Hanging on the telephone
Andrew Jones says that the current trend for unifying communications onto a single internet network may not necessarily be the best solution for every council.
Smart mobile devices have, by their very nature, brought voice and data convergence to a mass market.
It is easy to be convinced they offer a panacea for all communications issues – addressing all needs and offering the best value for money.
However, when critical communications are a key requirement, the situation can become much more complicated and it may even become clear that separating voice and data systems could be a better solution.
One of the biggest benefits to using smartphones in a council is the ability to not only use the commercial cellular services but also private networks (either a private cellular/GSM network or even a WiFi-enabled solution).
This is the kind of flexibility that is highly useful and simply was not available in the past.
Today we continue to build our onsite networks and links to the outside world to provide high speed and rich data content to suit our needs.
However, each year sees shifts in content, the definition of graphics and tolerance to delays, requiring us to carefully manage and upgrade our onsite WiFi and internet connectivity so it provides the best for our employees for the foreseeable future.
We continue this investment to keep abreast of ICT demands of our users and as far we know this trend is set to continue.
So is introducing VoIP, (Voice over IP) onto a WiFi network that continually struggles to keep abreast of our needs counterproductive?
The answer is not a simple one.
VoIP systems have long been touted as a cost-effective and user-friendly way of making voice calls which are perfectly suited to running over powerful WiFi systems.
However, a major issue with VoIP is that voice makes less bandwidth available for data.
As we struggle to keep up with our data needs, introducing something which deteriorates our level of service, may not be sensible.
We also need to consider vulnerability to disruption.
If our WiFi goes down and we lose voice and data, the disruption is more serious to the business than just losing data.
Also, although it uses an existing asset, upgrading a WiFi network for voice can be expensive.
For many councils it will involve substantially increasing the WiFi capacity to gain the desired result.
Modern voice systems such as onsite mobile networks could bring the benefits of smart devices and onsite reliability to an organisation without the burden on ICT.
It could lead to savings not only in terms of the systems and the financial outlay for them, but also with regards to the time and resources required by the IT team and department in running them.
Whilst there are considerable benefits to incorporating the ICT and communications functions in one department, it also means that the resources of this department can suddenly be heavily stretched.
Whilst this seems to contradict the popular unified communications message, having diversity and resilience is a very desirable feature for an organisation that relies heavily upon its communications.
In some cases this might feel like a step backwards – but actually this is a great strength of using smartphones which are able to utilise both WiFi and private or public GSM mobile networks and making full use of dedicated apps to administer this efficiently.
It also means that the ICT and communications teams can plan in detail the best ways to address communications needs for data without the interruption of voice.
The use of a private mobile network has many advantages when smart devices need to be part of the future communications mix.
Owning a private GSM network onsite can be economical whether deployed through onsite base stations or over a DAS (Data Acquisition System) network.
It will not only remove public mobile network dead-spots within buildings, it also provides resilience when then public networks become congested or experience failures.
Equally, onsite calls are owned and managed by the business so capacity can be managed in accordance with demand, whilst data and text messaging can be performed without the delay of crossing public networks – making your most common communications method quick and reliable.
Voice calls avoid a potentially congested WiFi network, but can still be made from the same device as data is sent and received.
In the event of a network failure, voice calls plus text and mobile data continue.
If used properly, smart devices could be could provide a robust communications solution, offering excellent capacity and resilience across WiFi, private GSM and public GSM networks.
Whilst the pervasive trend is undoubtedly towards unification, careful planning of the infrastructure is essential, and for some councils this will mean diversification to ensure users get the most from these systems.
It is of course possible to integrate data and voice data streams over a single ICT network successfully, but this requires careful upgrades and may ultimately impact on the overall performance of data when the need for information and rich content is booming so returns on investment could be not so attractive.
Happily the flexibility of smart devices means that different technologies can be used in the network design without an adverse impact on the people using the service.
So while the usability of communications looks set to become even easier, network design may be becoming more complicated.
Andrew Jones is marketing director at communications supplier Multitone Electronics
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