Hot On The Trail Of Innovation
At the latest Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO, I grabbed the
opportunity to walk the Exhibit Hall and see some of the latest innovative
products on the market. What was most amazing to me was the broad spectrum of
companies that were exhibiting at an IP telephony event.
One of the most interesting booths I saw was Plaintree
a company specializing in providing optical wireless solutions for the
enterprise and service providers. They refer to their technology as fiber cable
without the cable. At a distance of four kilometers they are able to achieve 10
to 155 Mbps throughput. As this technology is dependent on a clear line of site,
you might imagine that Mother Nature could play tricks on such a solution.
Although I was not able to test the product myself I am told that fog has a
negative effect on bandwidth while rain and snow do not. I have a hunch that
these products might not be too popular in England.
The technology is based on the unlicensed infrared spectrum and there are
various models to fit any budget. I'm told that some corporate customers decide
to split the bandwidth into two channels; one to carry IP-based voice when using
traditional PBXs or a single channel if employing voice over IP. As you can
imagine, this infrared-based product is one of the few that you can deploy near
airports. I'm told that a big market for this technology is in South America
where frequency overcrowding doesn't exist. The cost for this solution varies
with bandwidth and distance requirements, and starts at $2,500 for a 10 Mbps at
300 meters up to $15,000 for 155 Mbps at four kilometers.
If there were an award at the show for best-looking product, it would likely
go to Pingtel for their creative assortment
of colorful IP telephones. As I entered the booth, I was asked to help name the
color of one of their new phones. I came up with light peach. After speaking
with company representatives, I came to two conclusions: 1) I am not good at
naming colors and 2) Pingtel's newest phone is actually mango.
But putting color aside, I was happy to test Pingtel's phone connecting to
3Com's booth and equipment with the aid of dynamicsoft's proxy server and a
Cisco 5300 gateway. The quality of the conversation ranged from great to OK but
all in all better than expected on a show network with so many applications
hogging the bandwidth.
Another company I visited was VegaStream,
a maker of integrated access devices (IADs) and showing a variety of products
such as their Vega 50 IAD, which supports eight standard phones and can scale to
48. Although they don't require a PBX to work, these products can help bring a
legacy PBX into the IP world. Obviously, this is a perfect solution for service
providers looking to serve the SME market. Currently Vegastream's products
support SIP version 2 as well as H.323. They can partner with a company like Broadsoft
for service delivery and creation.
Some of the benefits of using an IAD are the ability to save money on
long-distance between branches, the ability to attain softswitch features and
the ability to easily reassign IP addresses to people on the move, allowing them
full phone functionality regardless of location. One vertical market that might
be served especially well is the IP-based call center market.
I also stopped in to see Fujitsu, a company that you would usually associate
with legacy only call center solutions. I can say that Fujitsu has certainly
embraced IP telephony with open arms. Their F9600 IP Trunk card delivers
proprietary VPN traffic over IP and can be used in conjunction with or instead
of ISDN services. These cards allow for the easy connection of multiple
locations. Fujitsu feels that a traditional PBX with IP trunk cards is an
attractive alternative to IP PBXs where standards such as SIP and H.323 are
still being worked out.If you really must have
an IP PBX, Fujitsu will not disappoint. They plan on releasing their
Infinex IP PBX in the second quarter of 2001. Some of the features we can expect
to see in this offering are a browser accessible server, IP phones and a
softphone. Expect the system to run on Windows NT and make use of an H.323
gateway. The system will start at 10 ports and will need a DSP board as it grows
in port density.
blue-silicon -- a new
communications ASP specializing in outsourced unified messaging -- seems to have
come out of nowhere and is lighting the world on fire. There was a tremendous
interest in this new service from attendees at the show.
The company feels that the market for outsourced unified messaging is quite
vibrant and will experience rapid growth. There are many benefits to using this
service no matter what the size of your company. A SOHO user for example could
subscribe to blue-silicon's service and could call forward their home number on
a busy signal or no answer. Additionally, this user could advertise his
blue-silicon phone number as a fax number since the unified messaging service
can detect faxes automatically.
The company also feels that their service will work really well in a large
corporate environment where each enterprise user can use this service as a
personal fax number as well as having their cell phones roll into the same
mailbox. In case you are worried about interfacing with your PBX, blue-silicon
tells me that they work with over 90 PBXs, which covers about 90 percent of the
market and they are working with IP PBX manufacturers as well. When I queried
them about competition from existing service providers, the response was that
traditional service providers haven't made much money from voice mail and are
hesitant to upgrade their systems to unified messaging.
The benefits of this service are many and include being able to integrate all
messaging with e-mail and a variety of PBX types. Users also have the ability to
have global access to messaging for the cost of a local call through POP3 or
IMAP or even the Web. Using a service such as this is much more flexible than
traditional messaging types we are all used to, as you can configure the system
to page you when you receive a fax or redirect your fax to a local fax machine.
One of my favorite features of the service is the ability to send an e-mail from
your phone, a perfect way for those of us who travel frequently to keep in touch
with those of us that answer e-mail before voice mail. Perhaps the best news
about this service is that it is outsourced, meaning the maintenance of
redundant hardware is totally farmed out, freeing you up to worry about more
important issues. In case you are wondering, this product is designed for
corporate users but will be sold through a reseller and service provider
The next company I saw falls under the category of "I want this in my
house." Inetcam makes a software
product called iVISTA that allows you to remotely monitor any location from any
Web site. They call it Webcasting, and given enough time to set it up, I will
purchase four cameras (you can use their cameras or many others) and install
them at home. Inetcam sells a VTS (Video Transmission Systems) kit with the
basic equipment you need to get started, including a four-port switcher allowing
you to capture just as many simultaneous video streams.
Perhaps the most entertaining demo I have yet witnessed at any show was when
one of the booth staffers said "Hey, lets look at my girlfriend's
bedroom," and then proceeded to type the IP address into the Web browser.
"Luckily," he said he password protected the site. Of course I asked
if she knew about this and I was told, that she doesn't really know much about
computers and besides, she's at work today.
Two other new products worth mentioning were USB headsets from VXI:
the Aruba, which is monaural and the Caribbean, which is a two-way digital
stereo headset. Some of the benefits of USB headsets include battery-free
operation, superior sound, and CD playback quality. As a sound card is not
required for USB headsets, VXI tells me that there is less distortion introduced
to the audio stream. If you are interested, the price for either unit is under
What I really liked about Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO was the
range of companies that were displaying products and services. There was really
something for everyone. If I had to spot a trend, it would be that companies in
just about every sector of communications are developing IP telephony products
and services. There was a great deal of excitement at this event and one can
expect that with all this interest that the industry will keep growing and
announcing new products at an even more rapid pace.
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