INTEROP: VoIP Power to the People

The message of unified communications and VoIP continues to become muddied in the eyes of potential end users, thanks to a wealth conflicting lingo and the ever-changing sands of strategy that comprises the chasing of the SMB dollar. But if the industry has exhausted the more tried and true approaches to sparking uptake in the SMB market, some companies are reacting by getting creative in order to bring VoIP to the masses.

For instance, ADTRAN Inc. announced at this week’s INTEROP expo in Las Vegas that it would open up more tiers within its channel program to sell VoIP, is launching an IP PBX and, it’s adding reasonably priced IP phones to its lineup. Meanwhile, IP PBX juggernaut Avaya Inc. was talking up the “democratization” of VoIP and UC, and announced that it’s added speech recognition to its UC package. LifeSize Communications, known for its high-end video immersion systems, is attacking the smaller opportunities via an under-$5,000 (OK, it’s $4,999, but still) combo of the “Focus” two-microphone array camera plus “Express” HD video conferencing system.

For its part, ADTRAN is now allowing its mid-level Advantage partners – VARs that make a low commitment to the company and often target the under-50-user set – to sell its IP telephony solutions. “It turns out that a lot of businesses that would be a target for us already have a relationship with some of these smaller partners,” explained Chris Thompson, senior product manager for ADTRAN’s enterprise networks division. “There’s no reason to miss those opportunities.”

Further helping along those opportunities, the vendor unveiled the NetVanta 7060 Modular IP PBX, an integrated IP telephony product with standard IP PBX features such as voice mail and auto attendant, along with a 24-port Power over Ethernet (PoE) switch in a single compact platform. When it formally comes to market in July, it will differentiate itself from the existing NetVanta 7100 IP Communications Platform, billed as an “office in a box,” by not being a complete office in a box. In other words, it will lack the firewall, VPN appliance and built-in router of the 7100. The rationale? Because many small companies have already invested in a data network, and don’t want to rip-and-replace what it already has.

“There’s a $700 difference between the two products,” explained Ron Wicks, market manager at ADTRAN’s enterprise networks division. “The feedback we were getting from a lot of companies isthat they just invested in a switch. They just want the IP PBX. So we’re giving it to them.”

The NetVanta 7060 provides a number of popular key system features such as Shared Line Appearance and Busy Lamp Field /Direct Station Select. It offers flexible network connectivity with support for SIP trunking (it is getting certified with a number of service providers to be named at a later date), T1/PRI and analog connections.

Meanwhile, it also comes with a small business-friendly GUI with getting started menus and wizards that simplify configuration and management. In addition, graphics-based Voice Quality Monitoring (VQM) is inherent in the device. This allows network administrators to monitor Mean Opinion Scores (MOS) and other critical VoIP parameters to quickly and easily identify and correct Quality of Service (QoS) issues on the voice network, according to Thompson: “There’s a search box, and you type in the extension you want to check, time and date, and it will just bring up the relevant info.”

ADTRAN also added, for the first time, IP phones to the portfolio, which can be used in hosted and premise-based configurations. The new IP 700 Series includes two phone models: the IP 706 six-button phone, and the IP 712 12-button phone. Both offer dual switched Ethernet ports to enable simultaneous voice and PC data access as well as a full-duplex speaker phone and headset capability for hands-free applications.

The IP 706 six-line phone is currently shipping in North America at a list price of $249, while the IP 712 12-line phone is shipping in North America at a list price of $299. But in case you’re wondering, the vendor’s not planning on going head to head with the big phone makers in the market. “This is just a logical extension of our product line, and it helps VARs and end users because they know they’ll just work with our systems,” said Wicks. “But our alliance with Polycom is alive and well, for instance. These aren’t conference phones, or large attendant consoles. They’re for the under 50 user market.” He added that ADTRAN-branded phones on the desktop will also help with everyday user awareness about the company, who may not be aware of which vendor is handling their communications.

Meanwhile, Avaya has added speech commands and a “personal assistant” to the assembled features in its unified messaging platform, dubbed “Freedom of Speech.” Avaya’s Modular Messaging 4.0 now offers speech-rec access to calling and conferencing capabilities, voice, e-mail and fax messaging, enterprise directories and databases, calendars, contacts and task lists – from any telephone. Based on natural language speech recognition technologies from Nuance Communications.

We want to make unified communications available to everyone,” said Diane Shariff, director of unified communications solutions at Avaya. “You have to improve productivity, and it has to be easy to use.”

The platform adds speech access for IBM Lotus Domino 7.0, and upgrades compatibility with Microsoft Exchange 2007 and Internet Explorer 7. In addition, users can now record up to nine optional greetings – and each one in up to three different languages with the new multi-lingual call answer feature. Callers only hear a greeting in their preferred language.

In tacit acknowledgment that maintenance and support is a big issue for IT staff, especially in smaller companies, Avaya also introduced a new set of support tools – available free to its maintenance customers and VARs – InSite Knowledge Management and HealthCheck.

InSite allows users to log into a Web site, enter a natural-language question in the search box, and instantly receive relevant data culled from more than 28,000 articles created by Avaya experts. Additionally, InSite Knowledge Management is “self-learning,” meaning it archives every query and response in order to provide faster matches to future queries on similar issues. This intelligence also helps Avaya more quickly identify troublesome trends based on the high volume of search requests that occur for a particular issue – allowing for rapid customer alerts and fixes.

This is delivered in a simple virtual report with integrated links to Avaya InSite Knowledge Management troubleshooting and administration articles. Combining these two tools gives customers valuable new data and reporting tools at no additional cost. The tools also help customers prevent problems and reduce the impact of issues, since it takes less time to fix them.

Avaya HealthCheck is a proactive test that customers can run to get a single, comprehensive view into what is occurring within their communications network, tracking everything from gateways to end points to circuit packs in order to identify any configuration issues that have caused other customers problems in the past. It provides this via Web by performing an audit revealing how each element of a system is performing, and which components require updates or administrative changes.

And then there’s LifeSize Communications, which at INTEROP was talking up the LifeSize Express + LifeSize Focus integrated HD camera and microphone array, which delivers an immersive, high definition telepresence experience over existing broadband networks, even at a mere 1mbps.

Colin Buechler, senior vice president of marketing at LifeSize, says the idea is to allow its reseller partners to go into new opportunities with a range of solutions for every size. “Many companies have an interest in telepresence but are confused by price points and the trade-offs they represent,” he said. “This gives the midmarket a Fortune 1,000 experience without the Fortune 1,000 pricetag.” He said the main targets for the cheaper system are small conference rooms, executive offices home office and telecommuters and various vertical applications, such as telemedicine.

“We believe that HD video will be as pervasive as audio,” said Buechler. “It’s just a question of getting the price and performance right.”

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