Most corporate networks built for data applications will need major overhauls before they can support Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), according to the head of a competitive local exchange carrier that provides IP Centrex services.

Alain Bissonnette, president and chief executive officer

of Amherstburg, Ont.-based Broadtel Connect Inc., said Monday data networks designed to support mission-critical applications cannot usually carry time-sensitive traffic, such as voice and video, without causing unacceptable delays.

Even if a network is built for IP traffic, it is usually designed to support a company’s corporate applications. Voice traffic only requires 64 Kilobits per second (Kbps) to work well, but a 10 Megabit per second (Mbps) local-area network will not necessarily support telephony because it’s not unusual for packets to encounter delays of 300 to 600 milliseconds. A delay of this duration is barely noticeable to e-mail users, but won’t make for a very good voice conversation, Bissonnette said.

He made his remarks Monday during a seminar titled Is Your Network Ready for IP? at IPWorld Canada 2004, held at the Toronto Congress Centre.

Bissonnette said companies with a 10 Mbps infrastructure connected by hubs should upgrade to 100 Mbps switched networks before adding voice to their networks.

In addition, IT managers must ensure they have quality of service tools that will place voice packets in priority over less time-sensitive traffic, especially non-work related e-mails.

“”Stupid e-mails are transmitted at the same priority as calls”” in unmanaged networks, Bissonnette said. “”That’s nonsense.””

VoIP users also need monitoring tools and service level agreements (SLAs), he said. IT staff can monitor the network traffic and ensure it meets the requirements of the SLA, but the terms of the SLA should be decided by the business managers, who are in the best position to know what level of service is acceptable to users and how much the company can afford to spend.

Installing voice over IP can also make it necessary to re-assign staff, Bissonnette said, noting in many organizations with separate voice and data networks, the people in handling voice communications report to senior managers in finance, human resources or operations, rather than to IT managers.

IT staff installing VoIP also need to ensure the proper security measures are in place, said Emile Khan, senior IT risk management advisor for Bell Canada.

In another IP World Canada seminar, titled VoWLAN – Wireless IP Telephony Applications, Khan warned IP private branch exchanges (PBXs) are susceptible to the same breaches as data networks.

For example, Khan said, IP PBXs can be hit by denial of service attacks, which can be perpetrated by hackers with very little technical knowledge who simply download tools from the Internet.

“”My Mom can bring down a network if she wants to,”” he quipped.

Network managers should also consider splitting voice networks in order to isolate sensitive sections, and to encrypt sensitive traffic, Khan added.

In addition to installing the right technology solutions, Khan noted network managers need to educate the users on the threats, and ensure they take the same precautions they take on data networks.

IPWorld Canada continues until Wednesday.


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