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How MPLS Networks Support Enterprise VoIP
Telephony over MPLS Networks offers a cloud solution to tie multiple business locations together.

By: John Shepler

Medium and larger size companies often have multiple locations with multiple sites around in the metro area, and even branch offices scattered around the country or the world. Traditional PBX phone systems with connections to the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) have provided high quality telephone service for decades. So why risk switching to a VoIP phone system? If you do, what takes the place of the PSTN?

The proven quality and reliability of the century-old public telephone network has made many organizations think twice before embracing newer technology. After all, the legacy of "Ma Bell" is formidable indeed. Indeed, it's not uncommon for companies to gut their internal phone systems and replace them with network voice equipment while leaving the old phone lines in place. An IP PBX with SIP phones on every desk can take the place of the old proprietary PBX design to add functionality and ease of moves, adds and changes. By plugging in a multiple FXO card or T1 PRI Interface card, the existing PSTN connections can continue to be used as-is. There is no need to change this, but there may well be lost opportunity.

Needs of Multiple Location Organizations
Consider the multiple location organization. The simplest telephony solution is to install separate phone systems at each location and route all your inter-office calls through the PSTN exactly as any other outside calls. Therein lies the problem. Every time the public toll network is used to connect from place to place, there is a per minute charge. We expect that when calling customers or vendors long distance. But for internal calls it can get pricey fast. It doesn't seem right to discourage employees from calling colleagues at other sites, but when cost control becomes critical it can become necessary.

The other problem is that you enjoy three or four digit calling within your building but wind up having to dial all 10 digits to get to another location. It reinforces the notion of us (inside) versus them (outside). It feels a lot more like the same company when every call to every desk works the same regardless of location.

A solution to the dialing problem that also lets you avoid toll charges is to connect your various phone systems together via PBX tie lines. These are point to point solutions, so you'll need to either create a star network with all control at a central office or install tie lines from every office to every other office. Oh, but that gets expensive fast.

Cloud Networks To Tie Phone Systems Together
What you really want is a fully meshed network where any location can connect to any other through a cloud. The PSTN does that on a switched basis. The Internet does the same thing for IP data. But the Internet is iffy as a telephone network. It was never designed to ensure quality of service for real time applications such as VoIP. It can work fine sometimes, not so good at other times, and just terrible when you least expect or can afford it. What you need is a private version of the Internet structure but designed to properly transport packet based phone conversations.

MPLS or Multi-Protocol Label Switched networks do just that. MPLS uses specialized tag switches instead of IP routers to identify each packet and ensure that it gets directly to the proper destination and with enough bandwidth to avoid and delays or corruption. MPLS networks are private IP-based networks that handle a wide variety of voice, video, and data traffic in various protocols. Hence the term multi-protocol. But why are MPLS networks so suited to enterprise VoIP telephony?

Advantages of MPLS Networks
MPLS networks offer a meshed cloud structure that each site connects to via a broadband IP service, such as a T1 line. Within the cloud, the tag switches label packets as voice or data and then transfer them to their intended destination. QoS or Quality of Service is guaranteed by the tagging process and adequate resources of the network. The result is ease of connectivity from any site to any other site with call quality assured. It's the PSTN updated for today's packet network technology.

Prior to MPLS networks, Frame Relay networks were another way to provide similar connectivity. But the newer competitive MPLS networks offer considerable cost savings while supporting both voice, video and data connections among your business locations.

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