4 things to know about OTT voice services

Learn about the risks and rewards of over-the-top voice services

by Scott Velting, Assistant Vice President of Cloud Voice & Collaboration, AT&T

When it comes to voice services, many businesses are increasingly interested in the idea of over-the-top (OTT) voice services – and for good reason.

OTT services rely on IP networks and the public internet to carry voice calls. They offer attractive benefits, such as reduced costs, faster speed, support for remote workers, and flexibility – including the ability to “do it yourself.” OTT services give you more choices in a marketplace for voice services that's crowded with vendors offering a range of features, approaches, and price points.

As your business evaluates many options, you should be familiar with the rewards and risks. Good planning will pay off in a smooth transition – with fewer surprises along the way.

Before you make the move to an OTT voice option, keep in mind:

1. Quality of service (QoS)

We’ve all experienced poor-quality calls with jitter, echo, and dropouts. If your business is highly dependent on voice calls to connect with customers, poor quality of service can damage your reputation – and even the bottom line.

Can your chosen IP voice service can deliver the quality of service you’ve come to expect from your existing phone system?

Achieving that level of quality often requires investments in the related services and equipment that carry the call. It’s best to understand these potential investments while you’re still in the planning stage, not after you’ve implemented a voice service and are faced with unanticipated QoS problems.

If you’re considering standalone voice service suppliers, you may well discover that you need to upgrade to higher-bandwidth Internet connections, upgrade LAN equipment, and configure that equipment to prioritize voice traffic over data traffic. Without these upgrades, bandwidth demands from your company’s own internet activity could degrade call quality.

An Internet service provider that was acceptable for data-only service may not stand up to the more-stringent demands of voice traffic, where the quality of the connection is plainly apparent to every caller.

2. Continuity of service

What is the cost of a service interruption in your company’s voice system? With an intermittent drop in a call connection, the parties can simply reconnect and continue the call. It’s annoying, but not crippling.

But what is the business impact when the outages are persistent or long lasting?

When your business is highly dependent on voice to cultivate and close sales, what is the consequence to the business for a one-hour outage? What about a one-day outage? You need to quantify the business impact of an outage.

Some businesses might be willing to sustain brief outages, accepting the risks that come with a low-cost, bare-bones hosted voice service. Others might conduct the cost-benefit analysis and find it essential to minimize the risk of outages to a very low level. In this case, you’ll want to consider hosted service suppliers that have built redundancy into their service infrastructure. You’ll also want to look at fully managed services that offer SLA-backed commitments for service availability.

With voice services, you get what you pay for – and added investments truly do provide insurance against downtime.

3. Security

Because OTT voice traffic generally travels over the same network and equipment as data traffic, it is subject to many of the same security risks. Unfortunately, some of the security measures you are using to protect your data network – such as firewalls, malware detection, and other perimeter security equipment – can cause packet delays that impact voice quality. These quality issues, once diagnosed, may drive businesses to upgrade security devices to ones that are known to be VoIP friendly.

On the open Internet, unencrypted voice calls travel in a stream that is subject to eavesdropping by hackers. For protection, you can use encryption and route calls through a virtual private network, or use a service provider’s dedicated access line to reach the hosted voice infrastructure.

You also need to consider the security risks for home office and mobile workers. Smaller companies in particular generally don’t always provide VPN connections for these workers to reach the company’s network, creating a risk that grows with the addition of VoIP traffic.

4. Ongoing management and support

When your business experiences issues with an OTT voice service, where do you turn for help? Do you go to the OTT service supplier, internet service provider, or investigate your own internal network as the problem?

A potential challenge with OTT is that your business is responsible for identifying the source of quality issues, and the individual vendors are likely to question their role in any problem. The OTT vendor may blame the internet provider and vice versa, and they may both point fingers at your internal network.

If your company has already moved much of your computing to the cloud, in-house technical resources are likely scarce, leaving you short on skills to troubleshoot problems when there’s an issue with an OTT voice system. You might next resort to technical consultants that promise faster problem resolution.

Often, you may not have factored this expense into the initial cost justification. At some point, the cost of the OTT service – together with bandwidth increases, LAN upgrades, and contracted support – may approach the cost of a managed service that provides a single point of accountability and QoS assured through service-level agreements.

AT&T Office@Hand

Keeping all these considerations in mind – coupled with the unique needs of your business—means you’ll need a flexible OTT service. For example, AT&T Office@Hand offers several options to match your business needs and budgets, from OTT access (with AT&T Internet services as an option) to fully managed solutions backed with dedicated circuits, redundancy, and uptime guarantees.

What’s more, AT&T will work with you to analyze your situation in terms of IP network access, whether OTT or dedicated AVPN. We can help you make the right decisions to maximize the rewards of IP Voice while providing insights into risks in a way that best serves your organization.