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December 15, 2006

Telecom Industry Moving Toward IP: Q and A with Sphere's Todd Landry

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Senior Editor

Recent trends point toward the IP and telecom industries merging to become one. TMCnet asked Todd Landry, Senior Vice President of IP PBX company Sphere Communications (News - Alert) to comment on how Internet telephony is changing the face of communications.
Late in 2006, Avaya (News - Alert) acquired Traverse Networks, Cisco acquired Orative, and Microsoft began developing a software-based IP communications solution. How do you see these events as being related to each other, and what does this mean for the IP communications industry?
These recent acquisitions clearly indicate the importance of mobility in the unified communications marketplace. More and more business users are dependent on being mobile, and having more streamlined businesses communications and access to corporate information makes them more competitive.
In fact, recent events further validate Sphere’s position in the marketplace. The value in communications is no longer “infrastructure;” the real value is in how “connections”—new forms of interactions, exchanges, and relations between people through different mediums—create more business efficiency.
Microsoft (News - Alert) has most certainly validated the fact that communications, of many forms, will become an integral part of business applications—and this is why software-based platforms that are built as business applications and provide easy and open ways to tie them into business processes will prevail in the unified communications market.
Why else are these, and other recent acquisitions significant?
These types of acquisitions are occurring because the market for enterprise communications is rapidly changing. Vendors that are realizing the transformation of communications from hardware to software, from connections to applications, from a phone to many phones, from dial-tone to business-centric unified communications, are building a portfolio that will position them to differentiate and compete in the changing marketplace.
What other signs to do you see pointing toward the telecom industry moving toward software-based IP solutions?
Today there are proven products that utilize off-the-shelf server and operating system technology and deliver significant features for businesses; these solutions clearly change the economics of a business communications system.
However, the fact that these systems are designed with other business applications in mind is an important sign of a shift in the industry—in fact, 2006 marked the year that we started to see sessions within telecom events focused on topics such as SOA (Service Oriented Architecture), a topic typically discussed in entirely different forums.
What advantages do software-based IP solutions offer over traditional telephony?
Software-based solutions provide better economics, can provide better resiliency per dollar, can offer more flexibility in delivering business integrated features, and can be more responsive to market and customer needs.
More importantly, when you eliminate any form of traditional TDM switching you enable multimedia communications that provides high quality audio, easy and automatic video capabilities, and the ability to pass state information across different business domains (such as presence information of a user in one company to a user in another).
What value do IP-PBXs offer to service providers and carriers?
The creation of SIP Trunking in IP PBXs enables services providers to offer a hybrid solution for medium and large enterprise customers that leverages the convergence of voice and data onto a single IP medium for the enterprise.  
This approach opens the door for carrier and providers to leverage an installed base of carrier-class media gateways when traditional PSTN devices need to be reached (eliminating the need to have these on premise at the enterprise) and for carriers to become the brokers for other unified communications information among different businesses.
What value do IP-PBXs offer to enterprise customers?
All businesses will need to have the power of unified communications within their businesses to be competitive. The transition to an IP-based PBX (News - Alert) that unifies communications capabilities is a natural, and perhaps a forgone, conclusion. Now it’s the question of the right choice for the enterprise. That should be largely based on what additional value solutions can offer to the business—such as integration with business applications and creating a business that is more responsive to constituents and customers.
What role do you see software playing in the IP communications industry during 2007, and beyond?
We will see virtually all solutions for IP-PBX and Unified Communications become software-based over the next several years.
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Mae Kowalke previously wrote for Cleveland Magazine in Ohio and The Burlington Free Press in Vermont. To see more of her articles, please visit Mae Kowalke’s columnist page. Also check out her Wireless Mobility blog.

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