In most medium-sized to large businesses, the lifespan of a PBX averages
five to ten years. This equipment works fine, but these growing businesses
are finally seeing the much-hyped convergence era begin to take hold. Today,
true opportunity lies in helping businesses ease into the converged world
without having to scrap their investment in PBXs and proprietary telephone
equipment. They're eager for the cost savings VoIP promises for their
expanding network of remote offices and work-from-home employees.
The cry is heard everywhere: "I just bought tons of Meridian phone
sets at $750 a pop! Do I really want to throw them all out?" There's
also concern about how convergence helps a home worker to look like an
extension on the corporate network. It's inefficient to have home employees
at separate phone numbers with noisy answering machines and featureless
phones. Plus, no one needs to know they're really working from home.
STEP 1: GRACEFUL CONVERGENCE
Can IP telephony solve this problem? Let's look where we are today. PBX
voice equipment is a huge investment for most companies. According to Frost
& Sullivan, in the United States there will be more than 63 million PBXs
by the end of 2000. It's clear we need to incorporate all this existing
equipment into the data network so that companies can feel secure
transitioning into the converged world.
The first step has been deploying an IP gateway at the enterprise to take
advantage of additional bandwidth provided by existing intranets. But the IP
gateway still requires a company to invest in a PBX for each remote office,
adding cost and upping the already substantial investment in nearly obsolete
equipment. Plus, an IP gateway can't help a home-office employee access the
features of an office phone, like direct call transfers or five-party
Aside from the promise of spending less on toll calls, the VoIP gateway
in its recent incarnation offered limited benefits to the enterprise. That's
why it's been slower to catch on than in the public network.
The next step in convergence has the IP gateway and the PBX collapsing
into a single server with enough bandwidth to offer both high-quality voice
and high-speed data transmission. This is great for a growing business,
which no longer needs to invest in a legacy switch.
But there's still a pressing problem causing anxiety for enterprises.
"To get the benefits of IP-PBXs, do we have to replace our proprietary
phones? They were expensive!" This question makes the IP-PBX
proposition much less attractive to a medium-sized or large business.
STEP 2: EXTEND THE ENTERPRISE
Enter the concept of the PBX extender or IP adapter (or whatever trendy
name ends up catching on). Companies like MCK, VTG (recently acquired by
Intel), and Calista (recently acquired by Cisco) have announced plans or are
deploying technology that allows an IP-PBX or RAS to interface to those
pricey and reliable legacy phones. The IP adapter can extend a traditional
PBX to branch offices or work-at-home users by providing an interface to the
proprietary phone set. Whether licensed or reverse-engineered technology,
the adapter can convert the PBX telecom protocol into voice over Internet
protocol (VoIP). At the remote site, it converts the IP call back to the PBX
protocol. This PBX protocol allows the phone to work just as if it were
directly connected to the PBX.
This approach has numerous benefits for the enterprise. Instead of
investing in a PBX, a gateway, and a separate RAS to handle data, voice, and
VoIP connectivity, the enterprise virtually extends both its data network
through the RAS server, and (with added hardware components and software
built in) its PBX as well. At home, an employee can use an office PC
containing an NIC card, which serves as both a modem and an interface to a
PBX phone set. Now the home worker can communicate as easily as the office
worker. Home employees can toss out their tin-can sounding answering
machines. And everyone in the office can toss out the separate phone numbers
for home employees.
The truth is, it's highly unlikely that all 63 million PBXs will be replaced
soon with an IP-PBX and IP phones. While new shipments of IP-PBXs are
growing, the real opportunity lies in leading businesses toward convergence
one step at a time with solutions that protect their investment in legacy
telecom equipment. The opportunity for the PBX adapter is huge. After all,
there simply isn't a landfill big enough to house 63 million PBXs and
millions of phones.
Jim Machi is director, product management, CT Server and IPT Products,
for Dialogic Corporation (an Intel company). Dialogic is a leading
manufacturer of high-performance, standards-based computer telephony
components. Dialogic products are used in fax, data, voice recognition,
speech synthesis, and call center management CT applications. For more
information, visit the Dialogic Web site at www.dialogic.com.