Despite all the worthwhile hubbub about PC- and IP-PBXs and ACDs those open,
standards-based solutions offered by innovative startups such a COM2001.com, Vertical
Networks, and PakNetX, the market for these solutions is still small relative to
the market for more traditional big-iron switch solutions. These new PC-based
solutions target the replacement phone switch market, and for small to medium-sized
customers looking to swap out their aging 100 or fewer station PBXs and key systems, the
PC or IP-PBX is the right move. And as the technology becomes more reliable, more
feature-rich, and increasingly less expensive, it is sure to capture a sizeable share of
the overall replacement market.
But lets focus for a moment on the vast, installed base of traditional PBXs. For
years, it seemed like the traditional PBX vendors watched from the sidelines as upstart
CTI companies leap-frogged over their rigid (and closed) feature sets to offer newfangled
voice/data capabilities. The PBX vendors certainly didnt rush into the CTI market
they almost had to be shamed into participating. I suspect it had something to do
with the failure of prior voice/data integration efforts in the mid-80s and the fact that
many vendors felt they got burned as a result.
At first, they tried to push kludgy, proprietary, and expensive enhancements on their
customer base, and for the most part the market failed to respond. Slowly, the vendors
started to take the open and standards-based mantra everyone else was singing seriously,
and TAPI-compliant enhancements started to emerge.
Today, the old-line PBX vendors are starting to act like the upstarts and moving
at lightning speed (compared to their snail pace in the past) to embrace IP telephony and
next generation voice/data convergence technology. Finally, rather than waiting for the
market to force them to act, vendors including Siemens, Nortel Networks, NEC, Lucent, and
Comdial are starting to push well-thought out indeed elegant strategies and
products into the market to serve the needs of customers who are ready and willing to test
the waters of IP telephony.
For the most part, each vendor is following the path of least customer resistance
and actually paying attention to the concerns of their installed base. High on the
list of concerns are:
- Protection Of Investment (no forklift upgrade, PLEASE!)
- Preservation Of The User Experience (no function key changes, PLEASE!)
- Seamless, Transparent Migration.
With the addition of new IP trunk and line cards, souped-up software versions, and new
IP hard and soft phone sets, PBX vendors are starting to offer an incredibly attractive
alternative for customers that may be feeling left out on the sidelines of the voice/data
convergence trend. These new enhancements will allow customers to start enjoying the
current cost benefits of VoIP toll bypass, as well as offering a wealth of new
capabilities, including remote access options and single wire voice/data
My prediction: Once the traditional PBX vendors get this stuff down cold (and Im
betting that they will), they will give the new generation of voice/data server folks a
giant run for their money. I predict that the revenue opportunity represented by customers
upgrading their current switches to support IP telephony and especially new
customers attracted by the rock-solid reliability of traditional switch architecture
coupled with next-gen IP support will easily surpass the modest numbers predicted
for the voice/data server market (which according to some research houses is expected to
reach around $650 million by 2002).
To help you gauge the impact of this new IP telephony-enabled PBX fervor, Ive
compiled a sampler of new IP telephony-enabling enhancements being introduced by some of
the big guns of the PBX market. By no means is it intended as a comprehensive roundup of
activity but hopefully it will provide you with a lucid review of whats
coming down the pike.
Announced last summer and commercially available since this past March, the
Meridian Integrated IP Telephony Gateway (ITG) from Nortel Networks is a special circuit card
that plugs into the Meridian 1 Intelligent Peripheral Equipment (IPE) shelf and links two
or more Meridian 1 systems together on a private network. The ITG compresses voice and fax
communications, converts them to IP packets, and routes them over available bandwidth on
an IP network. Importantly, the ITG leverages existing equipment to route voice and fax
calls over IP networks instead of the public network.
The initial ITG offering supports H.323, and sports eight trunk ports per card. And
because ITG is an integrated solution, it allows companies to leverage Meridian 1 system
features such as billing, least-cost routing, system management, and class of service. To
help ensure quality of service (QoS), the ITG features something called fallback to
traditional trunking, which automatically re-routes calls to traditional PSTN
networks if IP network QoS declines due to congestion, packet loss, or high latency. When
data line conditions improve, IP routing is automatically resumed with the next call. The
Meridian ITG is an option for Meridian 1 system customers with software Release 21 and
Other notable features include automatic echo cancellation, silence suppression, and
the ability to utilize Meridian Administration Tools Nortels Windows-based
system management application to choose among several difference codecs, including
G.711, G.729, and G.723, as well as threshold levels for QoS.
Recently, Nortel announced a way to extend Meridian IP telephony to the desktop with
Meridian IP Telecommuter, a Windows 95/98-based software package loaded onto a multimedia
PC or laptop. It enables the PC or laptop to serve as the voice and data terminal,
utilizing a single analog line and IP technology. Users of this software package can make
calls using Nortels Meridian 9617 Universal Serial Bus (USB) phone. The USB phone
connects directly to the USB port on the PC and gives users a more familiar device for
making calls while providing the efficiency of the IP Telecommuter package. Optionally,
users can make calls with IP Telecommuters softphone, which emulates common features
of Meridian digital telephones. The computer is used for data service and as the real-time
voice communication terminal. The Meridian IP Telecommuter softphone can be used anywhere
there is analog phone service, and enables users to offer the appearance of being in the
office. Remote users get a broad set of voice features, including conference, transfer,
hold, message waiting, voice mail access, and class of service. Calls to a users
office number will automatically transfer to the remote location.
Like Nortel Networks, Lucent Technologies is
corralling a comprehensive selection of VoIP hardware and software products for enterprise
customers. Announced a few months ago, DEFINITY IP Solutions is a software and hardware
upgrade for its flagship DEFINITY Enterprise Communications Server (ECS) (a.k.a. PBX) that
adds IP telephony capabilities.
Developed by Bell Labs, DEFINITY IP Solutions allow businesses to send voice and fax
communications over their local-area networks (LANs), intranets, wide-area networks
(WANs), and the Internet. They include a software upgrade for the DEFINITY system,
available on a trunk card, a SoftPhone that allows a PC or laptop to operate as a fully
featured telephone, and an IP telephone deskset.
The DEFINITY IP Solutions software operates both as an IP gateway and gatekeeper. As a
gateway it converts voice traffic to data for transmission over IP networks. As a
gatekeeper, it provides IP endpoints with secure access to the DEFINITY system. This
connection lets users take advantage of all applications residing on the system, including
voice mail, computer-telephone integration, call center, wireless, and call control
features such as conferencing, call forward, transfer, hold, speed-dial, and multiple line
The software supports Distributed Communications System (DCS) and Q-Signaling (QSIG)
protocols over IP networks to provide centralized voice mail and attendant operations
across multiple sites. The DEFINITY IP Solutions software can be managed through the
servers existing systems administration tools, and can take advantage of the
DEFINITY systems call routing, cost accounting, self-diagnostics, security, toll
fraud protection, and remote access applications. It enables IP telephones to communicate
with analog, digital, and ISDN phones on the DEFINITY network, and supports the H.323
protocols and standard application programming interfaces, including TAPI, TSAPI, and
The DEFINITY IP Software is available on an upgradable trunk card and supports 24
simultaneous conversations. Future releases plan to support data and video capabilities.
The DEFINITY IP SoftPhone turns a PC or a laptop into an advanced telephone. Its
interface gives on-site and remote users the ability to access all the applications
offered by the DEFINITY through a single IP connection from voice messaging to call
control to call centers. The SoftPhone is CTI/TAPI-enabled to allow users to launch calls
from TAPI-compatible applications and receive a screen-pop based on calling name and
number. In addition, the software can be configured in a dual connect mode,
allowing the DEFINITY to send voice across the circuit-switched network for toll-quality
audio. The software supports the H.323 protocol and is interoperable with Microsofts
Meeting and Intels ProShare.
The DEFINITY IP Ethernet Telephone is a multi-line, multi-button telephone set that will
provide access to the DEFINITY system through an Ethernet connection to the LAN. The
DEFINITY IP Solutions Software and IP SoftPhone will be available by year-end. The IP
Ethernet Telephone will be available by the second quarter of 2000.
With Comdial Corporations purchase of
Array Telecom, an IP telephony gateway vendor, this venerable phone switch company boldly
demonstrated that it is serious about the VoIP market. Recently, Comdial announced that it
is close to delivering some fruits of the acquisition.
The companys next generation communications server, the Impact CT, will come
equipped with IP telephony access integrated directly into its platform. This product will
integrate IP access into the same Windows NT platform and allow it to coexist and
cooperate with other programs such as voice mail, ACD, IVR, and Comdials proprietary
CTI software suite Impact Call, Impact Group, and Impact Attendant. The integrated
IP access will also enhance or enable applications such as unified messaging, remote
agents, personal assistant devices, multimedia collaborative workgroups, telecommuting,
and call centers.
Not to be outdone by its competitors, NEC has
embarked on a comprehensive strategy to enhance their flagship NEAX PBX with IP telephony
functionality. At the heart of NECs strategy is to offer a seamless migration path
that avoids any forklift activity, protects the investment made by their
existing customer base, and preserves the familiar user experience.
To wit, a number of products are being developed to accomplish this goal. This includes
the development of new IP trunk and line cards for the NEAX2000, NEAX2400 switch, and NEAX
Express IP switch cabinets that support VoIP and H.323 standards by both gateway and
gatekeeper functions. The IP line cards support basic IP H.323 phones on a corporate LAN
as well as remote access features, and provide access to the switching matrix from new
NEAX DTERM IP phones that support the full DTERM PBX phone feature set.
Other features of the DTERM IP phone include a 10/100 Ethernet 2-port hub, a 3 x 20 LCD
screen, and soft keys for desktop programmability. Other goodies include a new
softphone that runs on a networked multimedia PC that supports H.323 and Microsoft
NetMeeting and can talk with any other NEAX IP product.
Expected availability of these new enhancements is Q399.
Siemens Information and Communications Networks, Inc.
the U.S. subsidiary of Siemens AG of Germany, the European networking,
communications and electronics powerhouse was formed in 1998 with the merger of
Siemens U.S. enterprise and carrier operations in order to create a
one-stop-shop for advanced telecom solutions. Recently, the company has made
it loud and clear that it will not be left floundering in the dust of voice/data
convergence. Indeed, the company is in the midst of a complete reformation of its product
development and marketing strategy, and has begun to deliver a host of new IP
telephony-enabling products that are helping to breathe new life into its flagship Hicom
enterprise telephony switch family. The Hicom 150 E is a communication system based on
Euro-ISDN technology for digital and analog exchange and user interface, and can support
up to 250 voice users.
A few of Siemens new offerings include the Hicom Xpress @ LAN, an integrated
Ethernet gateway module that enables data communication and analog voice calls to be
routed through a Hicom 150 E switch via the IP protocol; the Windows NT-based HiNet RC
3000 communications server that features IP telephony gateway and gatekeeper
functionality; the HiNet TA 1100, a terminal adapter for connecting analog phones, faxes,
and even modems to an IP-based data network; and the HiNet LP 5100 IP telephone, a
full-fledged H.323-compliant Ethernet phone.
With Hicom Xpress @LAN, the Hicom E switch is transformed into a LAN-based
communication server and a central platform for voice, data, and fax communication. The
Hicom Xpress @ LAN features an integrated H.323 gateway, and allows for access to Hicom
150e features with new Xpress IP client software for multimedia PCs, which includes a
JAVA-based interface for conferencing, Caller ID, and other applications. The Hicom Xpress
IP client software also allows users to communicate with optiset E system telephones
connected to Hicom systems, with any telephone connected to an operator network, and with
H.323 standard clients such as personal computers on which Microsoft NetMeeting is
Hicom Xpress @LAN connects Ethernet LANs at different sites via dial-up ISDN lines to a
corporate network so that branch offices, partner companies, and telecommuters can access
central files or files stored at any of the other sites. Personal computers installed
outside the corporate LAN can be linked so that authorized personnel can have external
access to central IT applications and databases in the company. With Hicom systems
integrated in the corporate network, least-cost routes can also be used for data
The HiNet TA 1100 terminal adapter presents a perfect migration path to IP telephony
for existing Hicom switch customers since it promises plug and play
installation and completely transparent performance. The HiNet TA 1100 features an RJ-11
interface and measures 10.3" x 9" x 1.7". The device supports the H.323
standard to ensure seamless integration with other Internet telephony devices, and many
other standards and protocols, including H.225 (signaling), H.245 (media control), TCP/IP
(Internet protocol), TFTP (file transfer for remote configuration), DHCP (dynamic IP
address assignment), and SNMP (remote network management) protocols. It also supports
ITUs G.711 and G.723.1 voice compression standards both part of the
H.323-standard suite. T.38 (real-time fax over IP) standard compliance is targeted for
mid-2000. The unit will be available later this summer and has a planned list price of
The HiNet LP 5100 is a high-featured business telephone with a built-in Ethernet
network adapter for direct connection to a companys LAN. The HiNet LP 5100 brings
many of the desired features of a full-function business telephone to the IP environment,
enabling calls between the HiNet LP 5100 and other IP telephones, classic PSTN phones, and
H.323-standard-compatible PC clients.
The HiNet LP 5100 offers a number of compelling features. Siemens OptiGuide
interface, for example, allows users to access and setup phone features by simply
scrolling through a menu and selecting the desired option from the phones
24-character LCD display. Other features include automatic redial, on-hook dialing,
hands-free operation, 16 programmable speed-dial numbers, and a date and time display. The
phone also stores information on the last 20 calls not answered, enabling the user to
retrieve the names and IP addresses of the callers (if available), and the times of the
calls. Finally, the IP phone enables users to download software directly to the phone,
making feature upgrades simple.
The HiNet LP 5100 IP supports the H.323, H.225, and H.245 standards and the TCP/IP,
FTP, DHCP, and SNTP protocols. ITU standards G.711 (64 Kbps) and G.723.1 (6.3 Kbps) can be
used as speech algorithms. High speech quality is achieved by active echo suppression. The
implementation of SNMP and the provision of an HTTP server help ensure that the HiNet LP
5100 IP telephone fits into the management environment of the data world. The status, user
name, and address can be checked from any workstation, even from a remote workstation. The
DHCP protocol makes it easier to configure an IP telephone as each IP telephone can be
assigned an IP address automatically. The HiNet LP 5100 IP telephone will also be
available later this summer and will be priced at around $425.
Marc Robins is Associate Group Publisher for INTERNET TELEPHONY AND CTI
magazines. His column, Mind Share, appears monthly in the pages of INTERNET TELEPHONY
magazine. Marc looks forward to your feedback.