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While companies and individuals contemplate how VoIP could fit into their plans, Motorola has been busy cranking out products to meet their needs.

While companies and individuals contemplate how VoIP could fit into their plans, Motorola has been busy cranking out products to meet their needs. The company has recently announced a gateway that’s garnered buzz within the industry, but also in small businesses everywhere. And it’s determined to keep on truckin’ until we’re one big, happy, VoIP-connected world. We chatted with Jeff Walker, Motorola’s senior director of marketing, who has led many a VoIP campaign and is looking forward to leading many more.

Let’s start with a glimpse of where VoIP still needs to go. What are some of the limits of VoIP?

One critical thing is how well a system ties into a virtual private network (VPN). For a small business that has no telecommuters, this isn’t a big deal. But for individuals that have a home office and want to tap into the company intranet, this can pose a problem, because not all terminal adapters work with VPNs, and not all service providers are open to helping them overcome that obstacle. This has been a significant difficulty in the past, because it limited how businesses could work with their employees and still keep costs low. Motorola has spent a huge amount of time making sure the capability is there, and we have VPN compatibility built into our adapters. And now you’re seeing it with some other adapters that are coming into the market, too, so hopefully this is a problem that won’t be a problem for much longer.

What’s the next wave in VoIP?

Seamless mobility. What you’re seeing now are people looking to combine the convenience of having a cell phone with the lower costs associated with VoIP. Also, it’s very attractive to think of tapping into your VoIP connection from anywhere, because it allows your cell phone to become an extension of your office. Motorola has developed some switching solutions that support that ability, as well as a dual-mode handset that can be cellular or VoIP capable. It’s very exciting to tie those two areas together, so a home or small business network can be accessed from anywhere.

Why would this benefit small businesses in particular?

It’s difficult for an SMB to have multiple telephone numbers. It can get too expensive or complicated, and many small business owners are worried about having appropriate coverage within their facilities as well as on the road. So to bring everything together into one system simplifies what they’re able to do. Also, SMBs tend to be very budget conscious. Having cell phone plans and VoIP might compound costs, but if they’re put in concert with each other, it usually drives costs down.

Another attractive aspect is messaging. That goes with the whole mobility capability. Many people are using their cell phones to do messaging when they’re on the road, by sending emails or doing instant messaging. If that capability is put together with VoIP, it’s pretty compelling.

How does this work with cellular phone providers? Won’t they be unhappy to see some of their business lost to VoIP vendors?

Actually, what’s happening is that they’re becoming the same thing. Service providers, whether it’s cable operators or others, are looking to become multi-virtual network operators and provide service bundles. So, they’ll be contracting with cell phone providers as third-party vendors, but they’ll wrap that capability into a package that includes VoIP. From an SMB perspective, this is great, because you don’t have to worry about which minutes are cell phone minutes and how to switch to VoIP from your cell. You just have to shop around for the best service plan and gauge which company gives you the best access to your information.

Certainly, by bundling all these services together it’s more cost-efficient, and because this is a hot area that many providers are entering, the competition for customers also keeps costs low. And you don’t have the headache of trying to sort out who’s going to do your traditional phone services, mobile connection, Internet, and VoIP. It could be one company, which means one bill, and that’s always nice to have.

How exactly would a small business owner take a VoIP connection on the road?

It’s pretty easy, usually you just unplug your terminal adapter and plug it into a broadband connection wherever you are. Because the telephone is associated with an IP address, not a specific geographic location, your telephone number comes with you. That means an SMB can bring their entire phone system with them, just thrown into their suitcase. I know people who have gone to other countries, taken the terminal adapter, and rather than pay the exorbitant telephone rate at resorts or hotels, they can make calls for pennies. Or, sometimes, for no fee at all because they pay a fixed rate. The quality is fine, as long as you’ve got an Internet connection, and the portability is incredible. It’s just a very flexible system, letting people make calls from, say, Japan, as if they’re calling from Minneapolis.

Do you anticipate that this kind of system will be embraced by SMBs and individuals soon, or does it seem like it will remain only for the very tech-savvy for now?

I think it’s compelling and simple enough that we’ll see it start to catch on. Taking an adapter on the road or combining cell and VoIP systems might sound intimidating to people who aren’t technologically inclined, but providers are making these things very easy. And when things are both simple and lower in cost, they tend to catch on quickly.

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