Get IP-Rich Quick

Entrepreneurial vendors are coming up with creative ways to help small and medium businesses more quickly and less expensively harness the cost savings and innovative business applications possible with this VoIP technology. A few vendors, in particular, have new appliance-like systems for the customer premises that are designed to improve the functionality of the typical installed small-business communication system.

AIP Communications IP PBX is a hybrid product that works with the PSTN. It supports a number of features, including call paging, which means an SMB does not have to install an overhead paging system.

AIP Communications Inc., for instance, has a new appliance-type IP PBX that pushes the envelope of price and performance. The two IP PBXs now in the product line, the AIP-416 and AIP-832, support up to 16 and up to 32 IP phones, respectively. The most notable feature is that, for a base price of about $1,800, the new products provide all the features of typical business PBXs, plus some enhanced features, and include gateways for connections out to the PSTN.

In a typical system, users buy one AIP unit for each main location, as well as IP phones for remote workers. The AIP products include a feature, called CallNeighborhood,that supports four-digit dialing between any of the extensions on the system, even those at remote locations. With a gateway in each appliance, users can make local phone calls through the system to any location where there is an AIP PBX.

Those outside the company, such as clients and vendors, also can take advantage of the CallNeighborhood features. For example, if a client in Paris wanted to speak with me, they would just phone our Paris office and my four-digit extension, says AIP General Manager ZK Cheng. This would bridge them to my office in Texas, without having to pay any international charges.

In addition, if the existing PBX has foreign-exchange subscriber (FXS) capabilities, that would allow the AIP IP PBX to communicate with it and work alongside it to provide advanced features, but the customer does not need to replace desk phones. If the existing PBX does not have FXS, the AIP products gateway can be used for longdistance over the Internet without changing other infrastructure, and the customer can change out phones later to get the advanced IP PBX features.

The AIP-416 and AIP-832 IP PBXs are 19-inch units that can be rack-mounted. They have no moving parts, such as fans or hard drives, and the power supply sits outside the box. AIP says it runs the IP PBXs on proprietary software to keep out viruses and hackers. The company uses IP desk phones that cost about $150 each.

Cheng says an AIP IP PBX saves users money on three fronts. First, he says, with its low price tag, deploying an AIP IP PBX costs about one-third less than other systems. Second, he notes, customers can manage and configure phone functions using a Web interface, eliminating most maintenance fees. Finally, the units cut long-distance costs by routing most calls over the Internet.

Enhanced features of the AIP IP PBXs include converting voice mail to e-mail, which can be accessed using an e-mail client, such as Microsoft Outlook, or over the Web. As an added convenience, AIP does not use .wav files for voice mail e-mails, but rather .rtp files, which are one-tenth the size of .wav files and do not get blocked. The system also can alert users via their mobile phones when they have voice mail. The system will send a text message to the mobile indicating who left the voice mail, when and on which desktop station.

AIP, formed by engineering companies Simmteser and Telenexus, is developing its channel, focusing mostly on resellers.

IPcelerates IPsession Appliance enhances a Cisco IP telephony deployment with a suite of applications.

Meanwhile, newly formed IPcelerate Inc. has unveiled an application-server appliance, IPsession, that can be used to add enhanced voice, video or data applications for IP phones to the standard PBX functions provided by a Cisco Systems Inc. CallManager IP PBX. [Its] designed for a user who has already adopted Cisco IP telephony or is looking to do so, says Kevin Brown, president and CEO of IPcelerate.

The IPsession appliance can support a wide range of communication applications developed using XML. These can be innovative IP communication applications, such as delivering E911 alerts to IP phones or to IPcelerates MyNORA PC client (see story on page 44).

Or a custom application could be developed to duplicate a favorite function from the old PBX, such as zone paging, that was lost when it was replaced by the Cisco Call Manager. This time, however, the zone paging can add visual notifications on the screens of the IP phones. One application developed for IPsession provides mass-transit schedules to mobile phones for locations on the East Coast of the United States.

The ability to develop enhanced applications makes IPsession particularly appropriate for channel partners, especially those that target vertical and affinity markets. IPcelerate cites the hotel industry as a vertical that could profit potentially from IPsession applications. Because hotels spend a great deal of money on paper, IPcelerate suggests presenting documents, such as menus, visually, on IP phones. A hotel guest can read the menu on the phone, then turn the visual session into a voice conversation to place the order.

IPcelerate will develop custom or enhanced features for IPsession, or customers can develop their own applications using software that comes with the appliance. Cisco will perform much of the customer support for the applications created for the IPsession server, but can turn over issues to IPcelerate, if necessary. IPsession handles 25 users on the low end and 2,500 at the top.

i2Telecoms MG3 features offers remote access for up to three authorized phones.

Finally, i2Telecom International Inc. is offering technology that turns any desk phone into an IP phone. The SIP-based InternetTalker MG3 is a microgateway designed for SMBs. The portable, single-channel device, which retails for $99, can be placed on a desk, packed for traveling or mounted in a phone closet. It enables any telephone or PBX to access i2Telecoms global network and advanced routing technologies to complete most of the call over the Internet, paying only for termination.

Jerry Lumpkin, i2Telecoms senior vice president sales, Americas, says the system can sit behind any individual phone or behind the PBX. Users retain their DID capabilities, but can determine whether local calls are routed through the PBX or the LAN. Long-distance calls can be automatically sent through MG3, when users press 8 or 9 to get an outside line.

MG3 includes patented cellular bring capability to allow up to three authorized phones to remotely access the device to extend the services low-cost or no-cost calling capability. Because it uses caller ID to identify authorized phones, the feature work with any cell phone and internet connection without the need for access codes or PINs.

In December, i2Telecom released a mobile version of the technology it calls VoiceStick, a plug-and-play device the size of a key chain that inserts into the USB port of most desktops or notebooks and even some PDAs, allowing users to make long-distance Internet calls. VoiceStick comes with a headset. Once VoiceStick is installed in the USB port, a dial pad display lets users call any telephone in the world.

Lumpkin says i2Telecom is working with retailers to carry the products, but also uses agents and private-label resellers. The company announced its agent program at VON. The service provider, which offers VoIP plans for consumers, small business and medium enterprises, is looking for master agents with 10 or more subagents, PBX resellers, integrators and other channel salespeople to be a part of its VoIP Virtual Network Enabler (VVNE) program.

For master agents, recurring commissions will run between 10 and 15 percent, and the service provider will offer all support and an agent extranet for tracking activity.

We looked at the way our competitors like 8X8, Vonage and AT&T go to market and saw that there were not a whole lot of options for master agents to get into this, says Lumpkin. We see a real opportunity here.

Resellers with at least $5 million in annual revenue can co-brand the i2Telecom service if they choose.

Additional reporting by Charlotte Wolter, Tara Seals and Khali Henderson

Easing into IP Telephony

IPcelerate also has introduced MyNORA, a software client that runs on PCs and provides IP voice and video, instant messaging, conferencing and enhanced messaging. The messaging includes voice mail that can recognize and provide specific greetings to individual callers, as well as deliver voice mail via e-mail.

IPcelerates MyNORA dashboard acts as a virtual entity within the computer, alerting users to viruses or hackers, incoming calls and more. Nora morphs nationalities to reflect her users.

The client is a way to introduce some of the conveniences of IP voice to an enterprise without having to install an IP PBX. The software is somewhat in the mold of Yahoo! Messenger or MSN Messenger, but has advanced features for the business user.

The MyNORA software communicates with any other MyNORA client within a company network or across the Internet. The GUI, which the company calls a dashboard, includes a small screen for video. In addition, the software uses what IPcelerate calls bubblets, which work a lot like pop-ups, to send notices or alerts, such as E911 alerts, to each MyNORA desktop or to provide help for customers trying to use the MyNORA application. The MyNORA client software does not need Ciscos CallManager or IPcelerates IPsession appliance to operate. The standalone product can work with IPsession, though. MyNORA costs $150 per desktop; some customers use it as their only phone, the company says.

MyNORA continues to be the least expensive, most functional means to introduce convergence to the desktop, says IPcelerate CEO Kevin Brown. It allows companies to recognize the benefits of VoIP and IP-based video and collaboration, all without replacing or changing their corporate PBX. Its an ideal and cost-effective solution for companies who are looking to minimize their risk as they consider how and when to migrate to VoIP.

The product is named Nora for the female figure who appears when there are messages, phone calls or warnings about network viruses. Nora morphs from nationality to nationality. Were making the voice experience a more visual interaction, either with a phone or with a desktop PC or laptop PC, says Brown.


AIP Communications Inc.
IPcelerate Inc.
I2Telecom International Inc.

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