Cisco urges channel to do VoIP homework

VANCOUVER — Cisco Systems Inc. wants all of its Internet Protocol telephony equipment resellers to make sure potential customers’ networks are tested before installing Voice-over IP.

When selling VoIP, assessing the underlying

network to determine whether it will support voice traffic is “a very important part of every sales process but unfortunately it is not done every time,” said Edison Peres, Cisco’s vice-president for advanced and core technologies, worldwide channels.

“We are changing our sales process to demand that it is done every time,” Peres said Wednesday during a press conference at Cisco’s annual Partner Conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

VoIP is capable of carrying phone conversations on Ethernet networks designed originally for data by breaking them down into packets, but the voice quality will only be acceptable if the packets arrive at the destination handset on time in the correct order.

Cisco plans to require its channel partners to test networks starting in July, said Richard McLeod, Cisco’s director of IP communications, advanced and core technologies, worldwide channels.

But the San Jose, Calif.-based network equipment manufacturer won’t go as far as to stipulate that VoIP resellers who don’t test networks beforehand will no longer be able to sell Cisco IP telephony hardware.

“I wouldn’t say it that strongly,” Peres said. “It’s part of the expectation that Cisco is setting with our partners.”

But one industry analyst says many users have run into trouble after installing VoIP on Ethernet networks that aren’t ready to handle real-time traffic, and Cisco shouldn’t let its partners resell IP telephony to customers whose networks haven’t been tested.

”I wouldn’t let them do it,” said Zeus Kerravala, vice-president of enterprise infrastructure at the Boston-based Yankee Group. If users are having problems with the quality of the voice service, they will blame the manufacturer of the IP telephony equipment, he added.

“They’ll look at whose name is on the phone, whether or not it’s their fault.”

Kerravala said it’s a good idea for Cisco to insist that resellers ensure the networks are assessed, because poor installations will give Voice-over IP “a bad name” as a technology.

He knows of some firms whose costs have increased by 30 to 40 per cent with IP because of the labour costs of dealing with network problems “they keep having to put out fires.”

Cisco is replacing an average of 9,000 legacy time division multiplexing (TDM) phones every day, McLeod said, adding one of the major advantages of IP telephony is the ability to add “presence awareness,” or knowing where the user is at any given time.

IP communications can be an advantage when combined with wireless technologies, said Brantz Myers, Cisco Canada’s director of enterprise marketing.

Health-care providers and retailers “have really been pushing us to bring mobile IP phones forward,” he said.

For example, he said, a retailer could use a combination of 802.11 wireless local-area networking (WLAN) technology and radio-frequency identification (RFID) to keep track of employees’ handsets and inventory at a large store.

A customer with a question about hardware, for example, could phone the store and use an interactive voice response (IVR) system to find the right employee, Myers said.

“You could hit 5 and not only have the call routed to someone with expertise in hardware, but also someone standing in front of the hardware department,” he said.

Although some enterprise customers are asking for wireless phones that can hand off calls from cellular networks to internal Wi-Fi networks, Cisco does not plan to offer this type of device until 2006, said Dave Leonard, vice-president and general manager of Cisco’s wireless networking business unit.

There is technology available that will let devices roam between cellular and internal Wi-Fi networks without dropping calls, but it’s difficult to market such a device, McLeod said, because a wireless carrier needs to be involved in the deal, and any calls made over Wi-Fi networks would not necessarily count as billable hours on a cellular network.

“It’s not a question of technology — the technology is already there — it’s a question of the business model,” McLeod said. “It’s the business model and the financials that are more the stumbling block” because both the carrier and the private branch exchange manufacturer need to make money from it.

The Cisco Partner Summit wrapped up Thursday.

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