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March 2000

Marc Robins Notes From The Tundra


Well, okay, "tundra" may be overstating it. How's "Our Nation's Capital?" I, Marc Robins, braved the snow, ice, and inhospitable temperatures during the first blizzard of the new millennium to sally forth to Washington D.C. to attend the latest ComNet trade show. What follows is a review of some of the "standout" announcements from the show, minus the numb hands, double-fare taxi rides, soggy shoes, and Ricola cough drops.

Alcatel, a household telecom name in Europe (but virtually unknown in the U.S. enterprise market) has boldly entered the U.S. enterprise voice market with a new IP-based communications system. The OmniPCX 4400 is the culmination of Alcatel's data networking product suite formed from the recent acquisitions of Packet Engines and Xylan, and the company's long-term European experience in voice networking.

Unique features of the Alcatel OmniPCX 4400 include scalability from 50 to 50,000 users, innovative "Reflexes" telephone handsets, "five-nines" reliability, one-number mobility, unified messaging, voice-over-IP (VoIP) networking with quality of service management, a Web-based customer contact center, and integrated voice and data network management. The system also uses features from Alcatel's PBX product line, including advanced call center, interactive operator console, and least-cost routing of calls. One of the hottest features relies on the system's call-quality monitoring software, which automatically switches IP voice traffic to the public switched telephone network (PSTN) in the event that packet loss or delay becomes too high.

The OmniPCX comes with Reflexes, a family of four telephone handsets that offer a keyboard built into the phone to allow dial-by-name; voice prompts that guide users through a feature, such as updating voice-mail messages or making a conference call; up to five customizable softkeys, each with its own LCD; and IP phones with classic digital or IP interfaces.

The OmniPCX 4400 is an integral part of Alcatel's overall OmniSolutions for Enterprise initiative. Products in the OmniSolutions line include the OmniSwitch, OmniStack, and OmniCore data networking product families from Packet Engines and Xylan, and the OmniVista network management system. The OmniPCX 4400 will also benefit from contact center applications from Genesys, an important new Alcatel acquisition.

The OmniPCX 4400 system will be priced from $300 to $500 per user, or about $40,000 for around 100 users, which includes the "Reflexes" handsets that support analog, digital, and IP connectivity. Availability is slated for mid-2000.

Siemens, in an apparent effort not to be "left out in the cold" when it comes to a well-thought out next-generation network strategy, has announced a new overall strategy for voice and data network convergence. Called "SURPASS" and based on the theme of "Convergence Advantage -- Creating a Universe of One," SURPASS provides solutions for introducing already available as well as newly developed integrated voice-data services in any network.

With SURPASS, Siemens plans to offer voice carriers an evolutionary, scalable, and forward-looking way to migrate to a broadband packet network architecture. SURPASS establishes interoperability between the voice network and the IP/ATM data network, enabling the carrier to transport voice and data traffic over packet-oriented networks and offer voice services in combination with IP-based services. These services can be administered through one management system. Siemens' SURPASS offers data carriers an easy way to leverage their data network infrastructure to provide carrier-class voice services. This includes CLASS features, Centrex services, and virtual private network (VPN) services, as well as services running on separate AIN platforms like prepaid debit cards and toll-free services. Carrier-class solutions on a packet-based network will enable these carriers to offer new lucrative voice and data services to their existing and new customer base.

With SURPASS, the plan is that carriers can economically provide their customers with bandwidth-flexible access to multimedia applications running on a common packet-oriented network, either IP- or ATM-based. The combined voice and data networks enable carriers to create new services quickly and with a high degree of flexibility. Examples of applications SURPASS will deliver are packet-based virtual trunking, integrated broadband access including voice over DSL, and Internet-enabled subscriber services.

Siemens' products under the SURPASS program include:

  • hiQ - a media gateway controller, signaling gateway, and call feature server that provides voice, data, and video services on IP and ATM networks. With its application programming interfaces (APIs), hiQ creates an open platform for prepackaged services as well as for customized applications. hiQ controls IP and ATM networks via the standardized Media Gateway Control Protocol (MGCP), provides SS7 signaling to PSTN networks, and establishes the connection to H.323 and SIP-compatible end points on the IP network.
  • hiG - a family of carrier-class network gateways providing the interconnection between packet-based networks and the PSTN.
  • hiA - an integrated solution that enables subscribers to access the IP or ATM network and provides interfaces for both voice and data applications. hiA gives both private and business customers connection options that include conventional telephone lines, ISDN, xDSL, leased lines, frame relay, and ATM.

Other notable announcements from Siemens at ComNet included a neat demonstration of connectivity between its Xpressions 470 unified messaging system and HiNet RC3000 IP communications system, showing the potential for migrating a wide array of feature-rich telephony applications to the IP world. The demo illustrated how users can send and receive voice, fax, and e-mail messages over a converged IP voice/data network. Standards-based IP clients, such as the HiNet LP 5100 IP telephone, can be used to access and send mixed media messages. The HiNet RC 3000 is a real-time IP communications system that allows users to employ one IP networking infrastructure for data, voice, and video applications. The Xpressions 470 enables users to access, send, and receive voice, fax, and e-mail messages anytime, anywhere, via the communications device of their choice - phone, PC, or fax device. Xpressions 470 converts voice-mail messages to voice-based e-mails, and employs a text-to-speech engine to "read" e-mail messages and fax headers to the recipient over a phone connection. Users can also send and receive compound messages that combine both voice and text elements into a single message. All voice, fax, and e-mail messages are stored in a common "inbox."

Other news from Siemens was the announced availability of the Connect Server, a $10,000 Windows NT-based system that enables companies with legacy PhoneMail voice-mail systems to transparently exchange voice messages with Xpressions 470 unified messaging users over the corporate TCP/IP LAN or WAN. The Connect Server system features a token ring card for connection to PhoneMail systems, a LAN interface card, and core software. Key system features include a PhoneMail emulator, mail forwarder, SMTP connectivity, and Web-based system administration.

And finally, Siemens announced the availability of version 2.0 of the company's HiNet RC 3000 IP communications system. Release 2.0 enhances the HiNet RC 3000 system's scalability with support for up to 200 active users; provides enhanced support for communications terminals including the HiNet LP 5100 IP telephone and the HiNet TA 1100 analog terminal adapter; offers more services, such as direct access, browsing the central directory, enhanced backup procedures, and bandwidth management; and includes a new Web-based management platform that delivers a more graphical interface to the system's configuration.

Available now from Siemens and its network of authorized distributors, the HiNet RC 3000 system is priced at $475 per seat, based on a 100-seat system. The HiNet RC 3000 is also available in a software-only format and prices vary based on system size. Software licenses are sold in 10-, 25-, 50-, and 100-seat increments. The HiNet LP 5100 IP phones and HiNet TA 1100 terminal adapter are sold separately, priced at $425 and $475 respectively.

Marc Robins is Associate Group Publisher for INTERNET TELEPHONY and Communications Solutions (formerly CTI) magazines. His column, Mind Share, appears monthly in the pages of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine. Marc looks forward to your feedback.

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