The deployment of business VoIP and unified communications (UC) is accelerating as enterprises recognize the returns they can realize. Recurring communications cost savings from circuit consolidation and long distance expense reduction are one factor driving main stream adoption, while new and powerful applications that allow for optimizing business operations further expand the value proposition. Infonetics Research forecasts market growth to $88 billion by 2018, and points to the 50% increase in SIP trunking in 2013 as part of the supporting evidence.
Multi-location enterprise VoIP deployments rely on acceptable QoS (Quality of Service) to each of the connected sites. Latency, jitter, packet loss, and the burstiness of packet loss and jitter effect the end user experience in the form of delays, echoes, strange sound effects, and dropouts. So taking steps to deploy a robust site-to-site broadband data network to minimize or eliminate these issues is essential for a successful deployment.
There are hundreds of providers of VoIP and UC solutions for business. But when it comes to the network that supports these solutions, the choices are more limited. And when you examine the available alternatives for the last mile of that network connecting your site to your selected telecommunications carrier, you may be limited to perhaps one local exchange carrier (e.g. Verizon, AT&T . . .) and one cable company (Comcast, Time Warner . . .).
These “last mile” providers have specific customer requirements that must be met before they will install and activate service. Typically, they will perform a site walk-through to determine the gap between the current state and the requirements necessary before they will perform an installation. The gap can be small to non-existent if similar services have already been provisioned to the location and extra capacity is available in the existing infrastructure. At the other extreme, costs as much as many tens of thousands of dollars can be incurred from a single location depending upon the specifics of the situation.
Typical site requirements include (summarized/consolidated from AT&T and Verizon):
- Environment: The requirement of an ambient temperature of 65-80 degrees Farenheit with 30%-50% humidity is not an issue in office environments, but basement locations may require installation of an air conditioner, humidifier or dehumidifier at some considerable expense.
- Power: AC power is required for the carrier’s equipment, and dedicated circuits with UPS backup is usually the norm. Depending upon distance from the breaker panel and spare capacity in the panel, this expense can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand.
- Ground: An appropriately grounded wire must be installed by a licensed commercial electrician to the carrier’s equipment. Once an electrician is already onsite for AC power install, this wire is not a significant incremental expense.
- Backboard: A fire-retardant backboard may be required to provide mounting space for the carrier’s equipment.
- Service Demarcation: A Cat5e or optical connection from the customer’s site network to the carrier service must be provided. The demarcation may have to be extended to another equipment closet in the building where the customer’s network equipment may reside. Installing a demark extension requires a low voltage cabling tech with the right tools and materials to install interior conduit if necessary and to pull/terminate Cat5e or fiber.
- Cable path and conduit: This is the one that can really hits the budget hard! If new copper or fiber must be run from the street to your building (MPOE, minimum point of entry), and/or if there is some distance between the MPOE and the equipment panel, then conduit must be provided. Getting from the street to the MPOE may involve trenching through landscaping or parking lots, tunneling under sidewalks, and/or boring through foundation walls, and then repairing/patching/sealing the conduit paths after installation. This requires special equipment as well as specific knowledge on the conduit routing requirements for fiber to accommodate gradual bends and pull boxes as necessary. Interior paths may require conduit, and distances and path obstructions (e.g. firewalls) can add to cost.
When you put together all of the activities that may be required to remediate the site readiness requirements for a carrier data circuit installation, the list can get long and complex. Different types of technicians and installers may have to be hired and managed: electricians, low voltage cabling techs, fiber installation techs, trenching and boring contractors. Materials have to be purchased, permits have to be pulled, and equipment may have to be rented. And all of this work needs to be completed during the <30 days between the carrier site walk-through (when they analyze and report on the readiness gaps) and the scheduled circuit installation date, otherwise the circuit install may be cancelled and a re-order required with the associated delay to the overall project.
The additional demands of a multi-location deployment causes the logistics coordination activities to balloon, requiring expert project management services with their associated costs.
The costs of site readiness for data circuits in support of a VoIP deployment project are typically not uncovered until the selected carrier performs and reports on their site readiness assessments. The carrier won’t perform the site readiness assessments until circuit orders have been placed. An end user doesn’t place orders until their overall project has been budgeted and approved, and deployment is underway. This leaves the project vulnerable to an unexpected large budget overrun surfacing in the middle of the execution phase.
A prudent project manager can’t eliminate these hidden cost uncertainties, but here are three actions that can help:
- Build a substantial contingency in the project budget to address these anticipated but a priori not quantifiable costs.
- Be prepared to compromise and rework the solution for large-gap sites where the cost / benefit ratio becomes unsupportable with the addition of the site readiness remediation costs.
- Set expectations with project stakeholders that allow for the possibility of site-specific re-solutioning.