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Why it is sometimes better to separate voice and data systems

Unified communications is an important trend but, when it comes to business continuity planning for critical communications systems, it may not be the best approach.

By Andrew Jones

Smart mobile devices have, by their very nature, brought voice and data convergence to a mass market. It’s easy to be convinced that they offer a panacea communications solution: addressing all needs and offering the best value for money. However, when critical communications are a key requirement the situation can become much more complicated and it may even become clear that separating voice and data systems could be a better solution, which could contradict the unified communications trend.

It is certainly possible to bring voice and data together when planned carefully with the right level of consideration for the longer term but it may not be that one size fits all and alternative designs and infrastructure may prove to be a more effective solution.

One of the biggest benefits to using smartphones in an organization is the ability to not only use the commercial cellular services but also private networks (either a private cellular/GSM network or even a wifi-enabled solution) – and rightly so, this is the kind of flexibility that is highly useful and simply was not available in the past. Today we continue to build our onsite networks and links to the outside world to provide high speed rich data content to suit our needs. However, as each year passes the content, definition of graphics and tolerance to delays shift, requiring us to carefully manage and upgrade our onsite wifi and Internet connectivity so it provides the best for our employees for the foreseeable future. We continue this stepwise investment to keep abreast of IT demands of our users and as far we know this trend is set to continue. So is introducing VoIP (Voice over IP) onto a wifi network that continually struggles to keep abreast of our needs counterproductive, as while it uses an existing asset, upgrading for voice is not inexpensive.

The answer is not a simple one. The issue with VoIP is that voice grabs bandwidth making less available for data. As we struggle to keep up with our data needs, introducing something which deteriorates our level of service, may not be sensible. We also need to consider vulnerability to disruption. If our wifi goes down and we lose voice and data, the disruption is more serious to the business that just losing data. So should businesses, especially where communications are an important part of the operations, consider voice and data separately?

When it comes to voice communications, VoIP systems have long been touted as a cost-effective and user-friendly way of making voice calls which are perfectly suited to running over powerful wifi systems. However, the downside to using VoIP is the bandwidth resources it demands to carry voice over a network. While it uses an existing asset, upgrading a wifi network for voice is not inexpensive.

For many organizations it will involve substantially increasing the wifi capacity to gain the desired result. Modern voice systems such as onsite mobile networks could bring the benefits of smart devices and onsite reliability to an organization without the burden on IT with savings not only in terms of the systems and the financial outlay for them, but also with regards to the time and resources required by the IT team and department in running them. Whilst there are considerable benefits to incorporating the IT and communications functions in one department, it also means that the resources of this department can suddenly be heavily stretched.

It’s a bold statement, but sometimes it could be better to separate voice and data systems. Whilst this seems to contradict the popular unified communications message, when an organization wholly relies upon its communications having diversity and resilience is a very desirable feature. In some cases this might feel like a step backwards: but actually this is a great strength of using smartphones which are able to utilise both wifi and private or public GSM mobile networks and making full use of dedicated apps to administer this efficiently. It also means that the IT/communications team can plan in detail the best ways to address communications needs for data without the interruption of voice.

The use of a private mobile network has many advantages when smart devices need to be part of the future communications mix. Owning a private GSM network onsite can be economical whether deployed through onsite base stations or over a DAS (data acquisition system) network. It will not only remove public mobile network dead-spots within buildings, it also provides resilience when the public networks become congested or experience failures. Equally, onsite calls are owned and managed by the business so capacity can be managed in accordance with demand, whilst data and text messaging can be performed without the delay of crossing public networks: making your most common communications method quick and reliable. Voice calls avoid a potentially congested wifi network, but can still be made from the same device as data is sent and received. In the event of a network failure, voice calls plus text and mobile data continue.

If used properly smart devices could be the future communications tool of a robust solution which offers excellent capacity and resilience across wifi, private GSM and public GSM networks. Whilst the pervasive trend is undoubtedly towards unification, careful planning of the infrastructure is essential and for some businesses this will mean diversification to ensure users get the most from these systems. It is of course possible to integrate data and voice data streams over a single IT network successfully, but this requires careful upgrades and may ultimately impact on the overall performance of data when the need for information and rich content is booming: so returns on investment could be not so attractive. Happily the flexibility of smart devices means that different technologies can be used in the network design without an adverse impact on the people using the service. Whilst network design may be becoming more complicated, the usability of communications looks set to become even easier.

The author
Andrew Jones is marketing director at Multitone.

•Date: 2nd October 2014 • World •Type: Article • Topic: ICT continuity

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