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VoIP Testers Prepare for Upgrades

Network operators and gear makers aren't the only ones enjoying a spike in business as enterprises begin Voice over Internet Protocol deployments.

Test equipment manufacturers are also experiencing rising demand for hardware and software and could see their revenues increase 10 percent annually over the next three to five years, according to analysts at the Yankee Group.

Most enterprises are managing VoIP pilots internally because they don't want to relinquish control. But as the technology moves out of the IT department, it's imperative to be sure that converged networks are properly configured and running efficiently.

"During the dot-com boom, pre-deployment testing was often cut short or eliminated to meet time-to-market demands," George Hamilton, an analyst at Yankee Group, wrote in a recent research note. "Network managers would deploy new equipment live and tune the network on the fly."

That may have worked when the network was only carrying data traffic. A delay of a few seconds to retrieve messages off the e-mail server or to download a Web page goes unnoticed by users, but interference, delays or dropped voice packets on phone calls can cause serious business problems.

"VoIP traffic is too sensitive to the characteristics of IP networks to be deployed haphazardly," Hamilton said. "Enterprise network managers should confirm that their IP network will support voice traffic before moving from the lab to production."

That's where the test equipment makers, such as Empirix, Inet Technologies and Spirent Communications come in.

Products from these companies are being bought by network operators and telecom equipment vendors. And during the last year, m! any of these vendors have rolled out new product bundles specifically designed for VoIP deployments.

They are used to help enterprises at every stage of a VoIP deployment: at the assessment stage, to determine if the current network can support the extra traffic; during deployment, to ensure that there aren't performance issues before the system goes live; and after the migration, to monitor network performance and to avoid potential problems.

The timing couldn't be better. Most companies in the sector saw business flatten during the economic downturn, as large companies and government agencies delayed or canceled network upgrades.

"We didn't see a significant turnaround until last year," said Steve Gladstone, vice president and general manager of communications infrastructure group at Empirix.

The Waltham, Mass., firm reports a serious uptick in VoIP-related business. Nearly 90 percent of Gladstone's group's revenue, and about 33 percent of the company's overall revenue, comes from VoIP, he said.

"The industry is at the very early stages of deployment," Gladstone said. "You're finding a reasonable amount of outsourcing because not as many people have that experience. Also, IT departments have been leaned up over the last few years."

The Yankee Group's Hamilton said there are steps that test equipment makers can take to further capitalize on the trend. For example, firms should brand their certification programs and offer skills assessments.

"[Certification programs] build a loyal customer base and create a talent pool of engineers skilled in their particular platform," Hamilton advised.