With consumers and businesses looking at ways of saving money, the 'free' to use nature of VoIP is becoming more and more attractive. But getting your head around the terminology, never mind the vast number of configurations and solutions, can be daunting. Ben Furfie investigates the market?

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Unified communications is one of those areas of the channel that can be daunting to diversify into, if only because of the wide range of options and solutions. One option is voice over internet protocol, better known as VoIP. So just what is involved in this sector, what solutions are currently popular and what products are ideal to stock?

"Work with distributors and vendors that have the experience and the expertise in this area," advises EntaTech’s networking and communication channel manager, Luke Steel. "You need to feel comfortable in knowing that you are having the right questions asked of you, in order to help you provide the solutions that your customers need."

Steel’s suggestion was echoed by Interactive Idea’s Andy Miles: "I would advise those interested to thoroughly research the technology available." He was, however, keen to stress that resellers and retailers must take into account the impact that the recession might have on new system purchases. "There are some good margins to be made for resellers, but with the uncertain year ahead, investment in new systems may not be an easy lure for all."

Despite that, he was still optimistic about the potential of the technology, especially in the business-to-business side of the channel. "When combined with available Wi-Fi technology, it can bring down the bills whilst making everyone closer, wherever they may be," he says, adding that the cost savings might actually boost demand if companies feel that they can reduce spending within their business.

Indeed, Steel was keen to point out that providing a fully integrated system could cut costs for a potential client, but at the same time boost your margins. Part of this is a focus on selling VoIP and white label broadband in a single package: "Also part of Enta Group is EntaNet – a specialist in channel provision of IP connectivity and telecoms, including full VoIP services – and can offer ‘the full solution’ including your networking hardware and power protection. This is why companies like Enta Group should be top of your call list.

"Think about offering your customers the VoIP lines, as well as the hardware," suggests Steel. "All is available through Enta Group, meaning a higher margin potential for the retailers and reseller. To make things nice and simple at installation, phones that support auto provisioning are a definite plus, and will save a lot of time and money," adds Steel.

"Look for partners that can help leverage server provision to help create a much more margin intensive solution. Other than that, it pretty much depends on the individual reseller’s requirements.

"I’d seriously suggest talking to Enta about the bespoke business models that we provide for resellers or setting them up with the white label solutions," he adds.

However, he was quick to stress that skimping on what might be seen as ‘extras’ by potential clients, such as cables, should be avoided at all costs. "Resellers also need to remember to think about the grade of cable they are using. With the additional voice traffic, as well as data traffic going down your network cabling, a higher grade is always going to be worth the investment."

The retail market for VoIP, however, is different according to Miles. "For retailers, I believe there are a number of cheaper affordable solutions, which can be sold to take advantage of the increasing amount of home and small business users looking for alternative methods of communicating and at a lower cost," adds Miles.

"I believe the best use of VoIP is currently through a webcam," he suggests. "There are a couple of options I would suggest, one being the Trust Chat and VoIP pack, which contains a webcam and a foldable neckband headset with microphone, perfect for people on the move.

"For the home user, the Hercules Dualpix Infinite webcam is the best option, combining a CMOS sensor featuring two million pixels, guaranteeing exception image quality and a high quality microphone," adds Miles. "Combined with the Hercules Xtra Controller software, it allows you to share photos with the person your are chatting with, amongst other things."

However, if resellers and retailers are still worried about whether or not the technology is still a little too complicated for them, Steel stresses that distributors aren’t simply there to get you to buy products, but are happy to help assist resellers and retailers build up solutions for their customers until they had enough of an understanding of the market that they could build their own packages with confidence.

"Enta Group can give resellers a dedicated technicial sales consultant at no charge to help create solutions for your customers in no time at all. Before long, they can be doing it themselves."

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