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Senior U.S. Correspondent

MCI’s Capellas looks to all-IP future

May 11, 20045 mins
Collaboration SoftwareMicrosoftSmall and Medium Business

MCI’s Web conferencing offering with Microsoft introduced Tuesday is just the beginning of a move to let users make PCs into phones, MCI President and CEO Michael Capellas said in a keynote address Tuesday at the NetWorld+Interop conference in Las Vegas.

MCI’s Web conferencing offering with Microsoft introduced Tuesday is just the beginning of a move to let users make PCs into phones, MCI President and CEO Michael Capellas said in a keynote address Tuesday at the NetWorld+Interop conference in Las Vegas.

“This is where it starts. But at the end of the day, we will completely embed telephony into the desktop with full streaming audio and video capabilities,” Capellas said at the end of the presentation, which included a description — and a failed demonstration — of the service. Capellas, taking the glitch in stride, blamed a poor local network connection and the inevitability of problems when it comes time to show off a new technology.

The companies will jointly develop and market systems for communication and collaboration using Microsoft Office Live Meeting that will let Windows users easily share documents with other users live over a network, starting from any point in an application. For example, by clicking a button, a user who gets a Microsoft Word document in an Outlook e-mail message can start sharing that document live with the group that was copied on the e-mail.

The partnership reflects a larger vision of convergence of all types of content and communications on a single IP infrastructure, Capellas said. The complexity of making this happen can be hidden from not only end users but also content and application developers, he said.

“It’s sort of like a duck. There are a lot of feet paddling under there that you don’t see. But because it’s all IP-based, there’s no change to the network topology,” Capellas said of the collaboration service. Likewise, emerging Web services specifications mean that applications can be developed without regard to what kind of device they will run on, he said.

The service, called MCI Net Conferencing powered by Microsoft Office Live Meeting, is available now and is aimed at small businesses as well as large enterprises, Capellas said in a press briefing after the keynote. It will cut costs for small businesses and reduce the major IT support requirement that many collaboration systems carry today, he said. For most users, the only required step will be a software download to their PCs, he said.

MCI will lead with the joint Microsoft offering when selling Web conferencing to new accounts but will continue to offer and support its existing WebEx service for the foreseeable future, according to MCI.

Advanced services are the key to success in the telecommunications business, Capellas said in the keynote, which he called his first major industry address since the former WorldCom emerged from bankruptcy protection last month. MCI made the deal to differentiate itself as transport services become a commodity, he told reporters afterward.

Customers are beginning to look beyond price to services when shopping for a carrier, and want to buy an integrated service rather than put together a set of components, Capellas said. Security and network reliability also are key issues for customers, he said.

Security is dominant in attendee Patrick Heisinger’s thinking. The senior technical specialist at BJC HealthCare, in St. Louis, has been grappling with preventing unauthorized access to medical records and with securing wireless networks, which are popular in the medical field, he said.

Even though it is designed for ease of use, MCI and Microsoft’s service might not make the grade at BJC, Heisinger said. Though physicians are intrigued by new gadgets and technology, many don’t like having to learn even relatively simple new procedures, he said.

A Nortel executive put the spotlight on convergence in his own keynote address midday Tuesday. But in a press briefing following the address, he downplayed the idea of a clash between Nortel’s offerings and services such as MCI and Microsoft’s. Everyone needs to cooperate with Microsoft when it comes to desktop-based applications, said Malcolm Collins, president of enterprise networks at Nortel.

“I don’t think it’s a threat,” Collins said. “My clients demand … more integration with Microsoft at the desktop. So we’re having those discussions — with Microsoft — as to how we work together.”

The vision of telephony fully integrated into the desktop, potentially stepping in on telephony system vendors such as Nortel, is years away, he said. In any case, some customers will want to use PCs for telephony and others will always want to retain a separate phone, he said.

Current Analysis analyst Ron Westfall, who attended the Nortel briefing, wasn’t so sure. If the functions of a phone and a PBX enterprise telephony platform move on to Microsoft clients and server software, Nortel and others could be left behind, he said.

“Enterprise infrastructure vendors run the risk of being commoditized,” Westfall said. “It does represent a competitive concern for equipment manufacturers on the enterprise side, such as Nortel, but also Cisco, Extreme, Foundry, 3Com, the whole cast of characters.”