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December 1998

rich.gif (5262 bytes) Creating a Killer App Environment for Tomorrow's PBX


To reach critical mass, computers platforms have always relied on killer applications (apps) that conferred upon these computing platforms a "must-have" status for a large enough audience to quickly drive the platform's mainstream acceptance. Desktop publishing made Apple's Mac a huge success in the 1980s. VisiCalc is acknowledged as the PC spreadsheet app that quickly accelerated the acceptance of the IBM PC. Netscape Navigator has been suggested as the killer app for Windows 95. In order to run Java programs, on the Navigator browser, you needed Windows 95.

A killer app quickly creates a market. The Palm Pilot itself became a killer app due to the functionality the device came bundled with. Palm computers, once the Rodney Dangerfields of computing are forever legitimized.

The fact that telephony, video, and fax will one day travel exclusively over IP-based networks is a given. Service providers, video conferencing companies, PBX companies, and data networking companies all agree. The question, of course, is when? When will this convergence take place? It is already happening in the public network, the question is when will convergence become mainstream in the corporate setting? The answer is as it always has been. When we have a killer application. In order to have a killer application however, we first need a killer application environment.

As a reader of INTERNET TELEPHONY™ magazine, you no doubt understand that Internet telephony is so much more than cheap long-distance. Our monthly news section profiles an entire stable of new Internet telephony products and services that increase productivity and enable new applications.

A particularly interesting case in point is Lucent Technologies' recently introduced IP Exchange System, or IPES (www.lucent.com/ipes). This is the type of product that gives resellers, developers, corporations, and service providers a reason to smile. IPES signals Lucent's entry into the Internet telephony PBX market. The product line will be rolled out in phases throughout 1999.

What strikes me about Lucent's recent release is that it comes with an open API and soon a developer kit to support third-party vendors that want to augment the IPES system with new features and applications. So, Lucent has given us the reliability guarantee of their logo and a product that is open and as advanced as any other PC or IP-based PBX on the market. Essentially, Lucent has just joined Cisco - who recently purchased Internet telephony PBX manufacturer Selsius (www.selsius.com) - in legitimizing the PC and IP PBX market.

Lucent's IPES system, together with competitive products from companies like Praxon (www.praxon.com) and others, defines a new product category we call "voice/data switches." These products handle both your voice and data switching while integrating data and telephony management features. Some products in this category integrate unified messaging, ACD, a router, a firewall, and more into a single box.

Lucent realizes that one size does not fit all and has designed their voice/data switch in two sizes, IP ExchangeComm (IPEC) designed for mid-sized businesses and service providers and the IP ExchangeLink (IPEL) system designed for small businesses -- as a turnkey solution. These products are roughly the Internet telephony equivalents of Lucent's Definity and Merlin PBX lines.

The IP ExchangeComm system includes Windows NT-based call manager software, which provides call routing and PBX-like telephony features. In order to connect to legacy telephony devices, an IP Exchange Adapter converts these devices into IP clients.

The IP ExchangeComm (IPEC) will initially support 96 lines and plans are underway to enable it to scale to up 1,000 phones and fax machines, making this product appropriate for the corporation and (eventually) the service provider.

The product that more appropriately fits the description of a voice/data switch is the smaller IPES product known as the IP ExchangeLink System (IPEL). This system consists of call manager communications software, a 7-port Ethernet hub, an IP router, and an 8-port Lucent Exchange Adapter. This system can link up to 48 phones and fax machines and it works through an existing LAN.

Making the Case
In order to drive the market to adopt these products, an IP-based PBX has to offer some compelling functionality. Although the IPES system is too new for me to confirm that all these features will be included in the first release of the product in Q1, here are some arguments as to why IP-based PBXs are indeed so compelling:

  • IP-based PBXs are inherently distributed and scalable.
  • With open APIs they can easily harness best of breed applications.
  • They are inherently easier to use than traditional PBXs, thanks to a Web browser interface.
  • Installation should be much smoother than traditional PBXs.
  • Upgrades can be downloaded automatically via the Web.
  • They can be used to easily construct Voice/Data VPNs (Virtual Private Networks).
  • Remote Access is a breeze, since any Internet telephony client connects seamlessly to the voice/data switch with full in-office PBX feature set.
  • Web/call center integration where your customers use Internet telephony to call you can be easily handled since IP telephony is the native switch protocol.
  • Lower administration costs -- again, Web browser access.
  • Lower long-distance costs via Internet or intranet telephony.
  • Increased productivity: CTI features are easily accessed and less expensive since they are software solutions.
  • Multimedia collaboration is built into the switch, as it supports H.323.

Let's not forget about the growing population of service providers such as ISPs, cable companies, and CLECs. They have their reasons to be interested in this type of product as well.

  • Service providers can quickly add applications through open APIs.
  • They can easily provide combined voice and data access.
  • Value added IP services (Click to Dial, "IP Centrex," etc.) and vertical market applications are a natural addition to the IPES system.
  • Remote management by the customer.

This last point is my personal favorite. If a customer was to call their local phone company and ask for changes to their service (addition of caller ID, call waiting, and the like) they would

  • Have to endure a waiting period of unknown duration, and
  • Have to pull out their checkbook to cover the cost of the changes.

Have You Seen Junior's Grades?
CLECs would be able to provide a Web browser interface to their customers, so that the customer can then make their own configuration changes - according to their personal needs. A terrific example would be configuring a second phone number and distinctive ringing for a teenager who is performing well in school. Through a Web browser interface, a parent can easily select a service such as a second number or distinctive ringing. The changes take effect immediately. Then, if the student's grades begin to drop, and upon making the correlation between the second phone number and the lower grades, the parent can step in to reconfigure the telephone to only work on weekends or perhaps not accept calls from certain parties. The possibilities are enormous and the opportunities are beyond imagination.

Driving the rapid acceptance of Internet telephony in corporate America requires a killer app. Lucent has provided us with a platform upon which to develop that killer application. We need developers to step up to the plate and start developing. The time is now and the rewards will be huge. If you're as intrigued by the potential of this new technology, as I am, feel free to drop me a line at rtehrani@tmcnet.com, and let me know what you're thinking.

The Ultimate Internet Telephony Endorsement!

You've no doubt heard that Cisco, Lucent, and Nortel are actively gearing up to compete aggressively in the voice/data switching and Internet telephony space. Nortel recently bought Bay networks. Cisco has purchased programmable switch maker Summa 4 and now IP PBX manufacturer Selsius systems. Lucent is announcing products aimed at precisely this market.

As if this is not testament enough to the mainstream acceptance of the fact that voice, fax, and video will all eventually travel via Internet telephony, Cisco has announced wonderful news. They will replace the conventional PBXs in their 40-building campus headquarters with Selsius IP-based PBXs.

There is no better endorsement than a company "eating its own cooking" as the saying goes. This market's just heating up. Keep reading INTERNET TELEPHONY™ to stay current.

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