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Industry Insight
June 2002

Jim Machi

The Phone Revolution


Even if you�re 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 I�m like other corporate wonks, it shows we�re 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 � all these factors affect my good or bad opinion of the PBX to which the phone is attached. This means the user�s 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 wasn�t 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 today�s environment when they�re 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 company�s latest telephone, the optiPoint* 400, has been on the market for several months.

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, �Standards are great: Everyone has one.� 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 Cisco�s 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, �Yes, they can, just not simultaneously.� 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 makers� 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 � something most of today�s 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 � 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 user�s 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 customer�s IT department to ensure the network is set up properly. As Mike told me, �If 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 network issues.�

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 � for instance, a home office or an IP connection at a hotel � 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, �To 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 � without the need to install an entire system at the remote site.�

As we said earlier, the user�s 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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