger in the coming years. With the constant improvements and gains being made in IP, it makes sense to monitor what's happening, but be ready to move when the time is right for the enterprise, not the IP vendor.

(For related commentary on network-based telephony, see registration required.)

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