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VoIP: Bend Boundaries, Save Money

VoIP can empower clients to overcome the constraints of time and location, allowing customers to stay in touch.

For most businesspeople, being able to communicate quickly and reliably with others is absolutely critical to getting things done. Their ability to generate revenue and keep their customers happy depends largely on being able to get in touch with the right person at the right time--and on ensuring that other people can contact them as well.

By adding Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) capabilities to Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, integrators can help their customers accomplish those goals. In fact, by empowering their clients' staff to overcome the constraints of time and location, integrators can help them significantly boost productivity while saving thousands of dollars on telecom costs.

In addition, these benefits can be delivered without a "forklift" overhaul of the customer's network and private branch exchange (PBX) infrastructure, meaning that clients can quickly see substantial ROI.

Here's how it's done. First, all staff affected by the implementation should have Microsoft Communicator and Outlook running on their computing devices, including laptop and handheld computers. This obviously requires having Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 running on a server in the customer's main office.

Second, a VoIP gateway must be installed between that server and the customer's PBX. It's important to select a gateway that integrates seamlessly with the client's existing PBX and the Microsoft environment.

This setup allows the client's employees to use their computing devices as phones. For audio input/output, they can use anything supported by those devices: Bluetooth headsets, USB-connected headsets and the speakers and microphones built into their laptops. Communicator acts as a VoIP client, allowing voice traffic to travel over the office LAN or the device's Internet connection to Office Communication Server 2007.

This server, in turn, can communicate with the PBX via the VoIP gateway. This digital-to-analog connectivity allows voice traffic to move freely between the client's LAN and the public switched telephone network (PSTN). Voice traffic can also move between the client's LAN and the Internet via its router.

The result of this simple yet effective configuration is a powerful unified communications environment that includes voice, e-mail and chat, and provides your client's staff with many high-value capabilities, including:

Connected mobility. Employees can answer their office phones from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. Each person needs just one phone number. Incoming calls from the PSTN are passed through the VoIP gateway to Office Communication Server 2007, which can be configured to automatically forward calls, even to different numbers. This "follow-me" function allows users to receive calls via the Communicator client running on laptop or handheld computers.

Global presence awareness. Employees can see whether their co-workers and other contacts are online, offline or busy-no matter where they're physically located. Users also have the option of communicating with their contacts via voice, e-mail or chat. This reduces the time lost to "phone tag" and e-mail lag.

Least-cost routing. Employees can reach their company's local offices from anywhere in the world via the Internet, meaning that they pay only the in-country rate no matter where they're calling. The VoIP gateway can then switch calls to the local PBX or PSTN.

Besides ensuring compatibility with Microsoft applications and the client's existing PBX platform, integrators will want to look for the failover and compression capability needed to ensure the reliability, efficiency and quality of VoIP calls. Specific gateway features may be necessary for certain types of client installations, such as ISDN support for interfacing with European PBXs.

Ultimately, a good VoIP gateway can help you provide a unified communications environment without requiring disruptive network changes, which eliminates the costs and risks that often prevent customers from moving ahead with such projects. By capitalizing on this market, you can not only generate sales, but demonstrate to your clients your true value as a technology partner.

About the Author

Chuck Rutledge is vice president of marketing for Eatontown, N.J.-based Certified Partner Quintum Technologies Inc., which develops the Tenor VoIP gateway and switching solutions.