Even if youï¿½re like me and your preferred method of communication is
e-mail or instant messaging, you still spend considerable time on the
telephone each day. I checked my schedule for one recent week and found I
had an ear-numbing 28 hours of calls scheduled.
Why is this important? Because if Iï¿½m like other corporate wonks, it
shows weï¿½re on the phone a lot. The quality of the speakerphone, ease of
dialing, how the phone feels in my hand, hanging up the phone, using the
features of the phone ï¿½ all these factors affect my good or bad opinion of
the PBX to which the phone is attached. This means the userï¿½s experience
and comfort level with telephone handsets is one of the keys to the success
of enterprise IP telephony.
Since Intel is not in the business of developing telephones, I thought it
best to talk to a couple of standards-based IP telephone handset vendors to
get their perspective. I wasnï¿½t interested in doing a full one-to-one
comparison of handsets, pitting IP handset vendors against each other. Since
these vendors are now on their second- and third-generation handsets, I
wanted to see what they have learned from their foray into the market. What
direction do they see the market taking? What are users telling them? How do
they market their products in todayï¿½s environment when theyï¿½re competing
against the ingrained familiarity I mentioned earlier?
I spoke with Stefan Karapetkov, product line manager for IP telephones
with Siemens Enterprise Networks. Siemens is something of an anomaly, since
it not only makes IP handsets for use on its own PBX systems, it also makes
them for use with other standards-based systems. Since Siemens serves two
different market segments, it truly needs to support standards. The companyï¿½s
latest telephone, the optiPoint* 400, has been on the market for several
I also spoke with Mike Seto, vice president of VoIP product marketing at
Polycom, perhaps most famous for its conferencing telephones and products.
Polycom has also been marketing IP handsets for some time, introducing a
second-generation handset, the SoundPoint IP* 500.
One of the first things I heard from both Stefan and Mike was the need
for the telephones to support multiple protocols. You know the old adage,
ï¿½Standards are great: Everyone has one.ï¿½ The IP telephone market segment
needs to support different protocols. The latest phones from both Siemens
and Polycom support both the H.323 and H.450 protocols. Siemens also
supports SIP and its own CorNet IP* protocol, used with its HiPath* switch.
Polycom supports MGCP and Ciscoï¿½s SCCP* protocols and has plans to
implement SIP in the future.
When I asked Stefan if the same handset could support multiple protocols,
he told me, ï¿½Yes, they can, just not simultaneously.ï¿½ The reason for
this is economics: Supporting multiple protocols requires added memory,
which would drive the price higher. It was clear from both Stefan and Mike
that economics was a key factor in decision makersï¿½ minds.
Both vendors support the major features users want including
conferencing, speed dialing, hold, transfer, message waiting, call
forwarding and waiting, and incoming number display. They also provide
specific feature buttons like hold and transfer ï¿½ something most of todayï¿½s
users are very familiar with. The message? Users want the same capabilities
they already enjoy, but the sheer quantity of features that vendors claim
their systems support is not an issue. The idea that users actually need all
236 features available on a given PBX is ludicrous, even though some vendors
still use this as a selling point against IP handsets.
Another similarity of both telephones is that they include a two-port
Ethernet switch, another economic decision ï¿½ but this time, one that added
to the cost of the telephone. Earlier-generation handsets required separate
ports on the corporate switch, one for the userï¿½s PC and one for the
telephone. This drove up the overall cost of implementation. With a switch
integrated into the telephone, fewer corporate switch ports are needed and a
single cable to the desk supports both the telephone and the PC.
The concern voiced by many users was the quality of the voice traffic
when it rides over the LAN with data traffic. To address this, both vendors
support QoS and VLAN (Virtual LAN). Experience has shown them that most
installations have no problems with voice traffic on the LAN. Both vendors
told me another key factor is to engineer the solution up-front, with the
VAR selling the equipment working closely with the customerï¿½s IT
department to ensure the network is set up properly. As Mike told me, ï¿½If
someone uses the Internet for voice communications, of course there can be
problems. If the upfront network planning for voice has been implemented we
have found very few issues with the IP telephones. By working with Polycom
IP PBX and softswitch partners and incorporating capabilities, such as
dynamic jitter buffers and QoS support, the joint solution can mitigate
IP telephone advantages that both Siemens and Polycom stress include the
ability to converge data and voice networks; the ability for the handset to
be upgraded with new features and to connect to different switches with
different protocols; and the ease of moves, adds, and changes. From remote
sites ï¿½ for instance, a home office or an IP connection at a hotel ï¿½ the
employee has the same user experience as when logged into the network. So
even though I may be working at home, my handset functions exactly as it
would at my desk. As Stefan points out, ï¿½To the user, there is no
difference in the capabilities provided over an IP network. By using IP
phones in remote offices, employees get the same features as headquarters
employees ï¿½ without the need to install an entire system at the remote
As we said earlier, the userï¿½s experience with IP handsets is key to
their success. Experience is driving telephone vendors to provide the
features users expect. What a revolution!
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.
*Other names and brands may be claimed as the
property of others. Intel is a trademark or registered trademark of Intel
Corporation or its subsidiaries in the United States and other countries.
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