Unified communications is one of the fastest growing technology fields. UC enhances productivity by unifying voice, video, wireless, presence and other communications technologies. Unifying and integrating all the various corporate communications types also provide management a holistic overview of the entire corporate communications infrastructure with unified reporting that provides insights into your business communications.
This year TMC Labs reviewed many more applications with mobile wireless capabilities, demonstrating that bringing personal or even business mobile phones into the business’s UC fold is in great demand. There was also a strong upsurge in videoconferencing solutions. This year marks the 11th annual TMC Labs Innovation Awards where we honor products and services that have unique and innovative features that often differentiate them from their competitors.
TMC Labs researched each of the applicants to pick the most innovative solutions. With so many applicants, competition was tight, but we whittled the winners’ list down to 15 of the most unique and innovative companies.
8x8 Virtual Office Pro
Virtual Office Pro brings hosted PBX phone service (with unlimited calling), Web conferencing with video, call recording and archiving, Internet fax, mobile iPhone application (3G or WiFi), presence and voicemail management, Web telephony client and more – all for just $49.99 per month. It leverages Flash, ensuring cross-platform support, including a Flash-based VoIP client making a physical telephone optional. The powerful Web-based client features fax send and receive, call recording, voicemail access, dial pad, call contacts, meeting controls, chat, and more. Virtual Meeting allows you to create, join and invite participants to Web, audio and video meetings. Participants can easily be invited by dragging and dropping from a contact list In the last six months 8x8 has added remote desktop sharing for collaboration. Finally, it features Microsoft (News - Alert) Outlook Contacts and Corporate Directory integration.
NetVanta Unified Communications Solution Suite
ADTRAN’s Windows-based NetVanta Unified Communications Solution Suite is a comprehensive product offering unified messaging, fax server, and auto attendant. It also features personal assistants, response (IVR) for inbound and outbound calling services, integration with ODBC databases, text-to-speech, one-number services, and call redirection services. It leverages Active Directory and can scale from five to more than 2,000 users on a single server. This all-in-one 1U-high system contains a router, switch, VPN/firewall, and unified communications to provide a comprehensive communications system for any SMB.
The NetVanta UC Solution Suite offers simplicity, flexibility, ease of use and scalability. ADTRAN tells TMC Labs: “Most systems ask the business to make their business processes fit to the framework of the system, where NetVanta UC can be easily tailored to fit the business. The added ability to integrate CEBP into UC also increases the flexibility and applications for this solution.” Leveraging the NetVanta Business Application Server, and using a graphical drag-and-drop non-programmatic service creation environment, enables IT and telecom professionals to create quickly custom communications services in-house. Other innovative features include click-to-dial, built-in paging server for overhead paging, and a conference server.
Importantly, we should point out that NetVanta Unified Communications Server is software-only, bringing unified communications to PBXs that want the added benefits of unified communications without a forklift upgrade. NetVanta UC Server is capable of supporting unified communications on PBXs from most manufacturers, including ADTRAN, Avaya, Cisco, NEC, Nortel (News - Alert), Mitel and Siemens.
With enterprises deploying PC-based VoIP solutions such as Microsoft OCS 2007 (now MCS) or even Skype, it’s clear that existing speakerphone devices have not caught up with the technology – that is, until now. While there are many high-quality SIP-based speakerphones for conference rooms, you’d be hard pressed to find a USB-based high-end speakerphone with echo cancellation, multiple microphone pods, and support for multiple high-quality speakers.
Well, ClearOne’s Interact AT is a complete conferencing solution that includes a wireless tabletop dialer, audio mixer, microphones, and loudspeakers for group conference rooms. The solution allows for direct connection of a PC (via USB) or an enterprise telephone set (via RJ-9) or videoconferencing unit (via RCA) thus unifying the audio system in the conference room with all the UC devices and clients. Indeed, the Interact AT is not your traditional speakerphone, but rather a professional-grade audio conferencing solution.
ClearOne claims that Interact AT is the first business-class audio conference room device that interfaces directly with PCs and enterprise telephones. It adds that it’s also the first group conferencing solution that allows direct dialing for Microsoft OCS client. The Tabletop Dialer includes call controls to emulate a USB handset or headset. It features USB audio, headset audio interface, integrated audio amplifier, integrated telephone hybrid, acoustical echo cancellation, and a wireless tabletop dialer.
C4 IP, a hosted unified communications solution first released in mid-2006 and featuring a hosted VoIP solution, is a one-stop shop for all your UC needs. Highlighted features include free local and long-distance, integrated audio and Web conferencing, desktop video, and multimedia collaboration tools, Outlook integration, softphones, real-time presence, and chat. The latest C4 IP release also adds remote branch office, call recording and quality monitoring for C4 IP call center environments.
Cypress explains to TMC Labs: “The typical Cypress customer is an SME with 50 to 2,000 seats in two or more locations. However, Cypress solutions are incredibly scalable and can accommodate large-scale deployments. In fact, Cypress is currently completing a hosted VoIP and hosted UC deployment for a top global law firm with 13 offices spread across 12 time zones with approximately 3,000 seats.”
C4 IP expands upon typical, plain vanilla, hosted VoIP by providing a comprehensive solution that includes voice and data access, phones, collaboration and video services, unified messaging and advanced PBX functionality. It is backed with LAN/WAN management, a 24/7 fully redundant national VoIP network. In addition to using DiffServ for QoS prioritization of VoIP packets, the Cypress Communications IP transport network is national in scope and includes points of presence throughout the domestic United States, including 29 major metropolitan areas, serving 38 states.
According to Cypress: “With C4 IP, Cypress Communications was the first to develop a hosted unified communications solution that integrates the CS2000 (a carrier-class switch modeled after the DMS1000), the MCS5200 Multimedia Server and Movius (IP Unity) Unified Messaging. To our knowledge, only three companies in the world provide a solution that integrates the CS2000 and MCS5200.”
Cypress went on to say: “We are the only – and therefore the first – national hosted UC provider that includes the voice LAN/WAN at the customer site and the phone on each employee’s desk in the list of components that we manage with our solution. Cypress Communications manages all aspects of our customers’ UC – from the phone on the desk and the soft client on their PC, across the local LAN/WAN and through our network until handoff to the public switching network.”
Digium (News - Alert) Inc.
Switchvox SMB 4.5
When Digium acquired Switchvox in 2007, it was an interesting acquisition. After all, Digium started open source Asterisk, which then spawned the Asterisk-based Switchvox SMB solution. Essentially, Digium was bringing the Switchvox people and their superb Asterisk customizations back into the fold. It was a smart move because it brought some powerful UC and Web 2.0 functionality to Digium’s product line. Switchvox features powerful Web-aware unified communications capabilities, VoIP, fax, chat, video calling, conferencing, contact center, and unified messaging. Switchvox SMB packages Linux, Asterisk, and other open source technologies onto hardware appliances for small, mid size, and larger (up to 400 users) SMBs.
Everything is managed via a Web-based interface for both administrators and end users. The end user’s management interface gives you access to voicemail, custom greetings, reports, and call routing settings (find me, follow me). Although Switchvox is typically not hosted and is installed at the customer premises, one innovative patent-pending feature allows for easy migration from a hosted Switchvox solution to an on-site Switchvox and back again. A virtualized (Xen) version of Switchvox SMB exists for service providers that wish to provide premium hosted IP PBX. Twenty instances of Switchvox SMB on a single 1U server essentially provides 20 small businesses with all the features of Switchvox SMB without the need for them to deploy a Switchvox SMB server on site; all they need are IP phones.
Digium explains: “The unique, ground-breaking part is that when/if one of those small businesses needs to move to an on-site solution, the service provider can simply back up the hosted instance and apply it to a dedicated, on-site Switchvox for that customer with only a few clicks. This happens so seamlessly, the customer may not even know it’s happened – their voicemail is all still there, their phones work just as before, etc. — the only difference is they’re on a dedicated appliance rather than a machine shared with 19 other businesses.”
Switchboard is a powerful Web-based application for real-time call control and Web integration. Using Switchboard, users can perform drag-and-drop transfers, monitor, whisper or barge in on queue members they manage and see which other users are on the phone and get information about those calls. On an incoming call, panels in the Switchboard can automatically query a CRM database, Google (News - Alert) Maps, etc.
According to Digium: “Using Web service-style APIs, Switchvox is the first (and possibly only) premises-based IP PBX to easily integrate with any Web application. Mashups between Switchvox and Web 2.0 services take minutes to create and implement, allowing users to see relevant data about their callers from both internal (like the company’s customer order database) and external (Flickr) data sources before a call is even answered, all in one place, without the need for manual interaction.”
Indeed, TMC Labs has seen demos of Switchvox, and its Web integration and Web 2.0 functionality are second to none.
Unify Enterprise Edition
Let’s face it, while UC is great, it can be very complex for even the most tech-savvy and efficient IT administrator to manage all of the various communication types, permission levels, etc. Ensim Unify Enterprise Edition is a unique solution in how it helps IT administrators provision or de-provision supported applications at the level of individual features based on their role as defined by IT policy. For example, automatically provision a “regulated” user for instant messaging but restrict access to public IM networks. This enhances security by removing manual processes, reduces compliance risk by enforcing corporate policy, and improves IT efficiency by decreasing workload. Further, administrators can secure mobile devices by enacting organization-wide device security policies for individuals or a group of users. These security policies can be used to enforce security settings like password complexity, inactivity time, wipe/lock settings.
Ensim Unify offers identity management and access control across multiple applications, including health monitoring for applications and server resources, as well as efficient capacity allocation, tracking, analytics, and extensibility. According to Ensim: “It installs as an overlay to an organization’s existing IT environment, meaning no Active Directory schema changes are required, helping to minimize implementation efforts and resources and creat[ing] a strong security framework.”
It offers several modules allowing you to manage popular applications such as SharePoint and Microsoft’s UC product – OCS 2007 (now MCS). Interestingly, Ensim tells TMC Labs that a customer had delayed deployment of OCS for almost 12 months due to provisioning issues caused by compliance requirements around the inability to place specific limitations on group chat and public IM access. Manual processes were never an option in a company with more than 200,000 employees. Ensim Unify solved these issues, allowing OCS to be deployed in less than three months.
This product offers pre-packaged automated provisioning and management capabilities that reaches to the feature level of the supported applications. Ensim’s strength is its ability to remove the complexity from provisioning and configuring applications through automation, resulting in lower TCO. TMC Labs likes to think of Ensim Unify as Active Directory on steroids.
Esna Technologies Inc.
Telephony Office-LinX 8.0
Telephony Office-LinX 8.0 is a software-based UC server that links existing legacy and IP voice networks with existing mobile devices, business applications and processes leveraging SIP. It delivers enterprise call control, messaging and presence. Powerful features include unified messaging with Google Apps, call control and CTI integration with Google and Salesforce.com, ad hoc call recording, speech access to e-mail, contacts, and presence, SIP-based IVR with speech recognition and voice biometrics, mass event notification and message alert, fax server, software-based fixed to mobile convergence, and SIP-based video enablement with legacy PBXs.
Esnatech is the first to deliver enterprise telephony integration natively in Google Apps. This includes single in-box access for voice, fax, and e-mail from Gmail supporting legacy phone systems and message waiting indicator support. Esnatech further embedded Web framework to deliver dialing, call control and presence from Google sites, Gmail, calendar and contacts, as well as offline speech access to Google Gmail, contacts and Google Talk presence.
The solution can run on Windows, Macs, and Linux machines giving IT administrators choice. Other nice features include VMware support for virtualization, rich presence support for legacy voice networks and Centrex users, mass event notification with BlackBerry PINs, call recording and transcription integrated with Google Apps, native speech-to-text support, speech biometrics and navigation, SIP-based video support with legacy phone systems, and scalability to 800 concurrent voice calls. Importantly, the solution adds video interoperability among different video phones so they can communicate with each other.
Interaction Process Automation (IPA)
Interaction Process Automation (IPA) is an all-in-one communications-based process automation solution. IPA uses the Interactive Intelligence unified IP communications platform and its associated applications to automate fully business processes. IPA includes a graphical authoring tool that enables users to define information schema, design user interface forms, lay out the process flow, and specify detailed process logic. It also has a service-oriented architecture that makes it easy to access Web services and uses events to drive information flow. Interactive Intelligence explains: “IPA offers a first-of-its-kind alternative to traditionally complex BPA applications, and to communications-enabled business process applications offering minimal functionality, thus soft ROI, with embedded notifications.”
For example, presence becomes more than just “who is available to chat?” It becomes “process presence” and indicates availability for the assignment of real work in a business process. Another example is that recording goes from call logging to multichannel quality assurance and compliance for business processes. Interactive Intelligence tells TMC Labs: “Unlike communications-enabled business process solutions that typically watch for real-time events and then alert people or kick off actions through embedded notifications in existing communications, IPA gives customers the ability to fully automate entirely new processes outside existing communications for a complete automated solution.”
In addition, unlike complex BPA solutions that require extensive customization and on-staff programmers to modify and maintain them, IPA uses a simple process-flow definition and graphical interface to enable quicker design, deployment and modification of process automation applications.
ShoreTel for IBM Lotus Foundations
Microsoft Small Business Server is a very popular all-in-one server plus software solution for the SMB and well known by many IT staffers. Lesser known, but Microsoft SBS’s strongest competitor, is Lotus Foundation, which like Microsoft SBS is a turnkey server for SMBs with bundled applications and management tools. Lotus Foundation is based on Linux and is a very cost-effective alternative to Microsoft SBS. Lotus Foundations features e-mail, calendars, contacts, office productivity tools, network security, firewall, anti-virus, anti-spam, remote access, file and print sharing, backup and disaster recovery. One important component missing, however, is telephony. Well, ShoreTel and IBM have partnered enabling ShoreTel to load its telephony and UC software onto a Lotus Foundations server appliance giving you UC in a box. Because Lotus Foundations sports collaboration capabilities, they like to add an extra C and call it UCC in a box.
ShoreTel adds its feature-rich telephony capabilities to the IBM Lotus Foundations platform, bringing unified messaging, mobility, IP telephony and audio conferencing to the platform. ShoreTel claims that ShoreTel for Foundations offers up to 65 percent lower operating costs, 50 percent lower installation costs, and 65 percent lower support costs as compared to Microsoft solutions.
ShoreTel tells TMC Labs: “ShoreTel for IBM Lotus Foundations is the first brilliantly simple UC solution that can be used effectively by SMBs in an all-in-one appliance that is easy to install, manage and use. Until now, SMBs have been challenged in deploying UC because of lack of internal IT skills, budget restrictions and concerns about the reliability of server-based solutions. There are no other comparable solutions at this price point, or with this level of integration. With ShoreTel for IBM Lotus Foundations, SMBs now have access to a powerful UC system, which delivers the robustness and features [that] were once only accessible to the enterprise.”
TMC Labs was very impressed with this innovative all-in-one solution, making this an obvious choice to win a TMC Labs Innovation Award.
Advanced Media Gateway
Who says Cisco (News - Alert) likes to build closed proprietary solutions? Well, apparently TANDBERG, which Cisco recently acquired, didn’t get the memo, since it has just built the first HD gateway that enables H.264 endpoints to communicate with the ironically closed and proprietary Microsoft Real Time Video format used in the popular Microsoft OCS/MCS UC platform. The TANDBERG AM GW 3600 Series is a high-definition media gateway that allows businesses to maximize the value of their existing video and collaboration infrastructure. Combined with the TANDBERG Video Communications Server, the TANDBERG AM GW 3600 Series is the first and only solution that enables true HD communication between Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 users and standards-based telepresence and videoconferencing devices. Individuals and teams can now collaborate in high-definition across the enterprise.
It is the only product in the industry that can transcode Microsoft’s RTVideo format to the industry standard H.264, essential for enabling HD video interoperability between Office Communicator 2007 R2 and standards-based videoconferencing systems including endpoints, MCUs, recording and streaming servers, and telepresence servers. The AM GW 3600 Series enables the millions of desktops running Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 R2 to interoperate with and display high-definition video on telepresence units. While Cisco competes directly with Microsoft with its own UC and telepresence solutions, TANBERG explains: “This solution will inevitably drive greater video usage in all sectors as people experience business-quality visual collaboration between Microsoft desktops and group systems that was previously not possible.”
No doubt interoperability with Microsoft could drive more Cisco/TANDBERG video endpoints, making this coopetition rather than competition.
TANDBERG Codian Universal Port technology ensures each participant receives the best possible experience, and it does full transcoding for every call. ClearVision enhances resolutions by up to four times, enabling less powerful PCs and VC endpoints to participate in calls at higher resolutions. It also supports up to 10 simultaneous HD calls and up to 20 simultaneous VGA calls. It supports video resolution up to HD 720p at 30fps, and content sharing to MOC at up to 720p.
Toshiba America Information Systems
Toshiba UC Suite
Toshiba’s UC Suite combines several applications in a UC software bundle on a single UC server platform that delivers cost savings and makes it easy to manage. It bundles presence and instant messaging, outbound dialing from any application, desktop call control from the PC, CRM integration and screen-pops, one-number access (find me/follow me sequential ringing), off-premises call forwarding, personal call handling, fixed mobile convergence, videoconferencing and collaboration, and unified messaging.
The company tells TMC Labs: “Toshiba’s UC Suite is the first single-solution unified communications solution to offer multiple applications in a bundled configuration on a single server for Toshiba Strata CIX IP business communications solutions.”
It went on to say: “This level of virtualization makes it easy for enterprises to implement any or all of the Toshiba unified communications solutions quickly, easily and affordably. It also brings big-company unified communications solutions to SMB enterprises at an entry price that is affordable.”
Toshiba UC Suite includes integration with several CRM solutions, including ACT!, Epicor, Goldmine, HEAT, Maximizer, Microsoft CRM, Salesforce, and more. Features include click-to-call dialing of contacts; history of calls; ACD viewer to view the status of all contact center groups to which they belong; chat; whiteboard; and a nifty dialer, which enables users to schedule phone calls to be placed later by using Microsoft Outlook.
Lastly, Strata Call Manager’s Ribbon GUI is based on the Microsoft Fluent User Interface, making it easy to use and manage. The Ribbon groups all the common features and functionalities together to make it fast and easy to find the feature or functionality needed. Buttons can be programmed for feature codes, speed dialing, user-defined actions, ACD keys, DSS extension keys, Web keys, and more.
Imagine the feature-set of a high-end telepresence device simply using off-the-shelf computing hardware – all for a fraction of the cost. Well, the VidyoDesktop Executive software transforms any all-in-one touch-screen computer into a multi-purpose, HD 1080p, executive desktop videoconferencing endpoint, at a tenth of the cost of competitive videoconferencing executive desktop appliances. Vidyo explains: “Now, with a single device, executives can do all the things they do with PCs and have telepresence literally at their finger tips, with the most intuitive and easy-to-use interface available today.”
The VidyoDesktop Executive is the only executive desktop on the market that can deliver HD 1080p multi-point videoconferencing. It is capable of performing all the functions of a PC, leveraging low-cost, off-the-shelf hardware from a variety of vendors, for just $1,000.
Vidyo’s patented VidyoRouter technology replaces the transcoding MCU used by most legacy video-conferencing solutions and leverages scalable video coding technology to deliver superior network error resiliency, imperceptible latency and consistent high-quality video. Vidyo conferencing participants can also perform application sharing and whiteboarding for collaboration.
“The TANDBERG EX90 is a fabulous design that would look nice on anyone’s desk,” says Vidyo. “But for the $10,000 base price, or $15,000 with software add-ons needed to get a complete system, what you end up with – when you are not in a video call – is a 22x21x7-inch paper weight. Instead, you could buy, for example, an Acer 23-inch Touch Screen All-in-One Desktop PC for $1,000, add the VidyoDesktop software, and have a 1080p @ 30 fps videoconferencing system. And, if you need to work on e-mail or a spreadsheet, you are able to use this as a computer…. The point is that the expensive and singular-purposed TANDBERG EX90 underscores the value of Vidyo’s decision to ride the Intel x86 architecture and to use general purpose computers. Contrast the VidyoDesktop Executive against specialized hardware that is expensive to design and manufacture, and there’s no contest.”
The product known as calltopbx.com is a hosted PBX platform with a Web management interface made in Adobe Flex technology enabling easy configuration of advanced PBX features. You purchase your PBX account online and then create accounts for subusers, create company structure, IVR, etc. Depending on the chosen plan, the PBX account consists of one, five or 10 accounts. Additional accounts cost $10 per month and can be bought directly from the system. The accounts are SIP accounts and feature unified messaging, video, voicemail and answering rules. Also, the monthly subscription includes unlimited calling to 80 countries. Calling among extensions and sending text messages are free. The comprehensive Web portal automatically displays a pop-up on an incoming SMS. The calltopbx platform supports video calling and IM with videoconferencing on the Web, making the Web portal a truly unified communications Web portal.
It provides a Web dialer, Web SMS, and Web IM/Video. It also offers Vippie PC, a graphically rich SIP-based PC standlone softphone with IM, voicemail and other features. In addition, there are Vippie mobile softphones for all of the major mobiles, including the iPhone and BlackBerry; and a Flash standalone softphone for Linux, Windows, and Mac.
Answering rules enable a user to define different actions depending on who is calling. This can be set for a group of contacts or for a particular user or caller ID. The actions are call forwarding, voicemail – both with personalized greetings. The company claims its main advantage is that it delivers fully integrated SIP-based PBX clients with SIP 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity for smartphones and PCs. Mobile SIP clients are fully-featured inbound and outbound VoIP clients, not just call-through dialers, which can do only simple VoIP dialing out services.
Vippie for iPhone
Vippie for iPhone is a feature-rich SIP client for the iPhone, iPod and iPad, three of the most popular mobile devices. Vippie allows for VoIP communication over any data network including not just Wi-Fi, but also 3G and even Edge. It also supports sending and receiving SMS over SIP. It is the first iPhone app to support the G.729 codec, which allows for high compression (low bandwidth usage) while still maintaining good voice quality – even over low-bandwidth Edge connections. The softphone is offered with branding and licenses for providers. As an option a Connect Two conference module can be added, which allows for triggering a conference thru the Voipswitch platform.
Perhaps most innovative, the softphone has an InApp Purchase system that allows users to not only create a new account but also to top up calling minutes with funds directly within the Apple App Store. A user does not have to leave the application or enter any payment information. The only thing needed is a valid App Store account, and it will be charged to the user’s iTunes account. Even Skype, the most popular VoIP app for all mobile phones requires you to use its Web portal to add minutes. UC