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Voice over IP is finally coming into its own. Studies show the technology is gaining serious traction in businesses of all sizes and its use in small companies is expected to triple during the next three to four years.

A survey conducted by CompTIA (Computing Technology Industry Association), in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., found that convergence technology—VOIP and unified messaging—is at the forefront of executives’ minds.

Thirty-four percent of the 2,200 respondents in the poll named convergence as the technology that will have the greatest impact in 2006.

The survey’s findings indicate that VOIP, though it remains an emerging technology, is becoming mainstream. Similarly, another recent study, by Infonetics Research, in Campbell, Calif., found that businesses of all sizes are evaluating or planning to deploy VOIP solutions.

Click here to read about CosmoCom’s switch to VOIP for its call center.

Thirty-six percent of large companies surveyed, 23 percent of midsize companies and 14 percent of small companies are already using VOIP technology, according to the Infonetics study.

Infonetics predicted that VOIP adoption among small businesses will triple by 2010 in North America. Those businesses will be turning to their trusted IT advisors—their local VARs or integrators—to deploy and maintain the technology. That means VARs and integrators had better be ready to seize the opportunity.

The findings by CompTIA and Infonetics suggest that VOIP is overcoming its final hurdles. As recently as 2005, those hurdles included technical problems related to quality and end-user concerns over network security.

Read more here about why SMBs have doubts about VOIP security.

Potential VOIP adopters were uneasy about funneling their voice communications over the same data networks that were constantly making headlines due to security breaches.

Even despite those concerns, SMBs (small and midsized businesses) last year were expressing a lot of interest in VOIP.

That’s because, if nothing else, the cost savings of moving to VOIP from existing phone systems is significant. Phone communications take place over Internet pipes, so users can get flat-rate plans with unlimited long-distance calling. For a small business on a tight budget, this has great appeal.

In addition, VOIP opens possibilities that weren’t available with traditional phone service. A company using a PBX system, for instance, is limited by hardware constraints. But the software in VOIP solutions makes it easier to add features and make improvements along the way.

When you consider the potential for cost savings and the ability to add useful features, you can see how VOIP can address real customer needs, which ultimately is why the IT channel exists.

Savvy VARs and integrators already pushing VOIP technology to their customers are also using the technology themselves. There isn’t a more effective way to promote something than to use it first.

For channel companies providing managed services to customers, VOIP lends itself perfectly to the model. A managed services provider that has taken on the responsibility for monitoring and managing its clients’ networks can get more revenue by adding voice technology.

Of course, channel companies that lack voice expertise shouldn’t promise their customers something they can’t deliver, unless they partner with a solution provider with a VOIP practice.

Both from a technology and business perspective, solution providers can make a compelling case to their clients about VOIP. And now that it appears customers finally are getting serious about the technology, it’s time to make that case.

Pedro Pereira is a contributing editor for The Channel Insider. He covered the channel from 1996 to 2001, took a break, and now he’s back. He can be reached at