Voice-Over-IP revisited

RBC has signed a multi-year contract with Bell Canada to convert 8,400 of the bank’s phone lines in its downtown Toronto locations to voice-over Internet Protocol by the end of November, RBC will receive telephone service for two-and-a-half years and maintenance on its call servers for five years. For this project, Bell chose partners Cisco Systems Canada to provide the hardware, software, and technical/advanced network support, while IBM Canada will provide IP telephony support as well as network monitoring and management.

“Most of our network is IP today,” says Bob Matthews, senior manager, telecommunications, RBC. “This allows us to piggyback our communication services onto an infrastructure, which allows us to save money.”

While RBC has an IP network already in place, the bank will have to upgrade its routers and switches as well as put in universal power supplies on its existing switches. (The central office currently powers the bank’s Centrex servers.)

This is not the first time RBC has implemented an IP communications solution.

In 2003, the bank set up a pilot with employees at the same Toronto offices. RBC cancelled the project because it felt the technology was not ready for the enterprise at that point in time.

“We were having a lot of software changes in the service,” says Matthews. “That was causing us a lot of grief in that we had to do a lot of lab testing to prove the product worked.” This time around, Matthews is confident Cisco’s products will require fewer changes and will be easier for the bank to implement.

Confidence in VoIP in the enterprise is growing — better technology and improved productivity are contributing to this trend.

“As big enterprises get comfortable enough now they’re willing to take the larger scale deployments of VoIP,” says Jon Arnold, an independent telecommunications consultant. “Before they were only doing it on a small scale.”

While the maturation of the technology has significantly helped adoption rates, Renato Discenza, senior vice-president of sales, BCE Inc. says businesses’ thinking around productivity is really what has caused the market to move.

“Years ago people thought of IP as a cheap telecom solution,” says Discenza. “The business case approach has changed. They’re not just looking at costs. They’re looking how many more customer contacts can we have.”

Cost savings and productivity benefits aside, Cisco Systems Canada vice-president of enterprise Gilles St. Hilaire says financial services customers like RBC are also looking to VoIP for business integration and applications like directory services, touch-screen capabilities and conferencing capabilities, for example.

RBC is looking into mobile capabilities for some of its bankers and eventually putting voice, video and data over a single network.

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