IP Message Systems
February 18, 2002
IP Message Systems
Over the past 20 years, the equipment used in offices has changed. Internet Protocol (IP) message systems have proven to be slow for companies to adopt. Fax machines have transformed document transmission. Personal computers have turned managers and administrators into “knowledge workers.” The telephones on the desks of most workers have changed very little over the years. IP-based data networks are suppose to replace dedicated voice-based systems with phones that connect directly to data networks. IP message systems allow users to access e-mail, fax, voice messages, conference calls, and call forwarding. Users can access this information by phone, mobile phone, PC, facsimile, pager, and personal digital assistant (PDA). The basic idea behind unified messaging is a simple one. Rather than having separate viewers or procedures for voice mail, e-mail and fax messages, it is easier to put them all into a single integrated inbox. By selecting an e-mail message, it is displayed in the e-mail editor. By selecting a fax message, it is displayed in a fax viewer for display or printing. By selecting a voice mail message, it is played back over the PC speaker. There are many advantages and disadvantages for companies to use IP message systems to communicate.
IP message systems can be useful for companies to communicate with employees. Much of IP growth is likely to come from enterprises with more than 500 employees. However, today most IP growth is concentrated in smaller organizations. The segment of the market for IP message systems is projected to grow from $167.4 million in 2000 to more than $2 billion in 2005; with the number of unified messaging subscribers going from 18.5 million in 2000 to 122 million by 2004 (Robb 4). Some advantages of IP message systems are combined services, no phone fees, and avoid busy cellular and phone networks (Desmond 2).
Unified Messaging Systems can manage various types of messages, such as voice, fax, e-mail, and video in a single unified box. Businesses who have IP message systems can listen to incoming e-mails from a mobile phone or land line phone, and listen to voice messages left in their voice mail box on their computer. Employees can also send and receive fax messages from their mailbox without using a fax machine. Faxes are received in their voice mail folder and can be opened like an e-mail message. Employees can be notified by their pager, mobile, or landline phone of any new messages they have (Lark Series 1). Conference calls and call forwarding can be set up using intuitive pc-based interfaces. Integrated into the message system is Personal Information Management, such as Calendar, Address Book, and Task. The easy to use natural language interface allows the user to speak naturally to the system in order to access messages (Lark Series 1). Messages are available through various devices, including a phone, mobile phone, PC, facsimile, pager, and PDA (Desmond 3). These devices are excellent for employees because they can use the type of system they like. If an employee likes to use his phone, he can check all his messages through his phone. An employee might prefer to use a computer so they do no have to worry about listening to menus, find the message they are looking for, and deleting it when they are done (Robb 2).
IP message services specifically provide: email service, voice mail service, fax mail service, Personal Information Management System (PIMS), wireless UMS, conference call, and short message service (SMS). The email service enables employees to send, retrieve, store, reply, delete, and attach e-mail by the use of the web and phone. They can also forward e-mail to a fax machine and filter e-mail. Through voice mail service they can receive and send voicemail using the web and phone. They also have call back, paging, and wake up calls. With the fax mail service they can receive and send fax by way of the web and forward and reply to fax using e-mail. PIMS allows employees to keep an address book, calendar, to-do-list, and task. The wireless UMS provides them with managed voice mail, fax mail, and e-mail by means of an Internet phone. They can receive, send, store, reply and delete e-mail using an Internet phone (Lark Series 1). With conference call they can attend and join meetings regardless of where they are located. They can conference with up to 30 people. SMS allows them to be notified of every message arrival by short message to a mobile or PSTN phone (Lark Series 2).
By using IP technology, businesses can make calls within the organization and even among offices at different locations by riding the local or wide area network to bypass phone company fees. IP technology can deliver big features even to cash-strapped businesses. The outbound calls pass through a gateway and onto the public switched telephone network (PSTN). This ensures that IP phones can complete calls to any destination (Desmond 1). Big and small companies alike are assessing the potentially large cost savings of moving phones into the IP networks. Cray’s Stephens says that his company is saving $1000 to $2000 per month by routing calls from the Wisconsin office through Cray’s Mendota heights, Minnesota, facility. The interoffice calls are handled by the wide area network (WAN), and the calls made to other companies in the Twin Cities region hop off the WAN and become local calls as well (Desmond 4).
Vendors are advertising the power of text massages that run over IP and wireless modems because they can avoid congested cellular networks. Senior vice president of corporate development at Sierra Wireless said, “Communications over phones were proving to be challenging. While the phone systems have been overloaded, we have been able to keep in touch. The Internet has a much greater capacity to handle the communications” (Vance 1). At Sierra Wireless, the employees changed their personal digital assistants with wireless modems over to IP instead of using cellular networks (Vance 2). Mobile workers can make calls over the Internet, sidestepping the premiums charged by cell phone service providers and calling cards (Desmond 1). IP technology was useful for companies such as Wireless Knowledge, during the events of September 11th. Employees were thankful that their own software helped them check on workers in the companies New York office. Early that Tuesday morning the vendor of Wireless Knowledge sent out a data message to all employees asking them to respond with there whereabouts via text message, either by Personal Computer (PC), mobile phone, handheld PC, or two-way pager (Vance 1). If this company and others did not have IP technology, the businesses and their families could not have been contacted. All phone lines and cellular phone lines were congested and/or not working (Vance 2).
The list of potential benefits for using IP message systems is long, but companies have not rushed to place voice communications on their data network. Businesses are unsure if they can trust new IP systems. Even though unified messaging software pulled in $240 million last year, and is predicted to grow to $934 million by 2005, companies are still skeptical of IP message systems (Robb 1). Some disadvantages to IP message systems are network failure, the price, and they are not useful for everyone.
Companies have not been adopting IP message systems quickly because executives are not willing to risk shifting from established phone systems to failure-prone networks. Despite technological advances, wandering to IP telephony is not a move to be taken lightly. Performance lags that would go unnoticed on a data network can significantly degrade IP voice quality (Desmond 4). In the current environment, it is almost impossible for separate e-mail, voice mail, and fax services to be down at the same time. However, unified messaging carries the potential for unscheduled, unplanned downtime taking down all forms of communications simultaneously. For real-time customer-oriented businesses, such as banks, online retailers, and travel agents, losing all forms of communication at the same time would be untenable. Another problem is the potential for downtime recovery taking longer when bringing back online a unified messaging system after an outage (“Is unified” 1).
IP telephony requires voice aware network gear such as switches, routers, and gateways that can recognize voice traffic and move it along without delay. Companies have not been able to justify expensive upgrades to recently acquired network hardware and software. The current phones that companies are using now will not work on the network. IT departments should plan for sticker stock when it comes to outfitting employees with IP phones equipped with Ethernet jacks and network components (Desmond 3). 3Com’s SIP phones retails for $395 per phone, which is about twice the cost of a high-end traditional desktop phone. Companies also have to make the major decisions if they are going to buy a system or build one. Most businesses have chosen to outsource so they do not have to worry about maintaining the system. However, no matter what they choose all the options are expensive (Desmond 3). Another IT-related problem with unified messaging is the need for more storage and bandwidth. Voice mail and fax communications running over the messaging infrastructure will impose greater storage and bandwidth requirements than an e-mail-only system. This necessitates the need for more infrastructure and more labor to manage it. Storage management is a key problem in current messaging systems. This is expensive for smaller companies and for large companies who may not have the need for this type of message system (“Is unified” 1).
An IP message system would not be useful for people who sit at a computer and receive large numbers of text messages on a continual basis. IP message systems are useful for professionals who receive text messages on a more sporadic basis and who do much of their work away from a computer. A communication service provider in Minneapolis installed the technology for use in the offices of accountants, lawyers, and doctors to provide a bridge between the IP capability in those offices and their older telephone technology. The results from the test were never posted (“IP-based 1). Mobile and remote workers can benefit greatly from a tight linkage and integration of voice mail, e-mail, and fax. As the workforce grows, employees who work in virtual environments must maintain nearly constant accessibility and responsiveness to customers and peers. IP message systems for employees who work out of a single location are nice rather than vital, and do not make a difference in their daily work. Office bound users with access to voice mail and e-mail do not require unified messaging because the technology will save them only a few minutes per day (Pierce 1). Most of the early adopters of IP message systems were businesses with mobile employees or knowledge workers. When employees are out of the office they do not have access to fax communications or e-mail, but studies have shown this is only 20% of the time.
In conclusion, today most of IP growth is concentrated to smaller organizations, but it is expected to grow from enterprises with more than 500 employees. IP message systems combine various types of messages. Businesses can bypass phone company fees by riding the local or wide area networks. When messages run over IP and wireless modems, business can avoid congested cellular networks. This ensures that companies can always be in contact with employees. Even with all these benefits companies are slow to adopt IP technology. Executives are afraid of failure prone networks. For real-time customer-oriented businesses, losing all forms of communication at the same time would be unsustainable. Executives have not been about to justify expensive upgrades to recently acquired network hardware and software. IP message systems only benefit mobile and remote workers, and are not beneficial for employees who work out of a single location.
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