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What is Network
Convergence? Why and how companies are merging
their voice, video and data networks to a single common standard.
By: John Shepler
Most companies have at least two networks to manage.
One is the telephone or voice network that runs between telephones,
operator stations, a PBX or Key telephone system, and the local
phone company. The other is the computer or data network that
connects individual PCs and workstations to central servers,
the Internet and other company locations. Some larger companies
also have separate video conferencing networks to tie together
multiple locations. Each network has its own wiring standards,
protocols, specialized equipment and expense. But what if all
of these networks could be combined into a single standard connection
and a single cable to each desk? That's network convergence.
Why Combine Networks?
The two big networks, telephone and computer, were developed
to such different standards that it often takes two separate
teams to run them. The telephone people don't speak computerese.
The IT department doesn't relate to phone company operations.
If you can merge these networks to a single standard, then one
group of highly skilled technical people can handle everything.
Converting the phone system to an IP telephony or VoIP standard
also makes the phones act more like small computers in that they
can be moved from location to location or more phones added to
the system with minor programming changes. Once a telephone is
on a data network, it doesn't need a specific set of wires back
to the central system.
Why Not Converge Voice and Data to the
Actually, DSL does something like that for the very small office
or remote worker. A single telephone line can be used for phone
calls and Internet access, although the line is actually carrying
separate voice and data protocols at the same time. Dial-up Internet
uses the same standard as telephones but doesn't let you use
the Internet and make calls at the same time. For all but single
users, converging telephones to the data standard makes more
How is Network Convergence Accomplished?
Your computers are probably already interconnected on a LAN that
runs the Ethernet standard and TCP/IP protocol. This is the standard
built into every new PC for networking. Corporate networks are
based on this standard which interconnects all the servers, workstations
and individual PCs. What you need then are telephones that will
work on the same network. These are often called IP or Internet
Protocol phones. Thus, the term Voice Over IP or VoIP. The telephone
converts your voice into a data stream that can easily mix with
the data stream from your PC. The phone has its own address on
the network just like any other device.
Another option is to use regular telephones
and plug them into a converter called an IP Gateway. The gateway
converts the voices to and from the data stream and provides
the signals needed for dial tone and ringing. Small offices often
use a gateway box called an interface adaptor to connect one
or two standard telephones to the Internet.
Gateways are also used to connect your
enterprise level IP phone network to the PSTN or public switched
telephone network. Remember that the standard phone system and
computer networks are incompatible and need gateways to convert
to and from each other's standards.
Special communications servers called gatekeepers,
call servers, soft switches and IP PBXs control all of the IPphones on the network to keep track of phone addresses and set
up calls between the phones. Once the phones are connected, they
talk back and forth to each other directly.
What Problems Are Presented When Converging
It would be nice if all you had to do is start plugging telephones
into the computer network and everything worked seemlessly. Adding
only a few VoIP phones to an already robust enterprise network
might be this easy. However, each of those phone conversations
chews up bandwidth faster than you might expect. When the network
runs out of bandwidth, phone calls get garbled and even dropped
Having a fast enough network to carry the
combined computer and telephone traffic is essential. For calls
that go between company locations over the enterprise wide area
network, that bandwidth is equally important in the WAN circuits.
It is also more important to voice quality than computer data
that the network have a minimal latency or delay from node to
node, and that delays are consistent to minimize jitter in the
voice data stream.
If you aren't able to provide enough bandwidth
to accommodate all data downloads and phone calls at the same
time, you'll need to implement some QoS or quality of service
priorities in your network. Real time data packets such as phone
conversations and video conferences must take priority over database
downloads and system backups, which are less demanding of instantaneous
transfer across the network.
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