VoIP Myths and Reality Checks

VoIP Myths (Sort Of)

The following are often presented as flatly true statements about VoIP.  While there undeniably are elements of truth in most of them, but absolutely, positively true? 100% of the time?  Harrumph. You be the judge.

1. "You'll save money" Compared to what?  If your current system is functioning, the new one is an expense, period. Can you save money on long distance calls? Perhaps: you can get VoIP domestic long distance for only a few cents per minute (quality business VoIP is Not free). However, better quality traditional long distance is generally available for only a few cents more.

When you look at the total cost of implementing VoIP to be able to save, perhaps, a few pennies a minute at most, it takes a very impressive number of minutes just to break even. And the more minutes you use, the less traditional domestic long distance costs -- especially if you negotiate properly. (Something else a competent independent consultant is good at doing on your behalf!)

Can you save enough on international calls? It all depends where you call. VoIP international rates can be significantly lower than traditional rates, but the greatest savings are on routes of much lower quality than traditional ones. Can you really save enough money to justify you or your customer not being able to hear each other clearly?  Is international VoIP calling of uniformly poor quality? No, only gray and black routes are, because that's why they cost so much less.  In VoIP, if you don't understand the wholesale market, you can't really benefit at the retail level.

2. "New IP-PBX technology is better and more reliable" More reliable than what? Phone systems ran for years without any loss of service whatsoever. To the degree that  IP-PBXs are based on computer technology, they're as reliable as, well, computers. They can be made robust and redundant (at extra cost),  but so were traditional legacy PBXs, which, in the days of the old Bell System and for 15 years afterwards, were actually designed to last for 40 years – and did.

In fact, let's talk about PBXs. The term Legacy began to be used by IP-PBX vendors at the beginning of this century to refer to non-IP-based systems. Why "Legacy"? Mostly because the IP vendors had to imply obsolescence without being able to prove it. Especially at the beginning, existing "Legacy" systems did much more and did it much better than the new ones. Not even mentioning how much more reliably.

Legacy systems are presumably "do nothing" systems, but they are reliable. IT may expect to change systems every three or five years, but knowledgeable management knows this isn't necessarily desirable -- and it isn't necessary, either, at least in the case of traditional telephone systems, and even in IP versions of some traditional telephone systems.

Why do vendors scoff at Legacy systems? Perhaps because they last too long, usually long enough to allow the owner to avoid replacing them on a vendor's preferred product replacement schedule. Or else perhaps because, under close scrutiny, an existing Legacy system's life cycle is longer than that of a vendor's product and the vendor's replacement product. (Shhhh.)

It is interesting that many vendor's products become obsolete (or cease being supported) long before they can even be categorized as "Legacy." Put differently, why do some vendors help you plan for obsolescence rather than prevent it from occurring with their own products in the first place?

3. "Unified messaging is made possible by VoIP." An interesting theory, but articulated only by the ignorant. Unified messaging (voice mail, e-mail, and fax available in a single in-box) has been around for more than 25 years, running on pre-Windows operating systems like DoubleDos and OS2.  Sometimes, capabilities are new to people who haven't been around long enough to understand what's really new and what isn't.

4. "VoIP allows companies to operate with a single dialing plan anywhere in the world." True, but the Bell System was putting together such networks for companies more than fifty years ago. It is far easier and usually less expensive to create such networks today using VoIP, but it is not new.  We just thought you'd like to know.

Reality check

Does this all this seem as if we're negative about VoIP and IP-PBXs? It shouldn't, as we explain throughout the site. We are not against technology. We are against treating technology as an end rather than simply as a means to achieve a business objective.  After all, this whole VoIP discussion is the fourth article in the Changing Systems? series.  We've discussed many alternatives, including VoIP, in the first three.

For a balanced discussion of  VoIP itself, please turn to the next article in this series, The Promise of VoIP.