VoIP vendors get both messages

Avaya tops slate with advanced voice-recognition and text-to-speech wares.

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Nortel is also unique in keeping voice mail totally separate from the Exchange e-mail server. Voice mail is stored on a Nortel CallPilot server: "Unification" occurs at each user's in-box by the Nortel plug-ins that run within that user's Outlook client. In most cases, e-mail and voice mail are kept in separate in-box folders.

This is pro and a con. Some believe that keeping voice mail completely separate from the Exchange server is a good idea. You can do that with all the competitors, too. But merging everything on the same Exchange server store, whether it's a good idea or not, is simply not an option Nortel supports.

The multi-language capabilities of Nortel's TTS are as broad and dynamic as Avaya's. However, the quality is notably inferior. Nortel's TTS, based on a more-dated software engine called L&H (for Lernout & Hauspie) TTS 3000 Version 6 provides a choppy, robotic TTS readout.

Nortel's voice recognition, based on L&H ASR 1500 Version 3, exhibited comparatively poorer performance, too, as we had to repeat our phrases occasionally. However, to its credit, users can train the voice recognition to respond better to their voice and commands.

Because all voice mail resides on Nortel's server, several high-availability and disaster-recovery schemes are supported. Users can schedule periodic backups to a secondary voice mail server. This might be considered a "warm" backup; the voice mail database is not mirrored. Nortel says that up to 8,000 concurrent users can be supported by a single, high-end CallPilot server.


The differentiating factor in this test was how well the user interface and its underpinnings gave end users quick and easy access to e-mail and voice mail. But the new horizon for unified messaging packages will be further advancements in voice recognition and how well vendors can integrate that capability into their existing platforms. We'd expect TTS accuracy to improve, as well as improvements in multi-language support. As with most new technologies, we also would expect voice recognition to become more affordable.

Unified messaging can unquestionably deliver increased productivity. Employees who travel can get access to their e-mail and voice mail by simply calling in on their cell phones or Palm Pilots and get detailed control over the messages they collect. Corporations need to carefully examine vendors' offerings, and understand the intricate dependencies of all the pieces involved, in order to maximize the investment.

Modular Messaging System 1.1 and Unified Communications Center 2.0OVERALL RATING
Vendor: Avaya Price*: $260 per user.Pros: Best TTS performance; TTS readout of e-mail attachments; best voice-recognition user interface, multi-language support; best Web interface to unified voice and e-mail; broad support for third-party PBXs.Cons: Limited and fixed voice-recognition vocabulary; no speed-up playout of voice mail via Outlook player; no fax server.
HiPathXpressions 4.0OVERALL RATING

Vendor: Siemens Communications Price: $150 to $200 per user. Pros: Very good Web interface to unified voice and e-mail; excellent administrator access to the UM environment; flexible, user-settable routing of voice mail into Outlook folders; user-settable shortcuts in TUI; expandable voice-recognition vocabulary; optional integrated fax server.Cons: TTS and voice-recognition language support limited to English and German;

no “help” on voice mail Outlook player; no speed-up playout of voice mail via Outlook player (supported via TUI only).
Unity Enterprise 4.0 and Personal AssistantOVERALL RATING
Vendor: CiscoPrice: $299 per user. Pros: Best redundancy and survivability options; fast and easy voice mail playout; broadest support for third-party PBXs; most configurable for voice mail encoding and bandwidth uti-lization; secure voice mail support. Cons: No Web interface to unified voice and e-mail; no access to e-mail via voice -recognition; responding via voice mail to off-system desti-nations is complex.
Vendor: Nortel Price: $250 per user.** Pros: Quick and easy phone call-back from Outlook; user can train voice recognition and tailor voice recognition commands; integrated fax server; can stream voice from server for faster playout; voice mail remains totally independent of Exchange server. Cons: Does not work with any third-party PBXs; poor TTS readout quality; robotic sounding, with notably poorer accuracy and quality; voice mail requires separate storage server from Exchange; requires Nortel’s player to decode voice mails.
*Per user based on 100 users. ** Hardware and software
The breakdown  Avaya Siemens CiscoNortel

User interface 40%

Configuration and architecture 30%4.544.52.5
Features 20%443.54.5

Installation and

integration 10%
TOTAL SCORE4.3543.853.65
Scoring Key: 5: Exceptional; 4: Very good; 3: Average; 2: Below average; 1: Consistently subpar

Ed Mier is president, Tarpley is senior lab tester and Dave Mier is manager of lab testing at Miercom, a network-product test center in East Windsor, N.J. They can be reached at ed@mier.com, rtarpley@miercom.com or dmier@miercom. com, respectively.

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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SD-WAN buyers guide: Key questions to ask vendors (and yourself)