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September 1999

rich.gif (5262 bytes) Judge Your Next Voice/Data Switch By The Company It Keeps


I wrote about the introduction of Lucent’s IP Exchange System (IPES) — a pair of voice/data switches (IP-based PBXs) developed for the enterprise and service provider markets. I firmly believe that products — such as the IPES line — that provide open APIs are necessary to drive the voice/data switch market forward. For only truly open APIs can allow developers to augment voice/data switches, adding new applications and enhanced services fairly easily.

With open APIs, developers need not be telecom experts to take advantage of the open nature of the latest voice/data switches, which are based on IP. Prior to the advent of the voice/data switch, a developer wishing to augment a PBX was limited to selection of DSP resource boards with appropriate middleware from a vendor such as Dialogic or Natural MicroSystems, or perhaps Microsoft’s Telephony Application Programming Interface (TAPI). These open solutions were a giant leap forward when compared to the prior available options. Now, theoretically, it should be even easier to develop telephony applications in a pure IP environment. Significant development energy is devoted to integrating computer and telephony systems, in essence creating CTI applications. Ideally, the voice/data switch development environment will abstract as much of this integration as possible, freeing up the programmers to concentrate purely on application development and the addition of new features to their products.

We hear much about the ongoing battle between Lucent and Cisco in the mainstream business press. Usually the discussions in these general media publications center on Cisco’s and Lucent’s distinct backgrounds and how they will compete in the future. The story goes that Cisco is more packet-centric and Lucent is more voice-centric, and then the reporter throws in an opinion on who will win on the new battlefield of Internet telephony — Cisco or Lucent. The one thing missing from all of these articles is the fact that the partner programs of both Cisco and Lucent are perhaps as important (if not more important) than the products themselves. Remember how the computer industry argued the merits of the IBM PC and the Mac? Which would outlast the other? Which had a better fundamental architecture? While we know the outcome of that story, in the end the most crucial deciding factor was that the platform with the most developers (read partners) won out.

I was an MIS Director during this battle and though I knew Macs had the superior architecture (especially when it came to desktop publishing) I would never buy one. I knew that in order to gain access to the most programs, courtesy of the largest development community, IBM was the way to go. I watched the pitched “architecture war” again with the OS/2 versus Windows battle. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear even Microsoft concede the superiority of OS/2 to Windows (off the record, of course).

Fact: The platform with the most developers always wins.

Keeping this in mind, how surprised are you to find out that Cisco announced an Open Packet Telephony Partner Solutions program in April of this year to allow third-party developers to build applications across Cisco’s product line? I can tell you firsthand that Cisco’s partner program has already become a huge success. At the last CTI EXPO™ Spring ’99 in Washington, DC, the partner area of Cisco’s booth was absolutely overwhelmed with traffic. When I spoke to the partners in the pavilion, they told me that part of the reason that the partner program was so successful was that it legitimized the partnering companies in attendees’ eyes. These partners, in turn, are legitimizing Cisco’s entry into the telephony space.

Six partners in total were represented in Cisco’s booth:

  • Geotel showed call center applications, including those that tie into the intelligent network. Geotel has since been acquired by Cisco.
  • Amteva provides middleware that allows a unified means for enabling voice mail, fax, and e-mail messages to travel over IP. Amteva has also since been acquired by Cisco.
  • Active Voice  is a premiere provider of unified messaging solutions, allowing voice mail, e-mail, and fax to be managed from a unified inbox.
  • Picazo, which makes the first Windows 2000 PC-PBX I am aware of, supplies Cisco with an auto attendant and unified messaging solution.
  • IntegraTrak provides call accounting and call detail record products.
  • Symbol Technologies provides IP-based wireless handsets. One of these handsets was used in a rather amazing demonstration during the keynote presentation of Cisco’s Peter Alexander.

This was the first partner program I have seen in the voice/data switch space, and I have to say, the future of these programs looks extremely bright to me. Just as we buy PCs because of the software that runs on them, we will all be enticed by the next generation of IP-based voice/data switches because of the wide variety of software that will be available on these emerging platforms. Collaborative computing, tele-commuting, and Web-based call control applications are just a few of the applications we should be able to purchase inexpensively on voice/data switches from companies that will price these products reasonably due to the shortened development time inherent in producing pure IP-based software applications.

Apparently the Southern California Offshore Range (SCORE) Military Training area agrees that voice/data switches are the future too. They have recently installed about 100 Cisco IP telephones and they plan on installing more. According to SCORE, their users are very happy because the sound over IP telephony phones is so much sharper and clearer than traditional PBXs. This particular installation was done by Pearl Technologies, one of the first Southern California resellers authorized to install the Cisco digital PBX and IP phones. In case you might have missed this important point, Cisco is actively soliciting more resellers, so check out www.cisco.com if you are a reseller interested in getting into the voice/data switch business.

Lucent — not one to be outdone — has also announced a partner program of their own, which will allow developers to produce products that augment Lucent’s IP ExchangeComm system. The first product in the IPES family is due this September. So far there are four charter members in the IPES partner program:

  • Tapestry Integration Specialists who provide basic screen pop and call routing functionality.
  • MIND CTI  provides call accounting with optional traffic analysis capabilities.
  • ActiveTouch is an Internet collaboration application that can be used in e-commerce, customer care, and multimedia conferencing
  • SoundLogic  provides a rules-based multimedia customer interaction suite for e-commerce and e-business that can route and manage multiple forms of customer contacts such as Web, e-mail, and fax.

The best thing that happened to the computer industry was the introduction of a few standard platforms for developers to choose from. It was these standard platforms that have enabled users to enjoy phenomenal computing power at ridiculously low prices today. These standard hardware platforms are the basis for the software programs that have brought the business community such heady increases in productivity… From Computer Aided Design (CAD) systems to voice mail and the Web, nothing has helped increase the world’s productivity like rapidly decelerating computer prices coupled with rapidly accelerating computer power.

This very same landscape is being duplicated in the telephony space with the introduction of the latest voice/data switches from Lucent and Cisco. Whether you are a reseller, service provider, or an end user of these products, you should investigate the latest generation of voice/data switches as well as the ensuing partner programs that will augment them. Picture voice/data switches as rich telephony equivalents of the original PC. We can only hope that voice/data switches enjoy the same increases in power and decreases in price we take for granted in the computer market as well as the dramatic increases in productivity that should follow. What do you think? Feel free to drop me a line at rtehrani@tmcnet.com.

A Tale Of Two Expos

The Internet telephony field is advancing at such a rapid pace that it has become an awesome task for anyone to track the major developments in the field. Case in point: This field is a scarce few years old and already there are over 10 important standards to be aware of. New IP telephony products are being released so rapidly that it is a daunting task for even us at Internet Telephony magazine to keep up with it all — and it’s our full-time job!

As a person tasked with selecting products, you have a challenge ahead of you like you’ve never before witnessed in the fields of telecom or datacom. If you are a service provider, should you pick an Internet telephony gateway from a huge player like Cisco, or are you better off working with a smaller player that is more quick to change and able to turn on a dime? If you are a developer, should you pick a platform from a board vendor like Natural MicroSystems, or concentrate on learning the open APIs of Lucent’s IP Exchange System (IPES)? If you are selecting products for the enterprise, should you choose traditional PBX technology with a 20-year-old history that promises support for IP telephony, or do you go to a relatively new voice/data switch (IP-PBX) from a company such as TouchWave, which is now Ericsson WebCom?

As a former MIS director, I too was tasked with selecting products, and I know what it takes to aid you in making intelligent purchasing decisions. Everything we do at TMC™ is designed to aid you in selecting the products you need. The in-depth articles in all TMC magazines teach you the how and why behind the technologies and products you need to be aware of — our intensive news coverage lets you quickly scan the industry playing field, and finally, our objective lab reviews written by engineers analyze products carefully — exposing every strength and weakness. We realize time is short and purchasing mistakes are intolerable — even disastrous, so TMC considers itself your partner in making informed purchasing decisions. Nowhere is this partnership more apparent than TMC-sponsored expos, which are designed from the ground up to give you everything you need to make informed purchasing decisions in a matter of a few days. By enriching each expo with diverse educational opportunities available nowhere else, we’ve made each event invaluable to the furthering of your career.

In the coming months, TMC is planning two events that will aid you like no others in making critical business decisions as voice and data networks converge. We don’t take this convergence lightly… Companies like Nortel Networks and Lucent — which have spent tens of billions of dollars in acquisitions to get ready for this convergence — don’t take it lightly, and neither should you. Convergence will not only affect your future telecom purchasing decisions, it will seriously impact your datacom purchase decisions as well.

The first of these events you should attend is Internet Telephony Expo™ which will take place October 6–8 at the Hotel Del Coronado, and is extremely focused on the IP telephony field with conference tracks that will benefit service providers, developers, enterprise users, and everyone in between. We couldn’t have picked a nicer or more wonderfully exclusive setting for this event than the Hotel Del — Southern California’s only waterfront resort. Moreover, the Del is over 110 years old (yet thoroughly modernized throughout), making it more monument than hotel. The Del is also a wonderful spot for a weekend getaway, and Internet Tele-phony EXPO closes on a Friday, allowing you to spend the weekend in this wonderful setting if you choose — and believe me, there are few domestic resorts that can match the Del in terms of character and grace.

As the Del is a moderately-sized venue, our primary educational opportunities lie in the conference program, which is of the same quality and objectivity level as all TMC publications. We have augmented our basic conference program with a free Next-Gen Telco/CLEC workshop that is co-sponsored by ITXC. Finally, Internet Telephony EXPO will be home to the first-ever ConvergeNET — an interoperable IP telephony network that encourages multi-vendor standards compliance in a real-world setting. ConvergeNET is the ultimate IP telephony interoperability demonstration, and interoperability is the most crucial factor in making sure disparate Internet telephony solutions work seamlessly together. Before you make your next purchasing decision, come see if the vendors you are considering purchasing from are committed to interoperability.

The next event to attend is CTI EXPO™, December 7–9, in the Las Vegas Convention Center, This expo has become a major industry event in a matter of only two years, attracting over 15,000 attendees! What sets CTI EXPO apart from other expos is the lengths that we have gone to, to ensure that there are over 17 crucial educational opportunities to go with the more than 400 exhibitors at the show. In addition to the many Internet tele-phony products on display, you can see products such as unified messaging, IVR, fax servers, PBXs, ACDs, and related call center products.  Here is a brief list of educational opportunities:

Six new objective and educational Learning Centers such as Linux CTI, wireless CTI, and next-gen call center technology.

A Next-Gen Telco In A Booth allowing you to see leading-edge services made possible through the use of IP telephony networks.

Five on-target conference tracks such as Next-Gen Services, Internet Telephony, and CTI Technology.

Live Office Of The Future: Demonstrating a state-of-the-art, productivity-enabled office.

Live Multimedia Blended Call Center showing the power of connecting agents over IP and ATM.

Live CRM Demonstration: The products and technology that enable leading-edge Customer Relationship Management.

A Demo Theatre showcasing about a dozen unique vendor presentations.

ConvergeNET: Same concept as Internet Telephony EXPO with even more participants.

At TMC, we understand that there are many trade shows to choose from and that is why we endow each of our expos with leading-edge educational opportunities that are unique and critical to your career — allowing you to make informed purchasing decisions that you won’t regret later. You come to shows to evaluate products, and by attending both Internet Telephony EXPO and CTI EXPO, you will be sure to have all the information you need to make intelligent decisions in a field that moves as quickly as Internet telephony. By registering before August 28, you can save $50 on admission to the Internet Telephony EXPO Exhibit Hall. Register by September 27 for the CTI EXPO Exhibit Hall and save $25. We hope to see you there

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