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January 1999


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The Voice/Data Switch:
Your Next PBX

BY RICH TEHRANI, GROUP PUBLISHER, TMC

Key systems and PBXs were once the only products that allowed corporations to transmit and receive voice communications - even Centrex users with no CPE equipment are just sharing a central PBX located at the telephone company's office. Recent developments in the CTI market foreshadow the day when the PBX will be replaced by the voice/data switch.

The voice/data switch is a device that switches both voice and data and is capable of call control and other traditional PBX-like functions. Voice/data switches allow a single wire to the desktop carrying voice and potentially video as data. In some cases, a voice/data switch can also function as a network hub, a unified messaging server and even a firewall. These products typically employ IP telephony, but don't have to. For example, CellIT uses ATM to the desktop, but does not currently employ IP.

In the last few years, PC-PBXs from Artisoft, NetPhone, Altigen and Picazo have made steady inroads against established PBX vendors like Lucent and Nortel. As a fledgling technology, these PC-PBXs have done well competing against traditional PBXs. Similar to the PBXs they compete with, these products used traditional telephone wires to reach telephones on users' desktops. These PC-PBXs were more than just a novelty: they dramatically improved a person's productivity by providing features a traditional PBX was not capable of. Web access to voice mail and other features that make the PBX much more user-friendly facilitate dramatic productivity gains.

While PC-PBXs began to proliferate, companies like Sphere, CellIT, Selsius Systems and NBX have been producing voice/data switches employing IP or ATM.

The adoption of the above products has been steady and I give companies selling PBX alternatives a great deal of credit; in fact I give their sales forces and resellers even more credit for competing against the big boys. If I were a reseller selling traditional PBXs, I would tell customers that they should be very wary of new technology because it is coming from companies that don't have decades of experience in telecommunications like they do. I am certain traditional PBX resellers have been able to hang on to sales by pitching their products in this manner. Nevertheless, how long will this strategy work? The future of voice/data switches and PC-PBXs is very secure - they are telephony equivalents of the PC - while the traditional PBX is the telephony equivalent of the mainframe. History always repeats itself and hindsight in the computer industry is foresight in the telephony industry. The traditional PBX must evolve or die.

The number of voice/data switch vendors at CTI EXPO Fall 1998 in San Jose is further proof of how much interest there is in this new field. Praxon, StarVox, CellIT, Selsius Systems and NetPhone are just a few of the exhibitors at CTI EXPO with voice/data switches released or announced, and there was tremendous activity at their booths. Soon there will be dozens of competitors in this space.

Some of the largest, most well-known switch vendors are also making a footprint in the voice/data switching market. Rockwell, a leader in the call center market for years with an established reputation for producing products that are reliable and scalable, introduced a PC-based ACD, called Transcend, last March, marking the first time that a major ACD vendor or PBX vendor released a PC-PBX/ACD.

We've predicted for years that data networking companies would eventually enter the telecom space and Cisco did not disappoint - it recently purchased Selsius Systems and shortly thereafter pledged to replace its own corporate PBXs with Selsius' voice/data switch.

Nortel purchased Bay Networks for 9 billion dollars and although it hasn't announced a voice/data switch, odds are we don't have to wait long. I don't even think Nortel needs to release a voice/data switch - when a PBX company purchases a data networking company for 9 billion dollars, it becomes a voice/data market player.

Finally, Lucent released its IPES system consisting of two voice/data switches of varying capacities. IPES scales from fitting the needs of a small company all the way up to a large corporation and can also provide CLECs with an appropriate platform to roll out voice and other enhanced services. Lucent will also include an API that allows developers to augment the PBX with any feature or option they choose. This is not trivial -- the entire CTI industry was born out of the fact that computers could finally control PBXs. Open APIs give developers direct control over the switch without the need for middleware.

We've seen how much activity the voice/data switch market has had recently; now it's time to see some of the things voice/data switches based on IP can do for us:

  • Voice/data switches can inherently be scaled and distributed easily and seamlessly,
  • With open APIs, they can easily harness best-of-breed applications,
  • They are inherently easier to use than traditional PBXs due to a Web browser interface,
  • Installation should be much smoother than traditional PBXs,
  • Upgrades can be downloaded automatically via the Web,
  • They can be used to easily construct voice/data VPNs,
  • Remote access is a breeze since any Internet telephony client connects seamlessly to the voice/data switch with full in-office PBX feature set,
  • No separate Internet telephony gateway is needed,
  • Web/call center integration where your customers use Internet telephony to call your agents can be easily handled since IP telephony is the native switch protocol,
  • Lower administration costs - again, Web browser access,
  • Lower long-distance costs via Internet or Intranet telephony,
  • Increased productivity as CTI features are easily accessed and less expensive since they are software based, and
  • Multimedia collaboration is built into the switch since it supports H.323.

I've been waiting for years for the voice/data switch market to gain solid ground - and with such highly visible companies like Lucent, Cisco and Nortel as major supporters of this new technology, I think it is finally a reality. Superior applications, increased productivity and flexibility as well as lower cost of ownership assure that voice/data switches should be your primary choice for all future PBX and ACD purchase decisions.

Sincerely yours,

Rich Tehrani
Group Publisher
rtehrani@tmcnet.com


Call Center Decision Makers Need CTI™ EXPO

Six of the leading voice/data switch vendors will be objectively educating attendees on next-generation voice/data products at the voice/data switch learning center at CTI™ EXPO Spring 1999 in Washington, D.C., May 24-26.

At TMC, our commitment to objectively educate our readers and attendees is unyielding: We continuously strive to provide you with information you need - information that is vital to your career and from a source you can trust - TMC. Our editors and TMC™ Labs engineers toil endlessly to help call center decision makers purchase products that best suit their needs. Innovation and relentlessly perfecting every detail of the ideal educational expo experience for our valued attendees is what keeps CTI™ EXPO ahead of all other shows.

CTI™ EXPO promises the utmost in education as well as information you can use to better your company's future and the future of your career. CTI™ EXPO will help a wide variety of people involved in call center decision making - the following list will outline why different groups of people in your organization must attend CTI™ EXPO.

Call Center Decision Makers have seen rapid advancements in call center technology in the last few years. If your business revolves around a call center and you are able to implement the latest technology quickly, you will stay way ahead of your competition. Implement technology slowly or not at all and new competitors will eat your lunch. It is that simple. Amazon.com scares the heck out of Barnes and Noble, and with good reason - Amazon.com has changed the paradigm of how books and other items are sold on the Internet. Had Barnes and Noble been first to implement a strong e-commerce presence, perhaps Amazon.com wouldn't have made such a big splash in the media and on Wall Street. This same thinking is critical in call center technology that connects agents to the switch - the call center with the most flexible technology wins the call center battle against its competitors. The voice/data switch is the most flexible technology to come to call center in years - you can't afford to ignore it.

MIS/Telecom Managers responsible for the future of call centers must keep up with the latest industry advancements and work with other call center managers to make sure their customer interaction centers are state-of-the-art and operating at peak efficiency. Voice/data switches are as at home in the MIS back office as they are in the call center. Better yet, you can manage these things with a Web browser from anywhere - what are you waiting for - finally a PBX that acts like all the other devices on your data network. Employing technologies encompassing IP, Ethernet and/or ATM means that your technical expertise is critical in the purchase of a voice/data switch - you must be at CTI™ EXPO to make an informed purchase decision for your call center and IS/Telecom organization.

Interconnects selling PBXs, you have been hearing for years that CTI will change the way you work and the products you sell. The voice/data switch learning center at CTI™ EXPO is the only place where you can come and see six of the leading voice/data switch vendors without being pressured by a sales pitch - you can actually spend time with these vendors in a low-pressure environment without being hassled or barraged with sales information if you don't require it. How else will you find out which product is most appropriate for you to sell in the future?

CTI™ EXPO is the industry event. No other trade show in any related industry can claim over 270 exhibitors and over 15,000 attendees in its first year as we did at CTI™ EXPO Fall 1998 in San Jose, California. CTI™ EXPO is one of the fastest growing shows anywhere. Our dedication to you, our valued readers, is what will ensure that CTI™ EXPO is the only show you need attend in the call center industry.

Please don't take my word for it - take a look at our list of testimonials from exhibitors and attendees alike and judge for yourself. Mark your calendar today for CTI™ EXPO, May 24-26 in D.C. at the Washington Convention Center, and to stay current on the latest updates, be sure to register for free at www.ctiexpo.com.


TMC™ Labs Moves And Expands

When TMC began to publish TMC™ Labs reviews in C@LL CENTER Solutions™ magazine, we made a decision early on to publish only the most in-depth and objective reviews of products in the call center industry. By hiring engineers who seek to expose product weaknesses ranging from difficult installations to buggy GUIs and limited feature sets, C@LL CENTER Solutions™ was the first industry publication to provide in-depth and objective testing of products by actual engineers rather than journalists.

Over the last few years the office space we had allotted to TMC™ Labs has become more and more crowded with PC-PBXs, ACDs, Internet telephony gateways, legacy PBXs, industrial computers and a host of voice and fax boards. Furthermore, TMC™ Labs has recently taken on the added monthly responsibility of supplying both INTERNET TELEPHONY and C@LL CENTER Solutions™ magazines with reviews. This is in addition to supplying monthly reviews to CTI magazine.

As TMC™ Labs takes on more responsibility supplying reviews to three magazines, we have outgrown our current office space and must expand into new offices. In the upcoming months, TMC™ Labs will be moving into another nearby office in Norwalk, Connecticut, a few miles away from our 1 Technology Plaza headquarters.

With our new office space and even more state-of-the-art testing equipment, you can expect TMC™ Labs to continue its dominant role of providing you with the most in-depth and objective reviews of all call center products.

We always love to hear from our valued readers. If you have any comments about our labs, please feel free to drop me a line at rtehrani@tmcnet.com or e-mail our executive technology editor Tom Keating (tkeating@tmcnet.com) directly if you prefer. Tom has done a wonderful job building and growing TMC Labs from its humble beginnings. If you find the reviews in TMC publications helpful or have suggestions that will help us improve our publications, feel free to drop him a line and let him know.







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