By Timico

IT managers are used to having to keep pace with industry trends, but with an increasing amount of IT managers now finding themselves responsible for telecoms, they now have to add more strings to their bow. In fact, a recent survey by Timico found that 52% of IT managers now also have responsibility for telecoms. Despite this, the same survey revealed that a shocking 67% of IT managers do not know what SIP is, despite it being heralded in the industry as the next big shift in telecoms. In fact, UK market forecasts anticipate SIP will have overtaken ISDN for voice services by 2016*. So what is SIP and how can it be used to an IT manager’s advantage?

What is SIP?

As a replacement for traditional phone lines, SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) Trunking is a type of protocol that initiates a session over the internet, ranging from a simple two-way telephone call to complex, collaborative multimedia conferencing. In addition to voice, SIP makes a variety of innovative services function properly together, such as instant messaging, presence and video and it’s causing big waves in the telecoms industry. So far, so good. But SIP is not a ‘plug in and play’ solution. Although its benefits seem like a no-brainer, IT managers need to look at SIP in the context of their entire voice and data network before signing on the dotted line.

Maintaining business as usual

One of SIP’s biggest benefits is its resilience and the business continuity options that come along with that. IDSN lines might seem comforting and familiar, but the risks associated with them far outweigh those encountered with SIP. While IDSN calls can only be rerouted to one number in the event of a line failure, SIP connectivity can offer a choice of disaster recovery options depending on the needs of the business. Having voice running over data lines gives more flexibility to switch to back-up circuits or point traffic to a different I.P. address. With these quick and easy-to-implement DR options available, incoming callers would never even know there was a problem.

SIP also carries the benefit of being almost as flexible as email in terms of remote log-ins. Say, for example, extreme weather means an employee has to work from home. In email terms this doesn’t usually pose a problem, the employee just logs on to their remote email from a home-based device. But their landline? Well that just rings to an empty office. With SIP, employees can not only log on to their email remotely, but also to their telecoms too, not just by re-routing calls but by also logging onto mobile or laptop VoIP clients. This flexibility also comes in handy for businesses that move offices but want to retain their old number – or open an office in another part of the country but want to keep a local area code that their existing customers know and trust.

Saving the day

Of course, after outlining all of these benefits, IT managers will be bracing themselves for a hefty fee-increase. Not so. A typical ISDN30 channel costs around £14.50 p/m whereas a SIP channel comes in at around £3.50 p/m; a £3,960 per annum saving per 30 channels, not including any savings made on calls. Naturally there are set-up costs involved, but SIP has an impressive ROI because the monthly saving is so substantial. SIP installation often pays for itself within a few months.

Are you ready?

The benefits speak for themselves, but IT managers still need to figure out if they are ‘SIP ready’. Essentially, all you really need is a data connection and an IP-based telephone system – but a good overall understanding of how it will integrate with your network as a whole is critical too. The type of connection used depends largely on your bandwidth requirements. The number of calls that can be made on an internet connection depends on the upload bandwidth available as this is normally smaller than the download speed. Best practice is to use a line dedicated to SIP to avoid quality problems associated with large data downloads by PCs on the Local Area Network.

A Fibre to The Cabinet (FTTC) line with 10Mbps upload would allow 100 simultaneous phone calls. Larger offices might use fibre-delivered dedicated data circuits to support dozens or hundreds of VoIP end users. EFM or Ethernet connections, which can be delivered in speeds of up to 10Gbps (a lot of calls) can also be configured to provide Quality of Service for voice calls which means that the same connection can happily carry both voice and data traffic without degrading the voice.

Equipment set-up at your premises is straightforward. A SIP line connects with the IP-based telephone system in the same way an email client picks up email from a remote service. All that’s usually needed is the registration credentials from your service provider to allow connection to their network. This is true whether the line is a single channel on a telephone handset or a multi-channel pipe connected to a PBX phone system.

The other essential component to being ‘SIP ready’ is the right SIP provider. There are ways around installing SIP if no IP PBX exists such as the use of a SIP gateway on an existing system; so make sure you spend the time finding the right service provider with the right expertise.

Don’t be pushed into signing a contract without a trial either – quality suppliers will offer a SIP trial with a test number to test all elements of the solution. At no time should your provider transfer any line numbers until the solution has been thoroughly tested in a secure environment, so don’t enter into anything you are not comfortable with.

Safe and secure

One of the main priorities when adopting SIP is to establish security requirements at the outset, which are often overlooked. Companies protect their data and internet connections as a matter of course, but often neglect to protect their telecoms from malicious threats. SIP needs a session border controller (SBC) in order to be fully protected and functional – it’s the equivalent of firewall for your telecoms. An SBC will provide SIP-aware security to your network which a traditional firewall couldn’t handle. There’s also a SIP proxy element to consider. Some IP PBXs are better than others at handling SIP, or may simply handle SIP traffic in a way that does not suit your network, but the addition of an SBC can address these problems. Standards can vary from supplier to supplier, so ensure that the security attributes are down in writing and that high standards are maintained.

Consider your business

SIP can benefit businesses of any size, but there are certain industries which really should be adopting SIP as a matter of course. Classic examples include new car sales, with huge peaks twice a year, or the university clearing system with its annual call spike. At certain times of the year businesses can see call-based enquiries go through the roof, but day-to-day volume is generally lower. SIP is the perfect fit for these kinds of businesses – with capacity increases achievable within hours as opposed to weeks.