Study: Companies like variety in their VOIP systems

Researcher predicts that at least two-thirds of U.S. businesses will be VOIP subscribers by 2011

Voice over IP technology has rolled out to one-fifth of all U.S. business, and adoption will continue to grow at a robust rate, according to research firm In-Stat.

In-Stat measured VOIP adoption by talking to both equipment vendors and carriers, and by analyzing reports of shipments of products and installations of VOIP services by carriers and other providers, said David Lemelin, an analyst at In-Stat in Scottsdale, Ariz., said Wednesday.

Lemelin predicts that two-thirds of U.S. businesses will have some form of VOIP service by 2011.

Along with his predictions for growth, Lemelin found in a recent study a persistent theme among VOIP adopters: They still hold onto traditional voice communications technology for a part of their operations. Traditional voice switching, known as Time Division Multiplexing, or TDM, still accounts for 44 percent of the voice lines in those 20 percent of U.S. business that have adopted VOIP, he said.

In addition to sticking with TDM for part of their work force, Lamelin said businesses are relying on multiple flavors of VOIP, and are not just buying IP-PBX switches from Cisco Systems or other vendors. In addition to buying an IP-PBX switch, businesses are upgrading traditional TDM switches to allow IP telephony on the TDM, he said.

Businesses are also buying VOIP-type services from traditional carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon Communications, and they are allowing individual workers to set up a client-based VOIP system that does not rely on a central switch, such as SkypeIn and SkypeOut from Skype, Lemelin said. In such systems, users load client software and connect to the public telephone network.

Another flavour of VOIP being used by businesses is voice-enabled instant messaging, in which a user will add voice capability to a traditional text-based instant messaging service, Lemelin said. "Increasingly, we're finding a lot of businesses are using voice-enabled IM," he said. "It's just one more option." About 14 percent of U.S. business have at least some workers using voice-enabled IM for business purposes, he said.

"As people become more savvy with VOIP options and as the Generation Y worker enters the work force, they will be very comfortable with multiple VOIP options," Lemelin said.

The implications for IT managers in businesses are fairly clear, Lemelin said. "IT managers will have to decide whether or not they will allow all these flavors, and I think there's an opportunity for the client-based providers to begin offering packages or bundled VOIP solutions that would be more business grade," he said. By business grade, Lemelin said he means a more secure solution than some consumer-focused products.

Overall, about 36 percent of the business that adopted VOIP are using a variety of VOIP solutions, he said.

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