Tue, Jun
3 New Articles

Strike Up the Band(width)

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

Not long ago, high-speed data lines were cost prohibitive, and as a result, their use was limited to large businesses. Today, it's a different world. The onslaught of broadband technologies like cable modems and DSL have made high-speed data lines commonplace and have driven down the cost of just about every other type of high-speed data connection. Now, most businesses, even small businesses, have high-speed Internet connectivity. And while these connections, along with the use of virtual private network (VPN) technology, allow these businesses to use the Internet as their own private WAN, most businesses use this technology only for transmitting computer data.

Well, get ready to take another look at how you can use your high-speed data lines. Technologies like Voice over IP (VOIP) and video conferencing have evolved into stand-alone "appliances" that can run over your LAN/WAN. In this article, I'll explain what's involved with both of these technologies and discuss how easily you can achieve decent cost savings.


"Voice over IP": This phrase may conjure up visions of sitting in front of your computer talking into a microphone. But VOIP has come to mean a whole lot more. You can easily integrate your existing PBX phone system with your LAN/WAN or VPN using stand-alone VOIP gateway options or hardware routers with support for VOIP. This allows you to eliminate long-distance telephone charges between remote offices and your corporate office.

The concept is pretty simple. By adding VOIP gateways at each location and interfacing them to the PBX systems at each location, you'll be able call anyone at any remote office by simply dialing an access code to get to their PBX; then, you simply dial the person's extension in the same way you would if you were making a toll call. The big difference is that there are no long-distance charges. You can even fax through VOIP.

The diagram in Figure 1 gives you a graphical representation of the VOIP concept.


Figure 1: With VOIP, you can route voice calls over the Internet.

The example in Figure 1 assumes that you are interfacing the VOIP gateways via the Internet using a stand-alone VOIP gateway. Currently, quite a few vendors offer stand-alone VOIP gateway solutions (Avaya, Cisco, Mediatrix, Multi-Tech, Siemens). Some of these vendors offer units that allows for maximum PBX compatibility by allowing the user to select the type of interface used on each of the gateway's ports. In addition, the major router vendors like Cisco offer VOIP options for their routers.

The table in Figure 2 shows a few of the types of interfaces supported by VOIP gateways.

Foreign Exchange Station--This is equivalent to the interface on a standard telephone.
Foreign Exchange Office--This interface is used to connect an analog port on a PBX system.
Ear & Mouth--This allows you to interface to a trunk port on your PBX system.

Figure 2: These are the interfaces from your PBX to a VOIP gateway.

For maximum compatibility, choose a solution that supports the maximum number of interfaces. Most VOIP systems support at least FXO protocols. Devices that support FXO should be compatible with the analog phone port off of most PBX systems.

Another important feature to look for is H.323 compliance. H.323 adds the ability to interface software and hardware that conforms to the Internet standard for conferencing applications. This means that you can use PC applications like Microsoft NetMeeting to place calls to extensions on your PBX, and users at remote sites can connect to your VOIP gateway to call an extension on your office PBX over a 56K Internet connection. Even though a standard telephone call uses 64Kbps, compression codecs allow these calls to be compressed to 5 to 10 Kbps.

Figure 3 lists some of the speech codecs, which are a subset of the H.323 standards. These standards are defined and maintained by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Choosing a product that is based on these standards allows for maximum compatibility down the road. If you need to expand your VOIP network in the future, you'll be able to choose any brand that is based on these standards without worrying about compatibility problems.

Bandwidth Used
Uncompressed voice codec. Very high quality sound.
Used by video conferencing and voice messaging systems. Very low bandwidth requirements.
Compresses call based on available bandwidth.
40, 32, 24 or 16Kbps
Used by wireless phones and VOIP systems. Offers high quality sound with low bandwidth requirements.

Figure 3: This list shows some of the speech codecs used by VOIP systems.

You can see that, without a codec that offers some level of compression, a voice call would take a significant amount of bandwidth.

Using the G.729 A codec, a voice call can be compressed to 8Kbps without significant loss in sound quality. One of the key problems when adding VOIP to an existing data network is that voice calls and data transmissions will compete for bandwidth. To avoid loss of voice quality or dropped calls, you will need to implement some level of quality of service (QoS) on your network routers. Within a router, this allows you to define a priority for applications running over your LAN/WAN. The primary method used for accomplishing this task for VOIP purposes is differentiated service, or diffserv. Diffserv allows you to prioritize an IP application based on the IP Type of Service (TOS) field. Imagine that you are on an important business call with a remote location and suddenly the call starts to break up like a bad cell phone conversation...all because someone at one end started to download the latest Client Access Express service pack. QoS ensures that the voice call takes priority over the service pack download. Again, with a relatively small hardware investment and a little time to configure the devices, you can easily eliminate long-distance charges between your office and remote locations.

Lights, Camera, Meeting

VOIP isn't the only communications medium that can be added to your existing network. Until recently, video conferencing systems involved expensive hardware and (also expensive) ISDN lines. Recently, however, several major video conferencing system vendors have started to offer units that can be used over your existing IP network.

As with the advent of VOIP, this change allows you to eliminate the per-minute line cost associated with an ISDN connection. The cost involved with a modern video conferencing system really depends on what level of video conferencing equipment you require. If price is a primary consideration, you can simply purchase a low-end Web cam and use Microsoft NetMeeting as your conferencing application. This type of solution is by far the most price-conscious. It can be purchased for under $100 since NetMeeting is included free with Windows. From a performance standpoint, however, the video quality will only be as good as your camera hardware. On the up side, NetMeeting gives you other conferencing functions, such as application sharing and white boarding.

For a little bit more money, you can purchase a camera specifically built for video conferencing that offers better video quality and includes its own conferencing application. An example of this type of equipment would be Polycom's ViaVideo system. This hardware/software combination also has built-in echo-canceling functionality to prevent the echo effect caused by hearing your own voice coming through on the remote end of your video conference. This solution costs around $500, and, like the first option, is best suited to personal or small meeting room use.

For larger meeting rooms, you'll probably want to select a full-blown stand-alone video conferencing system. This type of device incorporates a high-quality video camera with a video conferencing application and offers the best overall quality. The two major vendors in this field are Polycom and Sony. These systems can be connected using either an IP Ethernet network or ISDN lines. The video cameras incorporated into this type of system can be repositioned manually using remote control or automatically using voice and/or color tracking. In a large conference room full of people, this functionality enables the camera to automatically focus on the current speaker and adjust when a new person speaks. This functionality uses some "intelligence" to prevent from bouncing back and forth between speakers and instead zooms out to place both speakers in the view of the camera. A stand-alone video conferencing machine can be purchased for as little as $3,000.

As with VOIP, purchasing a device that conforms to the existing standards is important. All of the options mentioned here support H.323 standards and, in fact, can be used in conjunction with one another. Figure 4 shows what a simple video conferencing network might look like.


Figure 4: This illustration shows a sample of incorporating different video conferencing options.

Again, you can see that standards-based systems give you maximum flexibility. Small, remote sites comprised of a handful of employees might choose one of the two more cost-efficient options. Larger corporate installations would probably select a stand-alone video conferencing machine. Home users might have a Web cam and NetMeeting. Since all of these include H.323 compatibility, you can place calls between any and all of these devices. Since the VOIP systems I mentioned earlier are also H.323 compliant, you can also call anyone on your PBX from your video conferencing system for a "voice only" conference. As with VOIP, QoS can be a serious consideration when using a video conferencing system over a busy network. When using this type of system over the Internet, there can be serious implications on the video conference quality when Web traffic is heavy. An average video conference uses anywhere from 128Kpbs to 768Kpbs. Although you can perform a video conference using less than 128Kbps connection, the overall quality will be sub par.

For a more in-depth discussion of video conferencing solutions, see "Video Conferencing: The Time Has Come."

Paying the Piper

One of the best reasons to consider installing VOIP or video conferencing equipment is the cost savings. Let's take a look at the ROI possibility for both.

An average cost for a four-port VOIP gateway is around $1,800. This device would allow four concurrent calls between locations. Assuming that you don't need to add any bandwidth capability to your existing network, the total cost for two locations would be $3,600. Divide this number by the average monthly cost of toll calls between the two locations to determine how many months it would take for your VOIP equipment to pay for itself. For example, if your corporate office averages $300 in long-distance calls to a remote office, and the remote office averages $60 in calls to corporate (for a total of $360 per month), you would pay for the VOIP equipment in approximately 10 months. It's easy to see that you can achieve a relatively quick ROI by installing a VOIP solution.

Video conferencing is another story. It's not as easy to calculate the ROI here. One way to look at this is to base this calculation on the cost of an average business trip to the remote office. And this doesn't even take into consideration the out-of-office time saved.

I hope that this article has helped you re-think how you use your network bandwidth. Adding applications like VOIP and video conferencing not only extends the usefulness of your network, but can also reap significant cost savings. You'll be giving some extremely useful tools to your users at the same time.

Mike Faust is the MIS Manager for The Lehigh Group in Macungie, PA. Check out Mike's book from MC Press titled The iSeries & AS/400 Programmer's Guide to Cool Things. You can reach Mike at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Mike Faust

Mike Faust is a senior consultant/analyst for Retail Technologies Corporation in Orlando, Florida. Mike is also the author of the books Active Server Pages Primer, The iSeries and AS/400 Programmer's Guide to Cool Things, JavaScript for the Business Developer, and SQL Built-in Functions and Stored Procedures. You can contact Mike at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

MC Press books written by Mike Faust available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

Active Server Pages Primer Active Server Pages Primer
Learn how to make the most of ASP while creating a fully functional ASP "shopping cart" application.
List Price $79.00

Now On Sale

JavaScript for the Business Developer JavaScript for the Business Developer
Learn how JavaScript can help you create dynamic business applications with Web browser interfaces.
List Price $44.95

Now On Sale

SQL Built-in Functions and Stored Procedures SQL Built-in Functions and Stored Procedures
Unleash the full power of SQL with these highly useful tools.
List Price $49.95

Now On Sale



Support MC Press Online

$0.00 Raised:

Book Reviews

Resource Center

  • SB Profound WC 5536 Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. You can find Part 1 here. In Part 2 of our free Node.js Webinar Series, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Brian will briefly discuss the different tools available, and demonstrate his preferred setup for Node development on IBM i or any platform. Attend this webinar to learn:

  • SB Profound WP 5539More than ever, there is a demand for IT to deliver innovation. Your IBM i has been an essential part of your business operations for years. However, your organization may struggle to maintain the current system and implement new projects. The thousands of customers we've worked with and surveyed state that expectations regarding the digital footprint and vision of the company are not aligned with the current IT environment.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT Generic IBM announced the E1080 servers using the latest Power10 processor in September 2021. The most powerful processor from IBM to date, Power10 is designed to handle the demands of doing business in today’s high-tech atmosphere, including running cloud applications, supporting big data, and managing AI workloads. But what does Power10 mean for your data center? In this recorded webinar, IBMers Dan Sundt and Dylan Boday join IBM Power Champion Tom Huntington for a discussion on why Power10 technology is the right strategic investment if you run IBM i, AIX, or Linux. In this action-packed hour, Tom will share trends from the IBM i and AIX user communities while Dan and Dylan dive into the tech specs for key hardware, including:

  • Magic MarkTRY the one package that solves all your document design and printing challenges on all your platforms. Produce bar code labels, electronic forms, ad hoc reports, and RFID tags – without programming! MarkMagic is the only document design and print solution that combines report writing, WYSIWYG label and forms design, and conditional printing in one integrated product. Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Request your trial now!  Request Now.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericForms of ransomware has been around for over 30 years, and with more and more organizations suffering attacks each year, it continues to endure. What has made ransomware such a durable threat and what is the best way to combat it? In order to prevent ransomware, organizations must first understand how it works.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericIT security is a top priority for businesses around the world, but most IBM i pros don’t know where to begin—and most cybersecurity experts don’t know IBM i. In this session, Robin Tatam explores the business impact of lax IBM i security, the top vulnerabilities putting IBM i at risk, and the steps you can take to protect your organization. If you’re looking to avoid unexpected downtime or corrupted data, you don’t want to miss this session.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericCan you trust all of your users all of the time? A typical end user receives 16 malicious emails each month, but only 17 percent of these phishing campaigns are reported to IT. Once an attack is underway, most organizations won’t discover the breach until six months later. A staggering amount of damage can occur in that time. Despite these risks, 93 percent of organizations are leaving their IBM i systems vulnerable to cybercrime. In this on-demand webinar, IBM i security experts Robin Tatam and Sandi Moore will reveal:

  • FORTRA Disaster protection is vital to every business. Yet, it often consists of patched together procedures that are prone to error. From automatic backups to data encryption to media management, Robot automates the routine (yet often complex) tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAManaging messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. Messages need a response and resources must be monitored—often over multiple systems and across platforms. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events? Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAThe thought of printing, distributing, and storing iSeries reports manually may reduce you to tears. Paper and labor costs associated with report generation can spiral out of control. Mountains of paper threaten to swamp your files. Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing. Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAFor over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i. With batch job creation and scheduling at its core, the Robot Job Scheduling Solution reduces the opportunity for human error and helps you maintain service levels, automating even the biggest, most complex runbooks. Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:

  • LANSA Business users want new applications now. Market and regulatory pressures require faster application updates and delivery into production. Your IBM i developers may be approaching retirement, and you see no sure way to fill their positions with experienced developers. In addition, you may be caught between maintaining your existing applications and the uncertainty of moving to something new.

  • LANSAWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed. Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

  • LANSASupply Chain is becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable. From raw materials for manufacturing to food supply chains, the journey from source to production to delivery to consumers is marred with inefficiencies, manual processes, shortages, recalls, counterfeits, and scandals. In this webinar, we discuss how:

  • The MC Resource Centers bring you the widest selection of white papers, trial software, and on-demand webcasts for you to choose from. >> Review the list of White Papers, Trial Software or On-Demand Webcast at the MC Press Resource Center. >> Add the items to yru Cart and complet he checkout process and submit

  • Profound Logic Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.

  • SB Profound WC 5536Join us for this hour-long webcast that will explore:

  • Fortra IT managers hoping to find new IBM i talent are discovering that the pool of experienced RPG programmers and operators or administrators with intimate knowledge of the operating system and the applications that run on it is small. This begs the question: How will you manage the platform that supports such a big part of your business? This guide offers strategies and software suggestions to help you plan IT staffing and resources and smooth the transition after your AS/400 talent retires. Read on to learn: