Digital Transformation » Technology » Moving to VOIP can be filled with glitches, test it ahead of time

A VITAL component of the cloud is BYOD (bring your own device) and BMOB (be my own boss) – the mobile and flexible working revolution is the breaking down of all the old centralised services and thinking of the bygone telephone era.

VOIP (Voice Over IP) has now largely replaced the old circuit-switching technologies and WiFi carries more than 97% of the world’s ‘on-the-road’ data while 2.5, 3 and 4G struggle to support 50% of all data transfers, messaging and voice calls. Companies and individuals are moving to PBX clients on all mobile devices along with so-called ‘support yourself’ models with no internal IT or security departments. So ask any IT professional what can go wrong and they invariably jump on security and app support as the big issues – however, the response of users tends to be entirely different. They certainly don’t bemoan the passing of their IT and security departments – more the network-associated gotchas.

For those transitioning to this new model, everything appears to work well until they get on the road, and then they discover that broadband isn’t ubiquitous and certainly not broad. While these technologies work well in Korea, Japan and Hong Kong where broadband is plentiful and up to 1Gbit/s both ways, the UK and much of Europe have a problem in ADSL – the killer letter is A for asynchronous. You might get five or 10Mbit/s download some of the time, but the upload is most likely about 250kbit/s and that kills all symmetrical working modes including the cloud.

Sad to say, it gets worse. Many government services, airlines and banks are now ‘online only’. So a farmer I know well struggles on with a 320kbit/s broadband feed while more than one company I know suffer significant operational problems because their mobile workforce cannot find reliable broadband connectivity.

This situation is not going to get better any time soon as the network operators drag their heels into this century and still ask the same dumb question they have always asked: “Why do people want bandwidth and what will they do with it?” And as more and more companies move in this direction, it could get even worse. So is there a viable solution?

In my business and many I advise, the watchword is ‘diversity’. Multiple company, customer, commercial and public WiFi accounts and access locations. More than one 3 and 4G supplier is also a useful move, but be prepared to use any available wired LAN connection, and to piggyback off a colleague’s machine and connection. Finally, you sometimes have to drive, walk and run until you find that coffee shop, motorway services, municipal hotspot. And keep a log of these and let all your co-workers know – it all saves a lot of time and trouble.

It is also worth testing VOIP/PBX, meeting space and team-working environments well ahead of time to avoid those embarrassing glitches. The core network across Europe is filling up with video and music streaming and this provides another class of limitations beyond the asymmetric services mistake. The peak-to-mean ratio of the traffic and the false economic need to optimise the network create yet another barrier. Squeezing more and more traffic down a pipe of a given size just exacerbates the latency glitches.

So these are clear-as-day gotchas for those suffering the consequences but they appear to be a mystery to the network operators. When will this get better? When IT folks have displaced the old telco network thinking, and design and investment recognise that bandwidth is free – distance and time are irrelevant. All that matters is user experience and the continued evolution of the working environment. Keeping up with the rest of the world is paramount, and failing will cost more than the failure to invest in roads, rail and air travel. In the end, it really is all about GDP generation. ?

Peter Cochrane is an IT consultant and former chief technologist at BT