IP convergence is a must for future communications
Moving beyond simple VoIP towards true convergence
Converged communications, the notion of combining telecommunications and data services on a single IP network, has been around for a while but has had a spotty record so far in the federal government. As the demand for services expands to include such things as instant messaging, texting, social media and others, however, that diffidence will change.
It will happen not least because the coming era of unified communications (UC) — the integration of such things as voice, video, instant messaging and presence with other data traffic — can’t happen in any cost-effective way without that IP convergence. And agencies are starting to bet their IT futures, and the way they communicate with one another and the public, on UC.
Converged communications 1.0, which focused on voice over IP, didn’t have the level of adoption in government that people initially expected, said Bill Long, vice president of enterprise voice services at Level 3 Communications. But it was a vital stepping-stone to what will come in the next iteration.
“It laid the groundwork for where voice is seen today as just another application that can run on the IP network,” he said. “Once people came to understand that, their mindset shifted, and they see now that other applications such as video and presence are the same kind of thing. And it’s that which is unlocking the door for the next wave of converged communications.”
There were security issues for many agencies when it came to figuring how to put voice, which has traditionally been carried on physically separate circuits, onto the same network that carried their data, said Scott Anderson, vice president of cloud strategy at Avaya Government Solutions. But that can be dealt with now by logically separating voice from other data traffic on separate virtual local-area networks even if those virtual networks are on the same physical network.
However, he said, policy and cost considerations are pushing agencies toward IP convergence.
“From a policy perspective, agencies are trying to support such things as telework and mobility, and they can’t do that with the [central office exchange service] most have been relying on for their phone company service,” he said. “To support [the new capabilities], they have to move to UC, which from a cost perspective requires that they migrate to a converged network.”
That isn’t to say everyone is moving to converged networks now. Some agencies are still grappling with how to transition away from legacy systems and toward the new environment, and although converging on IP networks offers cost savings down the road, it also needs at least some investment upfront, which is a problem for agencies that are under increasing budget pressures.
Nevertheless, many of the leading agencies are already far along in their convergence programs, according to Lauren Jones, a senior principal research analyst at Deltek. Their concern is no longer whether to merge voice and data on the network but how to do it to the best effect.
“There are still a lot of dedicated lines out there, for sure, but the direction is set and people are no longer questioning that,” Jones said. “The main questions now are how to architect for converged communications, how to architect the data for it and how to architect the applications in order to take the greatest advantage of it.”
Long agreed and said he believes it will still be a while before the market will provide solutions such as full business-to-business videoconferencing to government agencies. But the government shouldn’t wait to begin planning how they will use those tools, he said.
“They’ve crossed that mental threshold to accepting that communications will be just another application on the data network,” he said. “Now they need to be readying themselves for what will be coming in the next few years.”