There really are two interconnected worlds to consider when looking at a telecommunications service. One is the underlying technology and the other is how the success or failure of that technology is perceived by customers.
This InfoWorld post on VoIP, which excoriates the quality of Vonage and Comcast's services, must have hit a nerve: It generated 35 responses -- roughly equal between agreement and disagreement -- within a few days of its posting.
The blogger, Ephraim Schwartz, uses Microsoft's unified communications rollout earlier in the week as a jumping off point to critique VoIP, which he reasons is the backbone of UC. He says the services he has used are prone to scratchy connections with lots of static, dropped calls, spotty coverage within a home, one side dropping out of two-way and numbers that are mysteriously unreachable.
All of those descriptors can be summed up by a single technical phrase: poor quality of service (QoS). This Network Observations posting discusses the issue of VoIP QoS for the enterprise. The writer says QoS must be tracked on the corporate local-area network (LAN), on the wide-area network (WAN) -- the element that is largely beyond the control of the IT department -- and the small but treacherous trade-off point between the two. The advice offered by the writer is to make sure any measure of QoS covers the entire transmission.
This blogger discusses two approaches to supporting teleworker VoIP. The blogger looks inward, discussing how Computerworld itself handles teleworkers and their VoIP. The standard setup for the company is to avoid soft clients, which are software-based VoIP programs launched in a desktop or mobile computer. The idea is that a hardware router and handset offer the best odds of an acceptable call. The writer says the company is flexible -- but that if an employee strays from the suggested setup, he or she is on their own.
The second illustration focuses on Cox Communications. The company, which has call center staff working from home four days per week, relies on the workers' own machines. This, the writer says, sounds "like a recipe for failure." However, Cox uses a Citrix-based thin client approach. In other words, virtually all the real computing is done at the company's data center. The home computer is a "dumb" terminal that essentially is used only to display data.
The good news is that the emergence of VoIP as a big business means more sophisticated tools are available to raise the level of VoIP call quality. For instance, earlier this month Sunrise Telecom introduced the CM2000 cable modem network analyzer. The CM2000, the company said, makes it easier to do tests and measurements in the field. The product, which is customized to the most current iteration of the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS 2.0), features a large VGA touch screen and uses the Windows CE operating system. The vendor says this enables it to reach more deeply into enterprise databases and applications without requiring field personnel to leave the remote site.
Another product released this month is Codima Technologies' autoVoIP Report Browser. It is a tracking tool that, according to TMCnet.com, follows trends, error patterns, and quality of service in VoIP networks. The tool generates reports on VoIP monitoring and testing statistics for specified points in time. The device, the newest member of the Codima Toolbox, offers what the story calls a highly graphical dashboard, real-time protocol (RTP) analysis, frame flow analysis and call playback. All of these functions, the piece says, are aimed at improving and supporting end users' experience.
When people complain about VoIP or any other service, they really are complaining about the QoS. Schwartz's post -- and the great interest it appears to have generated -- should be a small warning flag for the industry. The good news is that a fair analysis suggests at least some people in the industry are paying attention.