TMCnet - World's Largest Communications and Technology Community




feature.GIF (5781 bytes)
December 1998

Pondering PC-PBX Permutations


When we first began thinking about running a survey of PC-based PBXs, the editors of CTI talked quite a bit about how we would define the term PC-PBX and decide which products should be covered. Perhaps one of the most interesting (and frustrating) aspects of the changes taking place in voice and data communications is that new technologies tend to overlap one another in both functionality and intended market. Even the terms become vague and potentially confusing: vendors and press talk about ATM-based PBXs, IP-based PBXs, virtual PBXs, PC-based PBXs, communications servers, and un-PBXs. Additionally, while a traditional PBX allows for switching and some basic calling features such as voice mail and call waiting, many enhanced features are supplied through software support - often by way of a proprietary operating system (OS). A PC-PBX also takes advantage of software support. However, since the PC-PBX runs on a PC, it can take advantage of what are considered PC operating systems (such as Windows 95/NT or MS DOS). Hence, it is often convenient to call upon a PC-PBX to provide a wealth of additional functions integrated on one platform: unified messaging, follow-me applications, voice recognition, and so on.

To put all the PC-PBX permutations in perspective, we sat down with TMC™ Labs' own Tom Keating and discussed the differences between and definitions of all of these terms. Tom quickly laid out a Venn diagram to cover all the possibilities and where they do and don't overlap:

Venn diagram of communication servers.

Whatever else it does though, a PC-PBX must perform the basic function of the standard PBX, and it should do so on standard PC architecture and using a PC OS, rather than employing the proprietary OS of a particular vendor. Additional features increase the appeal of a particular product - one might even say that the ease with which such features are added and developed is a good part of the argument for switching to a PC-PBX in the first place. Another advantage of PC-PBXs is that they can free users of the obligation to use an expensive proprietary phone set.

Since definitions of the PC-PBX tend to vary, we decided to keep the survey fairly broad, as you can see from the list that follows this introduction. And if this list seems difficult to follow and you're interested in some basic answers, we also asked each of the vendors who participated to respond to a series of five questions about their products. We have gathered these together for easy reading in a chart.

As you read, be sure to check the items in the sidebar as well. While not falling strictly within the definition of a PC-PBX, these products generally have similar functionality and may present another alternative. And in a way, isn't that what PC-PBXs are all about? Alternatives.

AltiGen Communications
45635 Northport Loop East
Fremont, CA 94538
Ph: 510-252-9712; Fx: 510-252-9738
Web: www.altigen.com

AltiGen lauds its AltiServ as the "all-in-one" computer-based phone system. The system consists of the AltiWare system software and Quantum boards running on Windows NT. The list of features available for AltiServ is formidable: voice mail, call/voice processing, auto-attendant, basic ACD, an e-mail server, and a Web-based call manager that allows users to configure AltiServ from anywhere in the world. Yet with all of these features, AltiGen allows the user to choose any analog phone, and even to select a variety of phones, based on the preferences of individual users.

One of the most interesting features of AltiServ is its convenient call management and administration through a Web browser. Call control for individual user stations are easily changed from the office or anywhere were a user has access to the Internet. Remote users can use the Internet to send and receive messages. Finally, if problems do arise, dealers can access and troubleshoot the system through the Internet as well.

5 Cambridge Center
Cambridge, MA 02142
Ph: 617-354-0600; Fx: 617-354-7744
Web: www.artisoft.com

Artisoft's TeleVantage is one of the products that TMC Labs has been able to review recently (see the September issue of CTI), and it came away with an "A" rating. While this review is certainly a good thing for Artisoft, it also speaks well for other vendors in this roundup, since it shows that the functionality of a PBX can be realized independent of vendor-controlled, vendor-maintained equipment.

TeleVantage provides a multimedia format for call control and for such additional features as voice mail, call forwarding, and paging. Additionally, the graphical interface allows for multiple line control and simplifies accessing voice mail messages, which are stored as .WAV files on the PC's hard drive.

Artisoft also takes full advantage of the PC functionality, integrating TeleVantage with e-mail, allowing for call logging and reporting, and providing least-cost routing capabilities for long-distance calls. By synchronizing such phone functions with the desktop PC, TeleVantage brings more flexibility to phone systems.

COM2001 Technologies, Inc.
2035 Corte Del Nogal, Suite #200
Carlsbad, CA 92009
Ph: 760-431-3133; Fx: 760-431-3141
Web: www.COM2001.com

The COM2001 NTX Enterprise Communications Server (ECS) goes beyond simply replacing the PBX to offer unified messaging and Internet features as well. NTX ECS operates on Windows NT and integrates with Microsoft's Exchange Server to provide call control plus additional services, such as remote access and voice recognition technology. By combining such features into a single product, COM2001 is simultaneously able to improve call quality and performance while decreasing costs.

The NTX ECS does more than simply move the PBX onto a PC - the real benefit here is that PC call control also allows enhanced functionality that challenges or surpasses traditional PBX functionality. A good example of this can be seen in NTX's personal assistant, called Alexis. This feature allows voice control of message retrieval and response, allowing even remote users to stay in touch with customers and perform as if they were in the office. Additionally, employees access messages and create replies in formats that are already familiar to them: Exchange and Outlook, Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator, and through simple voice recognition on the telephone.

While it's always fun to experiment with new technology, the phone system is not something most people want to "dabble" with. By adding features and taking advantage of the possibilities of a PC-based PBX, COM 2001 has developed a product that gives a clear reason for moving forward with call control and switching.

EasyRun Communication Software Systems
456 Sylvan Avenue
Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632
Ph: 201-541-1855; Fx: 201-541-8333
Web: www.easyrun.com

[email protected] is the name of Easyrun's software-based telephony switching system, which uses open computing platforms and standard Dialogic computer telephony components to provide full PBX-like functionality. [email protected] runs on the Windows NT operating system and complies with the ECTF's specifications for open telephony, such as the H.100/H.110, S.100, and S.900 standards.

EasyRun currently supports up to 2,000 ports from a single box, supports digital telephone sets, and enables system redundancy for mission-critical and 24-hour applications. EasyRun's goal with [email protected] is to bridge the gap between the ease of traditional GUI programming and the relative difficulty of developing telephony applications. [email protected]'s open platform allows for a higher level of control and programming of telephony complexity, simplifying the process of application development for systems integrators and developers.

e-Net, Inc.
12800 Middlebrook Road, Suite #200
Germantown, MD 20874
Ph: 888-FON-ENET; Fx: 301-601-8777
Web: www.datatelephony.com

e-Net's Telecom 2000 combines voice and data over a single network, whether that be Ethernet, ATM, frame relay, or IP. Telecom 2000 provides full PBX functionality, including such features as call forwarding, call waiting, and voice mail, while only requiring the installation and maintenance of one network.

At the heart of the Telecom 2000 is e-Net's TelSet PC Card (T2000-TS), which can run inside a PC (requires a 16-bit ISA slot) or as a standalone unit. The TelSet PC Cards are also compatible with existing equipment, which means that they can be combined with trunk interface cards so that users can phase in Telecom 2000 gradually.

On the user end, the TelSet card supports a standard analog telephone set, which plugs into an RJ-11 jack. Telecom 2000 also runs on Windows 95/NT, and a TAPI-compliant interface, e-Net Telephone Assistant Software, provides a GUI for call control from the desktop.

e-Voice Communications
1250 Oakwood Parkway, Suite #312
Sunny Vale, CA 94544
Ph: 408-991-6988; Fx: 408-991-9630
Web site: evoicecomm.com

e-Voice's new evoice3000 Communication Server expands on EV2000 while still including all of the functionality of the previous release. This means that the newest version includes such features as caller-ID, voice mail, e-mail integration, and auto-attendant. In many ways, EV3000 resembles a unified messaging application that is fully integrated with your phone system: voice mail messages can be forwarded to an e-mail address, users can control voice mail playback through the PC screen, and audio text and fax-on-demand are also included. By combining features from voice mail and e-mail, EV3000 makes it possible to create group mailbox lists for sending voice mail to multiple recipients.

In addition to these features, EV3000 is able to expand from 24 to 144 ports, and it remains easy to install and maintain through either the browser-based Configuration Manager or through a digital phone set. EV3000 supports 40 hours of voice message storage, expandable to 110 hours, and also includes an event log file to help in tracking expenses by location, department, or other criteria.

3039 Cornwallis Road
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709
Ph: 919-254-8618; Fx: 919-543-4580
Web: www.ibm.com/pc/us/systemxtra/smbct/

In the product literature for the IBM Small Business Computer Telephony Solution, there are two illustrations: one is labeled "the old way" and shows a standalone PBX system hooked up to phones, while PCs are connected to the LAN for Internet access; the other is labeled "the new way" and shows how IBM's Telephony Server integrates these two into one system. Terms like "old" and "new" can often bring connotative meanings that diminish their effect - for example, you might think of the "new lamps for old" trade, where an eagerness for something new lost something of considerably more value. However, IBM's Small Business Computer Telephony Solution (IBM CT) is designed to replace the old with something that is both new and provides more functionality - one important measure of value in the telecommunications world.

The IBM CT is designed to provide a multitude of functions - caller-ID, call forwarding, online phone directories, visual access to voice mail - but a significant portion of the product literature focuses on the service aspects of the product. With IBM CT, users gain a single point of contact for their telecommunications needs. This, in addition to the product's open, standards-based technology (intended to ease upgrading and customization), should make the IBM CT an appealing solution for the small business market.

Interactive Intelligence, Inc.
3500 DePauw Boulevard, Suite #1060
Indianapolis, IN 46268
Ph: 317-872-3000; Fx: 317-872-3000
Web: www.inter-intelli.com

Interactive Intelligence's Enterprise Interaction Center (EIC) takes a unique approach to replacing the traditional PBX. All communications into and out of a business are handled through the central EIC server. Through this central control architecture, EIC provides an array of functions, including monitoring and reporting, ACD, and IVR. Other, less call center-centric functionality includes unified messaging.

While EIC provides centralized call control, it is not just a new proprietary system. EIC is built using open software standards and even allows the communications system to be customized using Java language. And the Internet can be used to access and administer EIC, or even to route calls, as in Internet telephony. All of these features help make EIC more than just "new boxes that help you talk to the old boxes."

Mitel Corporation
350 Legget Drive
Kanata, ON K2K 1X3
Ph: 613-592-2122; Fx: 613-591-2321
Web: www.mitel.com

Mitel bills its SX-2000 for Windows NT as "not a PBX, not an un-PBX." SX-2000 for Windows NT offers all of the features and functionality of SX-2000 LIGHT, but it allows a customer to take advantage of the familiar NT operating system for accessing call control, messaging, and other features. Some of the features of SX-2000 for Windows NT are: flexible, modular architecture; centralized management through a GUI; and support of both TAPI and Mitel's MiTAI APIs.

All of this comes pre-packaged and delivered on a single Intel server. With SX-2000's modular architecture, organizations are able to add functionality, often through simple software additions, as their needs grow, or as their budgets allow. Additionally, SX-2000 for Windows NT supports Mitel's Superset 4000 series of digital telephones, as well as a range of other telephone sets.

NetPhone, Inc.
313 Boston Post Road
Marlborough, MA 01752
Ph: 508-787-1000; Fx: 508-787-1033
Web: www.netphone.com

NetPhone's PhoneMaster provides desktop-based call control through Windows 95/98/NT, and is aimed at small/mid-sized companies, or larger companies with branch operations. PhoneMaster makes it possible to dial out, answer calls, and use such features as call hold, transfer, and conference, all with a click of the mouse. Additionally, users have visual access to their voice mail messages, with caller-ID information, and text comments can be added to voice mail messages as well.

PhoneMaster is designed to be easily expandable and to interact well with third-party applications like GoldMine and Outlook. Its compliance with standard APIs should facilitate application development. Specifically, new telephony applications should be integratable with the PhoneMaster environment.

NexPath Corporation
4701 Patrick Henry Drive, Suite #701
Santa Clara, CA 95054
Ph: 408-235-8916; Fx: 408-748-0664
Web: www.nexpath.com

The NexPath NTS Telephony Server is an 8-port system, expandable in 8-port increments up to 136 ports, that includes a switching system, a voice mail system, an auto attendant - all within a single server that handles up to 31 simultaneous voice connections and a maximum of 25 hours of voice mail storage per system. Access and control of calls is provided either through a Web browser or through native Windows tools.

The NTS Telephony Server is designed with small businesses in mind. It allows a small business to acquire telephony features that previously may only have been available to larger companies, and many of these functions are available using the keypad of a standard analog phone instead of expensive proprietary phone sets. Features that are available on the NTS Server include call routing and switching, caller-ID and name detection, ACD functionality, and automatic fax detection and routing.

Picazo Communications
61 Daggett Drive
San Jose, CA 95134
Ph: 408-383-9300; Fx: 408-383-0136
Web: www.picazo.com

The Picazo VS1 business telephone system consists of two main components: the Picazo Voice Server and the Picazo Port Expansion Unit. Picazo VS1 is a PC-based expandable PBX that provides 16 ports initially and up to 192 ports maximum. Additionally, the system provides up to 24 hours of voice mail. Additional features include an auto-attendant to greet and route incoming calls, call forwarding, least-cost routing, and caller-ID.

VS1's software-based architecture is designed to adapt quickly, keeping users abreast of changes in the market, and to allow quick upgrades rather than relying on hardware changes. Additionally, the SiteLink applications allows VARs to access the system remotely for configuration changes.

VSN Systemen BV
Acaciastraat 17
Venray, the Netherlands
NL-5802 EK
Ph: +31-478-555-000; Fx: +31-478-589-563

VSN's Open TSP provides flexibility in developing a telecommunications system without having to replace a proprietary PBX every time you want to institute a change. Open TSP, true to its name, is an open, standards-based system that supports two standard switching APIs - Dialogic's CT-connect and Microsoft's TAPI - running on Windows NT and Intel-based servers. Open TSP provides basic PBX functionality, as well as such advanced capabilities as IVR, ACD, and unified messaging.

Administration and maintenance of Open TSP can be done through any Windows 95/NT client station. The system is scalable from 10 ports up to 800 ports on a single system. These single systems can then be joined together via an intelligent private network, with a maximum of 8192 systems, for a total of over 6 million possible ports. By using an ISDN connection between disparate sites, a company is able to use high-speed voice and data transfer and video conferencing. Also, different sites are allowed access to a central database, regardless of physical location or distance.

Chris Donner is the associate editor for CTI magazine. He can be reached for comment at lguevin@tmcnet.com.


IP-based PBX

Selsius Systems
5057 Keller Springs Road
Dallas, TX 75248
Ph: 972-855-8200; Fx: 972-855-8205
Web: www.selsius.com

The Selsius-IP PBX comprises three parts: Selsius-CallManager, Selsius-Phone, and Selsius-Access. Together, these parts route calls over a local IP network and provide a connection to the PSTN or existing PBX. The system is compatible with Selsius phones, or with any other H.323-compatible client, and access for standard phones, faxes, and modems is provided through Access. The Selsius-IP PBX can act as a standalone PBX, a remote IP PBX connected through the IP network, or as IP PBX complement to an existing circuit-switched PBX.


Buffalo International, Inc.
400 Columbus Avenue
Valhalla, NY 10595
Ph: 914-747-8500; Fx: 914-747-8595
Web: www.opencti.com

Buffalo International's Object Telephony Server (OTS) is a predictive dialer and ACD that can work either as a standalone platform or behind a existing PBX. The central software layer allows for functions such as predictive dialing/ACD, IVR, recording and playback of calls, and fax. OTS runs on Windows NT, and provides control of call operations in an open, scalable environment.

CellIT, Inc.
8600 NW 53rd Terrace, Suite #202
Miami, FL 33166
Ph: 305-639-2259; Fx: 305-639-2222
Web: www.cellit.com

N-CCPRO and B-CCPRO are the two versions of CellIT's call center solution, offering call centers a predictive dialer and ACD product in a single integrated system. N-CCPRO is designed to eliminate the need for peripheral systems and to interact with a call center's existing PBX, the idea being to reduce operating and maintenance costs. B-CCPRO is a broadband version of CCPRO, benefiting from ATM-based computer telephony. B-CCPRO is designed to replace the PBX and to enable features such as video conferencing and wireless services.

11 Red Roof Lane
Salem, NH 03079
Ph: 603-890-6616; Fx: 603-870-9395
Web: www.paknetx.com

The PNX ACD is a software-based telephone switch designed specifically for call centers. The PNX ACD allows agents to handle Internet calls using traditional PBX features - call hold, call transfer, conferencing - all in a software-only product that is standards-based. PNX ACD encourages and supports the incorporation of Internet traffic into the traditional call center: online users no longer have to go off line and wait for a call back to reach an agent.

TruePoint, Inc.
7115 Leesburg Pike, Suite 308
Falls Church, VA 22043
Ph: 703-534-4422; Fx: 703-534-4733
Web site: www.truept.com

TruePoint calls its Continuum product "a simpler paradigm for today's call center." Continuum allows a call center to perform and manage functions such as ACD, IVR, and computer telephony from a single server using drag-and-drop icons to represent software objects. By centralizing all this functionality on a single server, Continuum does away with the complex architecture associated with call centers, as well as removing many of the potentially expensive points of breakdown and upgrade.

Table 1. Vendor Responses To Basic Questions About Their PC-PBXs.
Vendor Product Name Confer-
Transfers Lines Drawn To Each Desktop Ideal Users/
Of Seats
Do Phones Still Work When The LAN Fails?
AltiGen AltiServ Yes Yes 2 linesa 10-100 seats/desktops Phones still work
Artisoft TeleVantage Yes Yes 2 linesa Small/medium business; up to 144 extensions TeleVantage stays up and running
Com2001 NTX ECS Yes Yes Calls routed over the phone line Company/department with 10-60 users and some remote users Optional pass-through is available
EasyRun [email protected] Yes Yes Calls routed over LAN or voice lines Medium-sized companies; 50-2000 ports Regular phone sets still work
e-Net Telecom 2000 In development Yes Calls routed over LAN "Anyone with a network — infinitely scalable" When LAN fails, phones don’t work
e-Voice evoice3000 Communication Server Yes Yes 2 linesa Up to 144 ports Phones still work
IBM IBM CT Yes Yes Voice carried on phone lines; data via LAN Small businesses; roughly 10-100 users If NT crashes, phones still work; if no power, 1 phone/ board still works
Interactive Intelligence EIC Yes Yes Voice carried on phone lines; data/call control via LAN Less than 300 Phones still work
Mitel SX-2000 for Windows NT Yes Yes 2 linesa 40-120 Phones still work
NetPhone PhoneMaster Yes Yes Calls routed over LAN or via 2 lines Small/mid-size organizations; up to 144 Network/server fails, calls continue; power failure, 1 line/board works
NexPath NTS Telephony Server Yes Yes 2 linesa Small business; up to 85 extensions and 51 trunk lines Phones still work
Picazo VS1 Yes Yes Utilizes a digital CTI card to route calls Small/medium size companies of 25 to 125 employees Phones still work
VSN Open TSP Yes Yes VoIP — separate wiring schemes for data and voice 1-1000s of users, depending on network Phones still work
a That is, a dual infrastructure — wiring to the phone, and network cabling to the PCs.

Technology Marketing Corporation

2 Trap Falls Road Suite 106, Shelton, CT 06484 USA
Ph: +1-203-852-6800, 800-243-6002

General comments: [email protected].
Comments about this site: [email protected].


© 2023 Technology Marketing Corporation. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy