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Feature Article
November 2003

Tony Rybczynski photoTransforming IP Telephones Into
Information Appliances


The industry move towards IP telephony is driving the convergence of disparate voice and data networks into a single, multi-service network without compromise -- no loss of functionality, quality, and reliability. But the attractiveness of IP telephony is not just about reductions in the total cost of ownership and increased mobility. It�s also about the increased employee productivity, decreased cost of operations, and increased customer service you get when you take advantage of this new converged network by delivering applications to the screens of IP telephones. 

Just as browsers, HTML, HTTP, and IP networking changed how users accessed -- and IT departments deployed -- information and applications, so also, IP telephony, running on a converged network, creates new opportunities for deploying and accessing these same applications. IP phones equipped with multi-line displays can now be used as multi-functional information appliances with the help of a new technology called Transformation Gateways. The primary role of a Transformation Gateway is to deliver applications to the screens of IP telephones and wireless devices. These applications can pre-packaged, such as visual voice mail, quick search and corporate directories, or transformed from existing applications using a �point-and-click� visual development environment. Transforming existing applications enables an organization to take advantage of the time, resources, and capital that it has put into its suite of corporate applications, yet makes it look like these applications were custom developed for the screens of IP telephones and wireless devices.

The Transformation Revolution
Transformation Gateways allow IP telephones to be used not only for voice communications, but also as an information appliance for enterprise, business, and education applications. These transformed applications enable organizations to increase productivity and improve customer service.

For example, enterprise applications such as e-mail and unified messaging, corporate directories, time clocks, equipment time tracking, conference room booking, company dashboards, contact center stats, and expense reporting can be provided on IP phones. These applications, readily available to PCs on desktops can now be made available wherever there is an IP phone, including in conference rooms or on a manufacturing floor or even some desktops, where there normally aren�t PCs. This greatly expands the convenience of accessing these applications. While you boot up your PC you can already be checking your mailbox from your phone. It doesn�t stop there. Transformation Gateways can be used to expand the reach of corporate or line-of-business broadcast messages to more employees and locations. This could include business or product level information, employee communications, and IT or general security alerts.

Verticalized applications can also be developed. The hospitality industry can use Transformation Gateways and IP telephony to deliver virtual concierge and restaurant listings to its clients. One can even envisage these being the basis of new revenue generating services. In retail, price checks, item locators, and inventory checks could be delivered to the point of service. In healthcare, patient tracking, and patient and resource scheduling applications can be integrated with point of care solutions. The list goes on. Telephones are in every classroom; PCs as an admin tool are not. With IP telephony and Transformation Gateways, school attendance, class changes, and daily schedules can all be handled via the ubiquitous telephone. What about advertising pizzas on IP phones in university dorms?

IP phones can ubiquitously deliver important application functionality at a fraction of the total cost of ownership of a PC. In addition, IP phones can be used as an always-on communications and information appliance, even when the PC is being rebooted or not online.

Inside Transformation
A Transformation Gateway takes existing Web and XML-based applications and delivers them for use on the screens of IP phones as well as other devices such as wireless personal digital assistants (PDAs), cellular phones, and two-way pagers. It has built-in client adapters for a range of IP telephones, so that transformed applications are optimized for the screen size, computing power, and mark-up tag specifications. Simple transaction processing can be done in a similar fashion.

To be effective as a business-enhancing tool, Transformation Gateways should include pre-packaged applications, such as visual voice mail, quick search and dial organization-wide corporate directory, etc., that demonstrate value as soon as the gateway is powered on as well as some sort of development environment to take advantage of an organization�s existing applications. For example, state-of-the-art Transformation Gateways have a simple, point-and-click graphical user interface customization tool that is used to define the portions of the application that will be available on the IP phone and the order that these portions will be seen. The desired Web or XML-based application is brought up inside the tool. The desired portions of the application are highlighted and selected. Once all the relevant portions of the application have been selected, the customization tool is used to layout how the application will appear on the IP phone. No change is required in the application, preserving this investment. An integrated IP phone emulator allows you to see what the transformed application will look like on the specific IP phone screen. This enables a complete end-to-end test of the formatting, interaction, and functionality on the IP phone prior to deploying on the actual device. As a natural part of the workflow, this significantly reduces development time.

Transformation Gateways greatly simplify the application developer�s life, by decoupling the presentation from the application intelligence. Rather than developing multiple user interfaces for various devices with different screen sizes and resolutions, designers can devote their time to bringing more features to market more quickly. In addition, Transformation Gateways provide enterprises with more application design choices through a distributed architecture and with the ability to customize how the information is displayed for their user base.

Once deployed, the Transformation Gateway automatically recognizes the device that is making a request for the transformed application, and dynamically transforms the application, to suit that particular device�s memory and screen requirements. As an IP addressable device, the Transformation Gateway can be deployed anywhere in the enterprise network. Given that the security of sensitive corporate and personnel data is paramount to any organization, Transformation Gateways needs to fit into the enterprises security policy by supporting security mechanisms such as SSL.

Path to Convergence
The path to convergence often starts with IP telephony, not just as an alternative way of delivering telephony, but also as an enabler for new applications such as converged teleworking and mobility. Convergence also is about making the network deliver the bandwidth, latency, throughput, security, and reliability required by voice, video, and mission-critical data applications. In the longer term, convergence takes the form of multimedia collaboration, enabled through technologies such as IP telephony, presence management, video streaming, and the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP).

Transformed data applications, running on telephony equipment, over a converged data network, enable organizations to increase the productivity of their employees and better serve their customers, all while lowering their total costs of ownership. Transformation Gateways are an important next step into moving towards convergence and can provide the needed ROI for migrating from conventional phones to IP phones. By making Web applications available to telephony users, Transformation Gateways -- combined with IP telephony -- provide another value proposition along the way to convergence.

Tony Rybczynski is director of strategic enterprise technologies for Nortel Networks with 30 years experience in networking. For more information, visit the company�s Web site at www.nortelnetworks.com.

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