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In Praise of Innovation

TMCLabs' Second Annual INTERNET TELEPHONY� Innovation Awards

Innovation Awards

 

 


             

July 2001
 [ Go Right To The Awards Winners ]

Innovation is the soul of Internet telephony. And while we certainly recognize innovation as possessing the outward appearance of a new product employing a new technology, we've also recognized that it appears in other shapes as well. Sometimes being innovative isn't necessarily being "first" in the most literal sense, but instead looking at things from a slightly different perspective. Challenging the established "standards " and introducing different approaches to achieve distinctive results certainly helps to define innovation in our corner of the telecom world, and perhaps even well beyond.

TMC Labs recognizes the degree of wherewithal necessary to formulate a quality product that captures the essence of newer technologies. Building or re-engineering a product in a new way to enhance services, improve usability, and refine quality is also an exceptional and innovative practice. Ultimately, the industry as a whole stands to gain, as this further solidifies the stake and acceptance of Internet telephony as a viable means of communication, ensuring the provision of a valuable, necessary service.

It was initially the intent to examine our collective knowledge base (including vendor-submitted nominations) as Technology Editors for TMC Labs, and nominate products and (in some cases) product suites, which we felt demonstrated technological uniqueness with the promise of providing a viable service within the industry of Internet telephony. After collaboration, we researched each product further to not only confirm or deny initial nominations, but in certain cases to also corroborate products, which were not unanimously agreed upon by all editors. Though we examined several different methods of nomination, ultimately we felt that sharing knowledge and good old-fashioned democracy were the best ways to govern the award process.

Many, many quality products were discussed, and many of the ones that do not appear in this issue were innovative in their own right. In this case however, only the highest finishers are eligible for an award. And that's just what TMC Labs is responsible for doing. Choosing this year's 12 most innovative Internet-telephony products. These awards are the subject of extensive research and a large investment of time. We hope you find this exercise useful, and we hope you enjoy the result.

TMC Labs' Innovation Awards Winners

3100 VoIP Firewall System Instant Broadband EtherFast Cable/DSL & Voice Router Call Agent
CN1000 Broadband Loop Carrier iTeleFusion Media Xchange Manager (MXM)
Session Management Suite Tenor Carrier MultiPath Switch (CMS) �Ensemble!
EdgeXpress Suite SS8 SignalingSwitch WebInteract Service

3100 VoIP Firewall System
Aravox Technologies
4201 Lexington Ave. N.
Ste. 1105 
Arden Hills, MN 55126-6198
Tel: 651-256-2700 
Fax: 651-256-2750 
Web:
www.aravox.com

Over the past year, we have tested many gateways, gatekeepers, IP phones, and other VoIP products. In most of these tests, we always had an obstacle to overcome in order to objectively test the equipment's sound quality. Because our network is behind a firewall, we could not accurately pass specific IP packets across the Internet so that a proper call could be made. In most cases, we could connect the call but could not hear the person speaking from the other line. By opening certain ports on our firewall, we could alleviate this problem. Unfortunately, this option introduced security issues because of the breaks in the firewall. Also, the equipment we were testing was sometimes incompatible with our firewall.

When we first addressed this problem, there was really no viable solution out there. Soon after, Aravox released the 3100 VoIP firewall system, a dynamic firewall that completely protected the network and offered a method to deliver reliable IP voice services. To do this, the firewall sits on the edge of the network and does not let packets pass unless directed by a SIP proxy server or H.323 gatekeeper. When directed, the firewall opens a pathway that only uses the ports needed for an authorized VoIP call so that the call can be established with the quality of the call being preserved. When the call is terminated, the pathway is immediately closed, thereby eliminating virtually all security issues.

With this "open and close" technique, the firewall prevents service disruptions while still protecting the network from hacker attacks. On a per-call basis, gatekeepers or proxy servers can manage all VoIP applications without firewall interference, and billing can be tracked more readily. In addition, the firewall performs a Network Address Translation (NAT) capability that imposes a constant route for voice packets, ensuring a more consistent amount of quality voice calls. In these ways, this open and close technique proves not only an innovative solution, but also an effective one.

[ Return to list of winners ]


CN1000 Broadband Loop Carrier
Catena Networks
307 Legget Dr. 
Kanata, Ontario, Canada K2K 3C8
Tel: 866-2CATENA
Fax: 613-599-0445 
Web: www.catena.com

Catena Networks' vision "to create the new access architecture for the converged, packet-based public network" intrigued us, so we took a closer look at this innovative company.

Their CN1000 is a highly integrated broadband access system for efficiently provisioning and deploying residential DSL, while enabling the seamless migration from today's TDM network to a converged, packet-based softswitch environment on a line-by-line basis.

According to Catena, the challenge is that the DSL data access network was previously being deployed as a separate overlay to the voice network. This data overlay network was satisfactory for the deployment of niche, business-oriented services, but did not scale for consumer mass-market deployment, especially since remote DSLAMs, cross connects, POTS splitters, and adjunct cabinets are required.

The CN1000 is based on a patented architecture developed by Catena that terminates the loop at the first access point and enables carriers to deploy DSL and converge voice and data in the access network. This unique line-termination technology integrates POTS and DSL on every line without requiring a DSLAM or POTS-splitter at the customer premises.

As a result, every subscriber is broadband-ready from day one and service can be provisioned remotely without truck rolls. This new access architecture enables a graceful, line-by-line migration to voice over packet (VoP) and softswitch architectures, as carriers evolve their networks.

This innovative solution allows all subscribers to continue to enjoy lifeline voice services using their existing telephone set, while enabling the deployment of next-generation services. By integrating POTS and DSL on the same line in the CN1000, Catena is able to accommodate the 0�4KHz voice spectrum and the 30�1100KHz DSL spectrum. No integrated access device (IAD) is needed at the home, because Catena's technology allows packetization of voice traffic at the line termination point in the CN1000.

Utilizing the CN1000, a Broadband Loop Carrier (BLC) could have the following benefits:

  • Eliminate DSLAM or POTS splitter and improve DSL service availability;
  • Fully integrate POTS and DSL, obviating the need to roll trucks;
  • Eliminate overlay access networks;
  • Supports converged, packet-based network;
  • Works in conjunction with packet Class 5 Switches and softswitches;
  • Supports voice packetization, on per-line basis, at line-termination point; and
  • There is no tradeoff of packet voice versus DSL ports.

According to Catena, their CN1000 broadband loop carrier scales to more than four times the port density of existing next-generation digital loop carrier systems (NGDLCs). Catena's highly integrated POTS+DSL silicon technology enables 288 integrated POTS/DSL lines on the first shelf; 672 integrated POTS/DSL lines per two-shelf system; 1,056 integrated POTS/DSL lines per three-shelf system; and 2,112 integrated POTS/DSL lines per seven-foot rack.

The CN1000 supports ADSL and will support the emerging G.SHDSL standard for high-speed symmetrical services. Catena's programmable silicon technology enables carriers to manage evolving ADSL standards by delivering new features via software downloads. The CN1000 is currently fully interoperable with leading providers of DSL customer premises equipment (CPE) and silicon and is fully compliant with the ANSI T1.413, ITU-T G.992.1 (G.dmt), ITU-T G.992.2 (G.lite), and ITU-T G.994.1 (G.handshake) DSL standards.

For remote terminal applications, the broadband loop carrier differs considerably from current next-generation digital loop carriers (DLCs). Next-generation DLCs are based on TDM backplanes and utilize DSL line cards that typically sacrifice POTS port capacity. In contrast, Catena's CN1000 is engineered from the ground up on a packet-based architecture, which utilizes integrated POTS+DSL line cards that do not sacrifice POTS density. For providing an integrated and innovative POTS+DSL solution, which is easier to deploy, we commend Catena Networks and bestow our TMC Labs Innovation Award.

[ Return to list of winners ]


Session Management Suite
dynamicsoft, Inc.
72 Eagle Rock Ave. 
1st Fl. 
East Hanover, NJ 07936
Tel: 973-952-5000 
Fax: 973-952-5050 
Web:
www.dynamicsoft.com

dynamicsoft is an industry leader in both the development of Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), and the deployment of SIP-based products. Led by Chief Scientist and (SIP) co-author Jonathan Rosenberg, dynamicsoft was the first to release a comprehensive, SIP-based solution. That solution is a SIP-based infrastructure built utilizing open architecture to foster system customization through implementation of additional functionality integrating billing, network management, security, and Web-based provisioning. dynamicsoft calls it Session Management Suite (SMS). SMS consists of: A SIP Proxy Server, SIP Location Server, and SIP Firewall Control Proxy.

SMS employs many APIs to facilitate communication with other services providing integration with existing or supplementary network database management systems. This for example allows domain-level security, the use of media-based firewalls, and NAT to protect any service provider's network. In addition, via the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) and SIP Management Information Base (MIB), advanced network management capabilities can be used to manage large SIP networks centrally, using a compatible network management tool.

The Proxy Server is also capable of generating "billing-related" information, which can then in turn, either be sent to the dymanicsoft Remote Logging Server, or a certified billing intermediation partner. This affords collection of data, and provides mediation and data storage capability.

SMS also manages the SIP network on three different levels: Global, user specific, and user controlled. Each exercises a separate degree of direction allotting for deep system customization. Web-based provisioning for example, allows end-users to control telephony features such as: Time-based and address screening, call forwarding, call forwarding on busy, call forward on no answer, Time-based routing, direct group dialing, and find me/follow.

The dynamicsoft technical staff employs many of the world's authorities on SIP. This experience and knowledge, coupled with APIs, solid infrastructure, and the NetValue Partner program provide the robustness, versatility, and the cutting edge that has made dynamicsoft's SMS both an innovative and complete SIP solution.

[ Return to list of winners ]


EdgeXpress Suite
Kenetec
550 Spring St. 
Naugatuck, CT 06770
Tel: 203-723-4242 
Fax: 203-723-4187 
Web:
www.kenetec.com

EdgeXpress delivers a comprehensive solution for enabling multimedia broadband services in a converged network infrastructure. Targeting MTUs (multi-tenant units), EdgeXpress, is unique in that it provides an end-to-end services platform for enabling multimedia services to businesses over a single converged network. Kenetec is also the only company that we are aware of providing a solution in this market space that supports both ATM and IP. This is critically important in the carrier market where ATM is still deployed and a fully deployed IP infrastructure is still a few years away.

The EdgeXpress 5000 is a component in Kenetec's three-tier QoS architecture (tagging, shaping, and mapping). To efficiently deliver differentiated services over a single ATM infrastructure, the EdgeXpress 5000 maps IP class of service (CoS) to ATM quality of service (QoS) mechanisms. Pure IP infrastructures are supported via native MPLS or DSCP (TOS), which allows the reliable delivery of voice, video, and advanced IP applications over integrated broadband infrastructures. We should mention that 802.1p is also supported. As far as scalability, the 5000 comes in three different sizes, the largest of which has line cards that support up to 120 tenants.

The EdgeXpress 1000 is similar to an IAD (integrated access device). It sits on the customer premises and enables the delivery of voice, data, and advanced IP services to small- and medium-sized businesses located within a multi-tenant unit (MTU). The EdgeXpress 1000 can support up to 16 POTS voice lines or two DSX-1 interfaces. Internet access is available through a 10/100 BASE-TX LAN interface. The standards-based EdgeXpress 1000 converges both voice and data traffic onto a single copper or fiber riser.

Existing telephones can be plugged into the EdgeXpress 1000 unit directly or interconnected from a PBX. The EdgeXpress 1000 can then process it as an ATM-based AAL2 voice packet for delivery to service providers providing ATM backbones. The EdgeXpress 1000 complies with the MGCP and SIP gateway standards for support of VoIP services. Thus, traditional voice services and corresponding revenue can be made right up front. Later on, enhanced services such as VoIP can be added after the fact, when the service provider is ready to exploit packetized voice services.

The EdgeXpress family is managed by Kenetec's Edge Manager -- a comprehensive management system with advanced service management features, as well as financial functions to demonstrate the return on investment. Together, the EdgeXpress 1000 and EdgeXpress 5000 allow service providers to create services-oriented building area networks (SBANs). Service providers targeting businesses within multi-tenant facilities really need to be able to deliver services other than just Internet access in order to generate new revenue streams and prevent customers from going to competitors. As a converged solution that allows for traditional voice services today, as well as enabling migration to future enhanced services, Kenetec's EdgeXpress product suite really wowed TMC Labs. That, combined with support for both IP and ATM protocols as well as its impressive provisioning and administration tools, helped make this a truly innovative solution.

[ Return to list of winners ]


Instant Broadband EtherFast Cable/DSL & Voice Router
Linksys
17401 Armstrong Ave. 
Irvine, CA 92614
Tel: 949-261-1288 
Fax: 949-261-8868 
Web:
www.linksys.com

There are many broadband Internet sharing devices on the market today. What is innovative about Linksys Instant Broadband EtherFast Cable/DSL and Voice Router is that not only does it act as an Internet/data sharing device, but it features Voice over IP capabilities as well. With the router installed, no other special hardware is necessary to make telephone calls. For instance, there is no need to boot up a PC to make a VoIP call. Using just an ordinary analog telephone connected to the RJ-11 port on the back of the router, calls are routed across the Internet through Net2Phone's network to a phone located anywhere in the world -- at significantly reduced long-distance charges. Since the router works with any analog devices, you can even use your favorite cordless phone. Other significant features include four switched 10/100 Ethernet ports, IPSec and PPTP Pass through, remote administration and remote management for more upgrades over the Internet, and DHCP server functionality to assign IP addresses. The Linksys router supports several standards including PAP, CHAP, PPP, and PPPoE. Like most Internet sharing devices, the Linksys product also sports an easy-to-navigate Web-based administration GUI.

Although only four ports are available, the router supports up to 253 PCs on the network by daisy chaining other network switches and/or hubs. Of course this router also acts as a firewall, with configurable policies to protect your internal LAN. With so many competing Internet sharing devices on the market today, VoIP just may be the differentiating factor when making a purchasing decision. As such, we commend Linksys for combining data and voice onto a single platform, and thus we proudly bestow our TMC Labs Innovation Award to the Linksys Instant Broadband EtherFast Cable/DSL and Voice Router.

[ Return to list of winners ]


iTeleFusion
Nissi
21515 Hawthorne Blvd. 
2nd Fl. 
Torrance, CA 90503
Tel: 310-792-2000 
Fax: 310-792-3128
Web:
www.nissi.com

TMC Labs recently discovered an interesting company, NISSI, with an innovative product. Nissi has designed an end-to-end convergence communications platform targeted at service providers, ASPs, contact centers, and enterprises. Their iTeleFusion product provides myriad Internet and telecommunications applications, including unified messaging (voice, fax, and e-mail), PIM, voice/fax over IP, video/audio/text conferencing, and instant messaging (IM) -- all over an IP network, an intelligent network and the PSTN. This comprehensive solution offers a complete Internet convergence platform for communication, collaboration, and information management.

iTeleFusion can be configured to meet the specific needs of any service provider or enterprise. The user client can be PC-based, Web-based, or WAP-based. Users can easily communicate with one another using any communication media they choose whether it be voice, fax, video, VoIP, WAP, IM, etc., all from a single user interface from anywhere in the world. Also, through iTeleFusion's telephone user interface (TUI) or WAP interface, users can access messages and information from any telephone or WAP-enabled device.

NISSI likes to define their product as "total communication convergence with complete communications integration." After seeing the plethora of open standards that the iTeleFusion platform supports, we couldn't agree more. Standards such as H.323, SS7, WAP, T.37/T.38 faxing, and 3G, as well as T1/E1 and ISDN are supported. Their platform also fits nicely into existing legacy hardware, including PBXs, Web servers, and e-mail servers. Also, the system can be integrated with the SS7, IP, and softswitch networks with NISSI's SS7 and VoIP modules. NISSI has also developed an OSS tool for easy management and provisioning.

NISSI also offers optional VoIP gateways, gatekeepers, a FoIP gateway, and other optional modules. One of the key differentiators of iTeleFusion is that it is designed on NISSI's iTOS (Internet Telephony Operating System). By using the iTOS platform across NISSI's complete product line, integration with other modules is much easier and more seamless. For example, Nissi's ContactPrime, a product targeting the multimedia contact center, is an optional product also developed with iTOS. The distributed architecture and iTOS platform allow for carrier-grade stability and carrier-class scalability with customization support for service providers and customers. Besides the modular design, scalability, and plethora of standards support, we also like the fact that NISSI provides an end-to-end comprehensive solution, which is certainly innovative in its own right.

[ Return to list of winners ]


Tenor Carrier MultiPath Switch (CMS)
Quintum Technologies, Inc.
14 Christopher Way 
Eatontown, NJ 07724
Tel: 1-877-SPEAK IP 
Fax: 732-544-9119
Web:
www.quintum.com

For the October issue of this magazine, we tested Quintum Technology's Tenor Gateway. In the review, we stated that the product "intelligently switches calls over both IP networks and the PSTN. If IP network congestion or a device failure impacts voice quality, the Tenor Gateway can switch calls over to the PSTN." No other VoIP product that we know of does this, and what's more, the switch from one network to the other occurs unbeknownst to the caller. Furthermore, it acts both as a gateway or a gatekeeper; and with the high QoS level when using their Transparent Auto-Switch Quality (TASQ) technology, there was even more reason to consider awarding Quintum.

However, with all the competition, we were still not completely sold -- that is until we found out about Quintum's new Tenor Carrier Multipath Switch (CMS), which is the next version of the Tenor Gateway. Besides continuously monitoring the data network for packet loss, latency, and jitter and transparently switching from VoIP to the PSTN for when the data network goes below a particular quality threshold, the Tenor switch offers enhancements to TASQ via a new patent-pending technology called SelectNet. SelectNet provides call protection as well as its other call management, QoS, address translation, and security functions to IP end-points that don't need to pass through the switch's IP gateway.

The Tenor switch can also combine voice packets from several calls into one packet by maximizing the data utilization of the packet. Because of this feature, bandwidth overhead can be minimized. Quintum calls this their PacketSaver technology. As if all of this wasn't enough, we also noticed the increased scalability of the Tenor switch. While the configurations could use as little as four trunks, the Tenor switch could scale up to 32 trunks within a single chassis.

Our earlier tests indicated Quintum's fine craftsmanship in their Tenor product, and the new equipment reveals a well-built switch and even more ingenuity. By the time we concluded our examinations of the new switch, we were sure that Quintum deserved to be honored with our Innovation Award.

[ Return to list of winners ]


SS8 SignalingSwitch
SS8 Networks, Inc.
2025 Gateway Pl. 
Suite 200 
San Jose, CA 95110
Tel: 408-501-2100 
Fax: 408-501-2101 
Web:
www.ss8.com

The SS8 SignalingSwitch is the core of SS8 Networks' product suite. SS8's switch is spun from an innovative, forward-thinking vision and market-leading architecture, aiding in the creation of a new standard for IP Signaling Transfer Point (IP-STP). SS8 has created this product by taking aim at uniting existing protocols and delivering Intelligent Network (IN) Services across gateways, proxy servers and softswitches, thereby linking together smaller, disparate networks to help form what can be recognized as the public internet telephone network (PITN).

The SS8 SignalingSwitch combines the ability to read both SIP and H.323 verse and services, creating a platform engineered as a solution for lack of interoperability between the two incumbent protocols. The switch effectively renders readability for both "standards" and provisions service through one to the other -- thereby relieving contrast between networks. Since the SS8 SignalingSwitch is able to recognize and translate both protocols synchronously, it is also capable of connecting devices employing different protocols, from different vendors, affording new levels of interconnectivity. The SS8 SignalingSwitch also utilizes high-speed, multi-processor architecture and hot-swappable components aimed at delivering the highest reliability and best system performance.

The SS8 SignalingSwitch is inclusive of what SS8 bills as the industry's first standards-based advanced IP Telephony Routing Engine (ITRE). The ITRE provides the necessary groundwork for advanced call routing within an intelligent network (IN) such as: IP routing by telephone number, automatic IP telephony route discovery and updating, policy-based telephony routing, automatic alternate routing of signaling messages (fault tolerance), and more.

SS8 Networks has the vision of melding the best of the PSTN and IP to idealize the now-emerging PITN. SS8 has targeted a new standard of carrier-class service with the SS8 SignalingSwitch and its siblings in the SS8 Networks' product suite, which are engineered to meet the high demands of real-time signaling necessary to support telephony and video applications. It is both their visionary forethought and timely follow-through that make SS8 Networks' SignalingSwitch product a clear nominee -- and winner -- of an Internet Telephony Innovation Award.

[ Return to list of winners ]


Call Agent
Telcordia Technologies
445 South St. 
Morristown, NJ 07960-6438
Tel: 800-521-2673
E-mail: m-webleads@notes.cc.telcordia.com
Web: www.telcordia.com

During the last twelve months, there has been much talk about softswitches that can provide VoIP applications without the need for a Class 5 circuit switch. These types of softswitches include traditional telephony features such as call waiting and call forwarding, more advanced functionality such as video conferencing and integrating voice and data or voice with the Web, and an open architecture that eliminates a dependence on specific switch suppliers. These next-generation switches can save companies a lot of money and can even increase revenue through their ever-expanding offerings. However, the older Class 5 switches are still engrained as the major part of service provider's equipment, who therefore have a vested interest in their legacy systems. Thus, these providers are hesitant about adopting the new softswitches. While there is much hoopla about either replacing the Class 5 switches or bridging softswitches with the existing equipment, most have still not been deployed within a provider's network.

Because of its excellent feature set and its ability to interoperate with IP or ATM gateways to perform call control functions and deliver advanced services, Telcordia's Call Agent was the first to begin to overcome this obstacle and be deployed and run by major providers CTC Communications and Sprint. With these two companies deploying Call Agent to quickly and efficiently add value to each company's disparate network, VoIP services between internal offices have already been established. Now Sprint and CTC can begin supplying a plethora of new services to end users that Class 5 switches cannot deliver.

All in all, the innovation inherent in softswitches, in which Call Agent was one of the first and still one of the best, is important, but that is now somewhat old news to us. This year, we honor Telcordia not only for Call Agent's offerings but more for their visible leadership and experience in a young industry that needs these qualities most in order to truly revolutionize the communications world.

[ Return to list of winners ]


Media Xchange Manager (MXM)
VCON, Inc.
10535 Boyer Blvd.
Suite 300
Austin, TX 78758
Tel: 512-583-7700
Fax: 512-583-7701
Web:
www.vcon.com

Just last month, we reviewed VCON's Media Xchange Manager (MXM) for this magazine. During the review process, it became quite apparent to us just how innovative this product is. That's because the MXM is more than just a typical H.323 gatekeeper, mainly because of its extensive administrative, management, and monitoring features available for most IP and H.323 applications with its focus on video conferencing. It supports a wide range of equipment, including multipoint control units (MCU), gateways, and video endpoints, and an administrative graphical interface can be installed onto any PC on the network so that management and monitoring functions can be achieved remotely.

What we found to be the main attraction of the MXM is its centralized administration and the usability of the GUI. The administration is centralized via the GUI, which during our testing, we noticed was very intuitive and laid out in a clean, hierarchal manner. Sometimes, as in this case, innovation can take the form of usability, especially since some of the most feature-rich gatekeepers are awkward to use at best. Fortunately, the centralized administrative GUI of the MXM provides secure, mobile access to support multiple consoles and servers. This remote GUI is where all of the H.323 equipment on the network is identified and where remote endpoint and dial plan with hunting group configurations can be performed.

Other important functionality of the MXM that impressed us was the centralized management and the video-oriented telephony services. The centralized management allows for conversation status monitoring, event logging, registration and admission control, and address translation capabilities. The telephony services included ACD functionality, call forward, call transfer, and call pickup that can all be performed while keeping the video intact.

The beauty of all of this is that all VoIP (or at least H.323 applications) can be monitored and managed on the MXM from any PC. Any supervisor or administrator in an organization can keep track of the applications being used -- what extensions are logged in or not and who is on a call or video conference. While this may not be a new idea, there are a few in the Internet telephony industry that have even attempted this and none that have done this so well.

[ Return to list of winners ]


�Ensemble!
VIVE Synergies, Inc.
150 West Beaver Creek Rd. 
Richmond Hill, ON, Canada L4B 1B4
Tel: 905-882-6107 
Fax: 905-882-6238
Web:
www.vive.com

VIVE Synergies' �Ensemble! not only performs as an H.323 gateway, but also delivers many other communications-enabling features critical to servicing customers in a SOHO or SMB environment. The �Ensemble! (about the size of a digital cable box) with easily upgradeable firmware, also functions as a premise PBX, is capable of producing CDR records and billing information, and is equipped with "VoIPower." VoIPower is VIVE's answer to affordable, Web-based call center functionality.

Though the �Ensemble! can provide an entire communications system for a SOHO or SMB, larger companies with greater PBX demands (and incumbent PBX systems) can just as easily implement the �Ensemble! into their corporate environment in order to provide e-customer service on any Web site. This can include implementing a "click-to-talk" button on any Web page providing customers with a conduit to connect with a live agent via VoIP. The latest firmware release also offers code for co-browsing, two-way applications sharing, and text chat.

Remote offices, companies with branches abroad or even domestically, may consider �Ensemble! for its gateway functionality alone. A unit at each office would not only provide a low-cost alternative to the PSTN for communication from venue to venue, but callers could also hop off to the local PSTN or employ the optional gatekeeper software for gateway management and least-cost routing. The �Ensemble! also works in conjunction with the Net2Phone network.

VIVE Synergies has also recently upgraded their product, making it both SIP and H.323 compliant. SIP and H.323 clients are now available in the form of a plug-in on the host Web site, which no longer requires the customer to interface via NetMeeting. Additionally, �Ensemble! functions independently of any PC employing its own, built-in Web server. VIVE also says that interoperability tests have been conducted and prove that their product works in conjunction with Cisco VoIP gateways and gatekeepers.

In conclusion, the �Ensemble! was selected for an award because of its feature set, broad appeal, and great value, which was packaged in a way we've not seen before. Whether you've got a three-person operation and you need a communication center; or you're part of a Fortune 500 company in need of e-customer service, the �Ensemble! may be the solution for your company. The innovation in this product is not in the advent of a new protocol or first-version software, rather it's in the big business functionality -- with mass appeal -- at a price a small business owner can afford. If you're looking into a device for all, or even just some of the aforementioned functionality, check into "VoIPower." You're likely to be impressed.

[ Return to list of winners ]


WebInteract Service
WebDialogs, Inc.
Concord Road Corporate Center 
300 Concord Rd.
Billerica, MA 01821
Tel: 978-439-9600
Fax: 978-439-9962
Web:
www.webdialogs.com

In a shoot-out staged in January's issue of this publication, TMC Labs compared ASP "Push to Talk" services from eStara, HearMe, Lipstream, and WebDialogs. When the smoke cleared, it was difficult to determine who stood above the rest as a clear "winner." TMC Labs determined that while the contest was close, WebDialogs clearly distinguished itself by virtue of sheer feature-richness, offering crucial bi-directional co-browsing and form-sharing features where some or all its opponents did not -- and this is in addition to full-duplex operation, text chat, PC-to-phone call capability, and good VoIP quality when used in conjunction with the then-beta Net2Phone client. The value of their PSTN call back option also stood out, not only in the immediate sense -- for less technical consumers who don't own (or own but don't know how to use) multimedia PCs -- but also for the long term, by providing a comfortable, familiar means to transition the public towards more VoIP in the home and in the industry.

Integrated with an Internet Explorer 5 window in the bottom of the screen, the agent interface was another feature that distinguished WebDialogs' service (called WebInteract) from their peers. From the screen's top half, agents can connect to incoming VoIP calls or initiate a PSTN callback. Once connected, the agent has several options at his disposal, including the ability to take "snapshots" of particular windows and transmit them to the customer as images, to initiate file transfers, or to engage in text-chat. As for co-browsing and form-sharing, WebDialogs took a particularly effective approach to these collaborative features -- which provide consumers with the often critical level of comfort that can remain the difference between a sale and the all-too-often abandoned shopping cart. Co-browsing is bi-directional, meaning both agent and customer can push Web pages to each other (a feature not often or always found in co-browsing applications) and can be extended into form sharing capabilities allowing the agent to assist customers in filling out online forms.

Innovation is often a question of firsts (i.e., a company was the first to offer this feature, to take a different path towards a known goal, to offer services to a new
market, etc.). Where ecommerce and VoIP are concerned, innovation could be defined by WebDialogs' refusal to skimp on offering agents all of the resources needed to provide a good and productive customer experience. This requires a lot more than simply throwing as many tools as possible into a single box, but rather ensuring they can work together through the application of creativity, drive, and sophistication.

[ Return to list of winners ]
[ Return to the July 2001 table of contents ]



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