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Vendors bring on the VoIP gear

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Feb 23, 20047 mins
Cisco SystemsNetworkingVoIP

The week before VoiceCon, Session Initiation Protocol is the focus of several product launches.

In the next few weeks IP telephony vendors will launch a parade of new gear and applications aimed at making corporate employees more productive via converged voice, data and video applications.

Alcatel and Avaya this week are scheduled to announce messaging server platforms that promise to make end users more productive, with unified voice, e-mail, chat and presence management features rolled into one application. Cisco last week announced advancements  in security, interoperability and video support for its market-leading IP PBX platform.

With the VoiceCon IP telephony trade show looming – March 1-4 in Orlando – other vendors such as Jasomi NetworksNet6, and Zultys Technologies  are making early VoIP product pushes.

Pingtel

Many of the products include implementations of Session Initiation Protocol (SIP ), an emerging IETF standard that can support IP voice, video and instant-messaging applications.

“SIP support is very important,” says Zeus Kerravala, a research vice president at The Yankee Group. “If IP telephony is going to achieve the dream of having seamless interoperability between service provider networks and across vendors’ [IP PBX] equipment, SIP will have to be the glue that does it.”

Avaya is scheduled to launch its Converged Communications Server, which is a SIP proxy server that lets SIP-based clients, such as phones, or PCs with SIP applications, communicate with the company’s Communications Manager IP PBX platform. The Converged Communications Server runs on Avaya’s Media Server hardware – an Intel-based server running a modified Linux system.

Avaya’s new IP Softphone Release 5 is the SIP client for the Converged Communications Server. The client is a SIP-based softphone application for PCs, bundled with an encrypted, SIP-based IM client and presence management application. Avaya says the software will help drive employee productivity by bringing various applications into a single view.

“Many enterprises have adopted consumer instant messaging as a business tool,” says Lawrence Byrd, convergence strategist from Avaya. “We’re letting [users] put instant messaging behind the firewall and make it secure and manageable.”

The softphone client includes a buddy-list window that shows groups of users who are online and available by phone, e-mail or IM. It includes a click-to-dial feature, which can be used to call in co-workers from the softphone list or from Microsoft Outlook. Avaya IP or digital handsets also can be used with the PC softphone.

Avaya also is introducing its 4602 SIP IP phone, which can work in SIP mode with a Converged Communications Server, or in H.323 mode with a Communications Manager IP PBX.

The Converged Communications Server starts at $6,100 for hardware and software, plus $25 per SIP end-user license. The softphone costs $130 per user.

Alcatel is set to launch a SIP messaging platform this week – the OmniTouch Unified Communications Suite – and new IP Touch VoIP phones. The Unified Communications Suite includes an application server, a voice messaging server and a Web-based unified messaging client.

The platform is a central communications management tool for retrieving voice mail and e-mail messages, and integrates with IBM Lotus Notes and Microsoft Outlook e-mail servers. A personal information management application, tied to Lotus or IBM calendars, and presence management capabilities also are included in the client.

On the voice side, the Unified Communications Suite is tied to Alcatel’s IP PBX, the OmniPCX Enterprise, through an IP/SIP-based connection. Voice XML also supports a text-to-speech feature, through which e-mail can be read to end users over phone connections.

New IP phones from Alcatel include the IP Touch 4038 and 4064. Each SIP-based IP phone also supports XML applications and includes a miniature keyboard at the phone’s base. Alcatel says the phones are targeted as IP terminals, which could replace PCs in areas such as security guard stations or warehouses in a corporation.

“These kinds of announcements show that [IP telephony’s] value is in applications that can potentially drive up the amount of revenue an employee makes for their company,” says Ron Gruia, an analyst from Frost and Sullivan, regarding the Avaya and Alcatel products. Simplified phone system management and using VoIP to avoid long-distance changes are no longer the drivers for enterprise IP telephony, he adds.

Cisco makes a splash

Cisco made its IP PBX splash last week, with the launch of CallManager 4.0. New features include support for video phone calls, voice traffic encryption and security authentication of phones.

Support for Cisco Security Agent software on the CallManager and IP phones will make IP telephony networks more secure, Cisco says. This would let only authorized IP devices access the Microsoft Windows-based CallManager server. Support for IP voice and signaling traffic encryption also has been added, which prevents calls from being intercepted, the vendor says.

“We like this security implementation,” says Luke Pfaffinger, director of IT at Capstone Turbine, a Chatsworth, Calif., energy company. “Having a converged phone system makes you realize how vulnerable it can be to network attack.”

SIP support on the CallManager 4.0 lets the IP PBX communicate with other SIP-based gateways and communications servers. This could include SIP-based softswitches in a carrier’s VoIP network, or SIP proxy servers that tie other applications to the CallManager. Direct support for SIP endpoints is not supported on the CallManager.

An IP video feature – called Cisco VT Advantage – is also new to the CallManager. This lets a user with a Cisco IP phone, a PC and a Cisco USB camera make video calls to other similarly equipped users via the CallManager. Video calls can be transferred among CallManager users, and users with some third-party IP video equipment vendors such as Tandberg.

“One of the things that has held video back in enterprises has been complexity and cost,” Kerravala says. Yankee Group studies have shown that setting up videoconferences with traditional ISDN equipment can take a midsize enterprise IT department an average of 30 minutes. “Being able to set up a video call by dialing a phone number is impressive,” he adds.

The CallManager 4.0 with with Media Convergence Server hardware costs $6,000. The MeetingPlace 8106 Rich-Media Conferencing Server will be available next month starting at $70,000.

Also making news on the SIP front is Zultys, which is scheduled to announce its MXGroup software upgrade to its SIP-based MX250 IP PBX. Zultys says the MXGroup makes managing disparate, VoIP-connected sites easier because the software allows multiple boxes to work under one phone directory and four-digit extension group across a WAN. The MX250 is a midsize IP PBX that supports SIP-based IM and presence applications, as well as traditional telephony fax, call control features and public switched telephone network line trunking.

Other vendors with IP telephony announcements include:

• Net6, at VoiceCon, is set to introduce applications that can turn any speaker-phone-enabled IP phone into a paging or intercom system. The new features are in Net6’s Application Gateway plus Voice Office, which costs $10,000 to $50,000.

• Pingtel last week announced its open source software strategy, where it is licensing its SIPxchange IP PBX and Expressa IP phones software under the Lesser General Public License, a version of the GPL, which governs Linux distributions. Instead of charging for the software, Pingtel will give away the code and charge companies up to $1,000 per year, per processor, for installation and support.

• Jasomi recently upgraded its session border controller so it can make sense of more variants of SIP. Jasomi’s PeerPoint 3.0, which starts at $10,000, primarily helps overcome network address translation problems that exist when SIP devices such as phones are protected behind firewalls that translate IP addresses.

Senior Editor Tim Greene contributed to this story.