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Mind Share
November 2004


Marc Robins

The Onset Of Rational Exuberance

BY MARC ROBINS


A question that seems to come up often in my discussions with industry folks, bankers eyeing the space, and just about everyone else intrigued by the goings on in the IP telephony industry is this: “Is what’s happening in the space real, or are we in the midst of yet another market bubble?” I’m happy to report that after traveling the country to a number of industry and vendor events, most recently to the Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO held in Los Angeles last month, it appears that a sense of rational exuberance is taking hold in the industry — a kind of quiet confidence created by a shared feeling that basic market fundamentals are securely in place and that we are finally in for a long period of solid, steady growth. Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO provided a good vantage point to survey industry trends, and take note of some interesting and innovative new products and services.

With the growing popularity of broadband telephony services, session border controller outfits such as Jasomi and Netrake are bullish about the prospects for their highly specialized products that allow VoIP to traverse NATs and firewalls — an issue affecting over 70 percent of residential and 98 percent of corporate customers, according to Dan Freedman, Jasomi’s CEO. Jasomi seems to be particularly well-positioned to take advantage of VoIP’s growth in the enterprise space — especially in the financial services and healthcare markets — with their low-cost PeerPoint near-end SBC product.

Those of you with long memories will remember — either with derision or humor — the flying pig mascot of Harry Newton’s Computer Telephony EXPOs of years past. According to Harry, a big proponent of CTI technology, “telephone systems will be truly open when pigs can fly.” Today, there’s a preponderance of open, standards-based telephony gear that lets users and third-party developers tinker and create new features and functions.

A good example of such a system is Toshiba’s new Strata CIX native IP-based communications system. The Strata CIX is designed for small- to medium-sized enterprises or larger corporate users with multiple sites and supports up to 672 ports. A new WiFi IP phone, the WIPT2000, and SoftIPT Softphone for PocketPC-based laptops, tablet PCs, and PCs nicely complement the new system. Most importantly, an innovative “adaptability” capability called FeatureFlex also debuts with this system, which allows users to customize features on a company-wide, departmental, or individual station-by-station basis. Using the system’s built-in scripting language, businesses can create applications that allow them to connect to back office systems to scroll important information, such as inventory data, across phones or screens; connect with online resources for access to real-time data; and set up call management features that provide for special handling for calls.

With FeatureFlex, users can create and revise features in as little as 10 minutes, and the capability also opens the door wide to third-party application development, allowing software developers, dealers, VARs, and systems integrators to develop highly customized solutions.

Other interesting sightings included a USB IP phoneset that lists for $35, a VoIP adapter for $85, and other low-cost Ethernet-based phones from end-point upstart IPN Communications, based in Los Angeles; a new IP PBX system from Vonexus, a fully owned subsidiary of Interactive Intelligence that proudly offers a 100 percent “Microsoft-based business communications” solution; Inter-Tel demoing their presence-based Unified Communicator 2.0 software; Spirent Communications’ fully converged network testing solutions; Rodopi’s Web-enabled platform for IP communications that bundles billing, provisioning, and customer care services; and AIP Communications’ low-cost (under $300 for a four-port system) IP PBX system that is perfect for small businesses and professional organizations.

Perhaps one of the most interesting discussions at the show centered around the need for more understanding surrounding the business process change that has to occur within large organizations in order for the promised benefits of all this new communications technology to truly materialize. While IP telephony can deliver immediate cost-savings and offers an array of new features that promise to boost corporate productivity and efficiency, simply installing the technology or turning on the service is often not enough to guarantee the promised results. Preparation, education, and the flexibility to change the way workers interact and approach their work are key as well.

Marc Robins has been involved in the telecommunications industry as a researcher and analyst, author and publisher, and marketing executive and consultant for more than 23 years. Marc served for five years as vice president of publications and trade shows and group editorial director at TMC. Robins Consulting Group offers an array of professional services to the IP telephony industry. Contact RCG at 718-548-7245 or robinsconsult@optonline.net.

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