Why SIP Savings Aren’t Enough

In late 1971, a computer engineer named Ray Tomlinson invented Internet-based electronic mail. You can blame Ray for all those “@” symbols you’ve tapped out over the intervening years to denote the user’s login name and the name of the host computer. And five hundred unopened emails when you return from holiday vacation. The first test was sent by two computers across the nascent Internet, known as ARPANET. The message was: “QWERTYUIOP.” Today, a large percentage of the world’s population types the @ symbol every day. In interviews, Tomlinson has said he believed his invention would eventually have a big impact on daily life, but he never imagined how quickly it would occur.

By 1996, when I switched careers from publishing to a marketing job at a cutting-edge video backhaul company (that Level 3 still operates), email had replaced pink paper memos in the corporate world – with a vengeance. By 2004, just about everyone carried a cell phone and mass market VoIP had arrived, slashing telephone bills. Today, many traditional services are beginning to be delivered from “the Cloud.”

All along the way, at the juncture of these massive changes, many people expressed doubt.

These megashifts in the way we communicate have followed a familiar, if continually compressed, adoption pattern. In the beginning, service providers must overcome hurdles of interoperability, availability and reliability. Regardless of the perceived savings, users have to feel secure about migrating to a new technology. They have to make the process more simple and secure.

I think we’re approaching a new era in which voice becomes an application and one driver is SIP trunking carrying enterprise VoIP traffic to the PSTN instead of across legacy TDM connections. It’s a fundamental change from yesterday’s view of voice as a static web of digital circuits to an application that can be shared among business users along with other emerging unified communication tools. The majority of enterprises have invested in SIP equipment to carry internal traffic, but gaining confidence to rip out their banks of ISDN circuits has been slower, because carriers have struggled to make the complex process easier, with more flexibility. SIP adoption continues, but the market has shown that it’s not enough to deliver a significant savings (broadly shown to be 30% or more); a provider has to demonstrate greater compatibility, survivability and flexibility to CIO and IT architecture decision makers. Key decision makers must dig deeper if they want to succeed in creating a leaner, efficient market leader versus lagging behind competitors. It’s all about asking the right questions.

Reliability and survivability are a function of your carrier’s core voice architecture and native footprint.

  • Is it designed from the ground up with IP, or is it a Frankenstein’s monster? In other words, is the carrier’s network 100% IP end to end, or is it a legacy circuit-switched local and long-distance TDM network with bolted-on SIP gateways (converters) and routers, in essence two networks that must interoperate? The latter environment is less reliable, issues take longer to repair, and call quality may be affected by hops, compression codecs and the like.
  • How large is the carrier’s native SIP local footprint? Never trust the maps you see on the web or brochure. If they rely on other “off-net” carriers to complete their footprint, that means a loss of direct visibility and management.
  • Does the carrier’s network provide built-in granular (telephone number) and broad (trunk group level) failover?

The other barrier to migration is compatibility with existing technology. Enterprise leaders are trying to divert capital investment to grow business, so they would prefer not to see their business case return diminished or be asked to purchase additional CPE.

Greater simplicity and flexibility are important differentiators.

  • Is your carrier PBX agnostic?
  • Can your SIP carrier deliver a native PRI hand-off to a business site or branch that still operates a legacy TDM PBX system? Level 3 added this capability this fall, allowing customers operating in a hybrid environment of IP and TDM PBX sites to connect all sites without purchasing a gateway router. More connected sites equals greater efficiency and savings.
  • Does your carrier provide a SIP installation Service Level Guarantee (SLA) program? They should, if they’re touting the IP muscle of their voice network and deep bench of propeller-heads.
  • Speaking of propeller-heads, does the carrier offer free engineering or professional services consultation?
  • Is your carrier willing to offer a free, limited time SIP trial? These programs allow voice architecture teams to limit risk while testing the carrier’s design and performance.

Change is inevitable, and the telecommunications ground seems to shift at a faster pace, but network enabled enterprises with foresight can generate a lot of short-term benefits while setting the stage for what’s next. Learn more here


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By day I spread the story of Level 3’s enterprise and carrier portfolio of voice services as director of product marketing. By night I tap out tales of horror and science fiction.

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