LAN Telephony will achieve significant growth over the next three years in Canada. An extensive vocabulary has developed to describe the elements of this technology. Some may have already encountered terms such as “Data PBX”, “Ethernet telephone,” and “VOIP (Voice over Internet

Protocol”. While the terminology may be confusing, what the technology does is quite simple; it carries voice traffic over a data network.

Data networks transport their loads in short packets whereas traditional voice networks set up dedicated circuits between end-points. The prime advantage of packet technology is that it makes extremely efficient use of bandwidth. Circuit technology is more wasteful of bandwidth because it employs dedicated paths across the network for the duration of each session. However, the traditional PBXs that used circuit technology were extremely reliable. Initially, this made corporations organizations reluctant to convert to Data PBXs’.

Several years were required for the industry to develop LAN PBX’s that were as reliable as the traditional circuit-based products and then to convince the end-user community that this was the case. However, the growing pains have passed. Corporations now have confidence in LAN telephony. As a consequence sales are booming. “This market has rounded the bend in the hockey stick growth curve and is on a steep upward trajectory,” states Brantz Myers, National Manager of Enterprise Marketing for Cisco Systems Canada.

The business case for using the LAN to carry voice is extremely strong. The company has a single cabling plant and switching system instead of two. Savings are realized both in the initial investment and the on-going maintenance of the equipment. “There have been situations,” states Trent Ready, Business Development Manager, Voice, for 3Com Canada, “where the payback from installing a Data PBX has been as short as nine months.”

For small companies, Data PBXs also offer tremendous savings in the area of reduced outsourcing costs. Luigi Calabrese, Regional Sales Manager — Ontario, for Cygnal Technologies, Data Networks Solution Group states: “Because these new solutions have applications such as teleconferencing native to them, they will often allow the user organization to avoid the expense of hiring an outside service provider.”

Equally important gains can be realized in the area of end-user productivity. The data PBX solutions on the market come with GUI interfaces that allow end-users to administer their own accounts. A corporate employee does not need the assistance of a special administrator to set-up on a conference call but can do so unaided with a few clicks of a mouse. Because the features can all be accessed through menus, work is never delayed because a manual cannot be located.

Finally, data PBX’s will make small and medium organizations better able to compete by virtue of offering them communication capabilities that they never could have afforded with legacy technology. Entry level data PBX’s allow companies to operate call centres, share email servers across multiple branches and run other applications that once would have required a very large, expensive voice system. “Our [entry level data PBX] offers small and medium businesses the capability to compete with larger corporations by delivering high-end applications at a low-end cost”, states John Williams, Director of Distribution sales for Avaya Canada.

Albert Daoust is Director, Special Projects, Evans Research Corp. of Toronto.

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