Future Of VoIP Calls For Growth In Services

At the same time, VoIP systems will become an integral part of broader communications solutions, a trend that will usher in more services and consulting opportunities for the channel, solution providers said. They also expect the adoption of dual-mode phones that can traverse both Wi-Fi and cellular networks, as well as more opportunities from the growth of managed VoIP services.

“It&'s not that bleeding-edge technology, that ‘bet-your-job&' technology anymore,” said John Freres, president of Meridian IT Solutions, Schaumburg, Ill.

While SMB customers have been quick to jump on the VoIP bandwagon, larger enterprises have taken a more cautious approach. But solution providers said that is now changing as enterprise concerns are being eased by an increasing number of customer success stories.

Over time, however, the VoIP craze will become more commoditized and sales will taper off, they said.

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“We&'ll see probably another five to seven years of continued acceleration and growth,” said Steven Madick, director of engineering at Nexus Integration Services, Valencia, Calif. “I think at that point, you&'ll start to see a significant plateau.”

One reason why VoIP sales are hot now is because customers that replaced or upgraded their phone systems in advance of Y2K are looking for new solutions, since the average PBX life span ranges from five to 10 years, Madick said.

While routers, switches, IP-PBXes and handsets still carry significant sales prospects, Madick said even bigger opportunities can be found in services and consulting as VARs and integrators create sophisticated solutions that tie VoIP in with messaging applications or back-end data systems such as ERP.

“It creates a consulting environment where the customer is not sure how to take advantage of the technologies or how, from a business-process standpoint, it will impact them,” he said. “It calls for an analysis of where customers are now and where they want to go.”

A big piece of that broader communications solution will include dual-mode phones that run on cellular networks but can switch over to internal wireless LANs once users enter their offices, solution providers said. “Smaller companies are becoming more mobile. They are less facilities-based,” said Pete Busam, president and COO of Decisive Business Systems, Pennsauken, N.J. “As long as [dual-mode phones] stay simple and easy to use, they will find success.”

Dual-mode phones could mean the end of desktop phones as we know them, creating an environment where users no longer need to carry multiple phone numbers and voice-mail systems, solution providers said.

“The roaming phone will be the replacement, where maybe the desktop phone has a slot to cradle the cell phone, so you use a regular handset at the desk, then pop it out and go,” said Gaby Batshoun, president and CEO of Global Business Solutions, a network integrator in Newport, Ky.

Solution providers also predict the increasing popularity of hosted or managed VoIP services, or IP versions of today&'s Centrex circuit-based services. “Through IP Centrex, you&'ll see the viability for a lot of companies to look at VoIP more like a utility,” said Meridian&'s Freres.

As more service providers roll out IP Centrex offerings, the opportunity arises for them to team with VARs and integrators, Freres said. In such a partnership, the service provider supplies the dial tone while the channel partner designs and delivers the solution, tying in the necessary router and switch infrastructure, phones and services, he said.

IP Centrex can be an especially good fit for SMB customers, Freres said.

“It doesn&'t make sense for a 200-member company to have redundant phone systems and voice-mail systems,” he said.

Meridian has already begun exploring possible service provider partnerships, he said.