Rx for VoIP Migration Pain

Most companies have a lot invested in their telephone systems, and they’re understandably reluctant to scrap that investment for the sake of keeping up with technology trends—even when there are clear advantages to doing so.

A flat-out move from a conventional (TDM) PBX-based phone system to an up-to-date VoIP system involves—in addition to the cost of replacing the PBX—network assessments, wiring upgrades, security upgrades . . . and new phones for everyone.

UK-based Citel Technologies last week announced upgrades to its Handset Gateway solution, which facilitates moving to IP voice while continuing to use an organization’s existing wired voice network and phones.

Citel, which has been around for a decade or so, originated as a CTI (computer-telephony integration) application firm. When VoIP began to percolate—while the CTI market was not exactly taking off—it underwent a soul searching. “The problem that Citel found its engineering resources really met well was taking the digital signaling between a PBX and a PBX handset and bringing it over onto a SIP platform—so that it could communicate with a number of IP PBX platforms,” Citel vice president of marketing, Leigh Fatzinger told VoIPplanet.com.

The earlier conventional wisdom was that PBX/handset signaling had to be proprietary. “Now it could be open, and handsets from a number of different manufacturers could talk to a number of different IP PBXs,” Fatzinger said.

Out of this early work grew Citel’s Handset Gateway product, which interfaces conventional phones with an IP PBX. “We do the translation between the signaling that those handsets have, and an IP signal for Ethernet that the IP PBX can handle,” Fatzinger went on. “What happens is, all the functionality that, say, Nortel’s PBX dictates to the handset goes away, and is then is re-enabled by all the functionality that the IP PBX is capable of—which is almost always greater than the previous, hard-wired system.”

To be clear, for the Handset Gateway hardware to function, there does need to be an IP PBX in the picture. Citel has done interoperability testing with products from a number of vendors, perhaps most importantly, the free, open-source Asterisk PBX.

However, there’s another trend that’s opening up the market to a much larger pool of potential Handset Gateway customers: IP Centrex or hosted IP telephony services from third parties such as Broadsoft and Sylantro, to name just two prominent providers. With this kind of service option, the PBX as customer premise equipment simply goes away and is replaced by an Ethernet connection to the third-party provider, making it dead simple for companies of virtually any size to move seamlessly to VoIP without muss or fuss.

According to Fatzinger, by reselling such hosted services, local and regional Internet service providers are finding it very easy to become their customers’ phone company. In the past, ISPs shied away from voice services, as the equipment package was complex and the sales cycle long. “With the Handset Gateway, they can walk into a business and say ‘We host your website, we host your Exchange server, why not have us host your voice as well?’ “Fatzinger said.

Citel’s recent re-launch of the Handset Gateway is really to introduce the new 12-port configuration, which supplements the existing 24-port box. Going smaller, Fatzinger pointed out, makes sense in this emerging outsourced world in which truly small companies can take advantage of the feature-richness of VoIP without owning or maintaining any infrastructure other than their existing phones and wiring.

Pricing for the Handset Gateway runs about $130 per port (as compared with as much as $1,100 per seat for a full rip-and-replace). And while Fatzinger was quick to point out that it is possible to buy an IP phone for about the same price, he also pointed out that the cost of properly assessing and preparing your IP network to take on voice duty is likely to be substantial.

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