How familiar are you with Voice over
IP (VoIP) technology and the reasons
why the telephone market is
rushing in that direction? Not very?
Well perhaps you should know more.
It turns out that the lessons learned from
that market tell us a lot about the likely direction
for many of the new technologies
we are dealing with in the security market.
In particular, the move to networkbased
video, access control and intercom
all are following in the footsteps of VoIP.
First, what is VoIP and why is the market
running in that direction? Well, from
a pure technology viewpoint, VoIP is any
product that takes voice communications
and converts it to travel over the network.
That enables us to do two really important
things — replace the proprietary phone
hardware in a company, and replace
dedicated voice circuits rented from the
phone company with the company’s Internet
service that it already pays for.
Inside a business, the old conventional
analog telephone handset, the PBX switch
and the miles of telephone wire can be replaced
with a system built on IP-enabled
handsets that plug into the corporate
network. In fact, if you work in a major
corporation, the odds are that the phone
on your desk uses VoIP over your network.
What is the Upside?
Well to start with, dramatically lower
costs. Companies that adopt VoIP are seeing
significant savings in both infrastructure
and call charges. For infrastructure,
it is important to know that VoIP uses
the standard corporate network to carry
the telephone calls. The signals are digitized,
turned into packets and sent over
the net. The key advantage here is that
the network is built using standardized
hardware — no proprietary equipment to
drive up purchase and support costs. Even
the phones themselves follow a standard
called Session Initiation Protocol (SIP).
Anyone’s SIP phone, be it multi-line, videophone
or speakerphone, will work on a
SIP-compatible system — so no more being
forced to buy all of your phones from
the system supplier.
The call charges are another area of savings.
Standard phone systems today charge
by the “line” for the privilege of being connected
to the phone network, and then by
the minute to conduct a call. International
calls add an even higher per-minute rate.
VoIP turns that on its head — the charges
tend to be a fixed fee per month, and the
savings can drop the charges in half.
Beyond the cost savings, these systems
tend to have some of the most advanced
features, such as simultaneously ringing
both a desk and a cell phone. Even the
administration can be easier; since the
phone number is tied to the phone, moving
a desk from one side of the office to
another is as simple as plugging the phone
into another network jack. No reprogramming
is needed, which really cuts down on
the hassle of office moves.
Along the way, we heard a number of objections
to the VoIP technology; some spot
on and worthy of thinking through ways to
improve, while others were well meaning
but unimportant in the big picture. Let’s
look at a few and see if you hear a parallel
to our physical security technologies.
“VoIP is not compatible with our network
hardware.” — Early on, adopters of
VoIP technology were finding that much
of their network equipment lacked the
features to provide high level of “Quality
of Service.” Running voice over a network
requires special handling to avoid delays or
out-of-order packets that degrade the quality
of the call. It’s not as simple as sending an
e-mail, where it does not matter if it takes a
few extra moments to get to its destination.
VoIP phones also require network hardware
that can provide Power over Ethernet
(the same requirement we have with
IP cameras). VoIP phones were one of the
first users of PoE technology, and so odds
are, users have to upgrade their network
to provide that power.
Bottom line is that many networks
needed to be upgraded. The good news
was the cost savings were large enough
that VoIP still made sense.
“VoIP phones are more expensive than
traditional phones.” — Well, that’s right.
They do more and are more complex from
a hardware point of view, but the savings
come in all of the other areas of the system.
As the IP video suppliers say, you
have to look at the total cost of ownership.
The phones may be more expensive, but
the network is still cheaper than miles
of proprietary wiring, dedicated phone
switches and telecom charges.
“If I include the cost of upgrading the
network, VoIP hardware is more expensive
than traditional.” — We hear this a
lot, but for any network-based system, the
hardware is more expensive. LAN-based
access control systems cost more than
older RS-485-based units. The savings
come from being able to use the network
as a shared utility — installation, maintenance,
upgrades, etc. should all be less.
“If I lose the network, I also lose all of
my phones.” — True enough, but in this
day, there is no excuse for having a network
that you are worried about losing.
Redundancy built into the network goes a
long way to alleviate those concerns. Battery
backup can mitigate power failures,
and modern firewalls can make even a determined
hacker’s denial of service attack
much more difficult. In short, if you use
your network for business, you need to be
able to depend on it anyway.
“Putting all of my phone traffic on the
network is a security risk.” — Once again,
it certainly could be, but only if security
is not taken into account in the system
design. VoIP traffic can be encrypted just
like any other data on the network.
“My phone supplier does not understand
networks.” — If any of your system
suppliers do not understand networks,
they will be out of business soon enough.
It is time to look for someone that can
take you into the next generation.
So, where is VoIP today?
More than 95 percent of all new phone
systems sold in the United States today
are IP-capable. Significantly more than
50 percent of all global telecom traffic
travels over IP. The way this movie ends
is very clear — VoIP will shortly be the
only approach businesses and even most
residences use to get their phone service.
And what does this mean to the security
community? Well, there are two direct
outcomes: first, VoIP is making headway
into the tools we use. Intercoms, for example,
are quickly moving from the old
analog technology to VoIP. You will also
see an increasing use of two-way audio
for cameras to not only listen-in, but also
to provide response to events. We need to
understand what this technology can do
for us and what we need to do to successfully
use it. Just as importantly, perhaps,
we need to use it as a reference point for
other technologies such as IP video and
network-based access control.
There continues to be a lot of talk in the
industry today that these technologies are
too difficult, too insecure or too expensive
to achieve widespread adoption. The history
of VoIP shows many of the same objections
that were overcome as the telecom and IT
industries worked to make it happen.
What can we learn from this tale of VoIP
Once again, we see major success after
a technology adopts an open architecture
standard. No standard, no mass adoption
— it is that simple. While video and intercom
are now headed down the right path,
access control still lags.
Objections about the cost of the network
just do not ring true in the real
world. Yes, you do have to add network
capacity, and sometimes upgrade the network.
But, if you do the right job of counting
the total cost of ownership, it will be
cheaper to use a shared network than any
other proprietary communications you
Security was just as important for VoIP
as it is for CCTV or access control. Voice
call eavesdropping can be a huge risk if
VoIP is poorly implemented. The lesson
learned however, is that IT knows how
to secure the network if the project is
Finally, we hear all the time about having
all of our eggs in one basket, but in reality,
is our security data more important
to the company than phone service, Web
sales or production? All of those co-exist
on a properly designed network and the
company depends on that shared resource
to support a large number of time-sensitive
and expensive-to-lose services. Making
an argument that your CCTV service is
“different” is not likely to get too far with
If you take away one thing from this
article, it should be that the key factor to
overcoming objections is RO I. It is possible
to get a new technology into your
company, even if there are significant
objections from multiple quarters. To be
successful, however, takes one thing —
a significant level of cost savings. Find
that, and the rest of the objections can be
Rich Anderson is the
president of Phare
Consulting, a firm providing
growth strategies for
the security industry. A
25-year veteran of high
tech electronics, Mr. Anderson previously
served as the VP of Marketing for GE
Security and the VP of Engineering for
CASI-RUSCO. He can be reached at randerson@
How familiar are you with Voice over