Actions speak louder than words

The idea that telephone and data networks will one day converge onto a single

wire is hardly debated any more. The big question now is: When?

Hedging its bet in case convergence happens sooner rather than later,

traditional telecommunications powerhouse Avaya Inc. — a new spinoff from

Lucent Technologies — will soon roll out a suite of products that will enable

agencies to run voice systems entirely over their Internet Protocol (IP)-based

data networks.

Avaya is not the only company preparing to ship new voice-over-IP products

within the next two months. Cisco Systems Inc. announced a number of upcoming

enhancements to its voice-over-IP product line, as well as a new agreement

with NEC Corp. to integrate and co-market both companies' voice-over-IP

and traditional voice products.

And IP voice communications specialist Shoreline Communications Inc.

previewed upgrades that will enable its highly regarded system to support

far more users than before and provide more deployment flexibility.

The new products arrive in a market in which the justification for investing

in voice-over-IP products, especially for government customers, has evolved

from simple cost savings on long-distance bills to a more complicated picture

of consolidating phone and information technology support staffs and improving

customer service through expanded call-center operations.

Avaya's new voice-over-IP products fall under the company's Enterprise

Class IP Solutions, or ECLIPS. "These are targeted to bring reliability,

voice quality and full business-feature functionality into a world of pure

IP communications," said Tom Cornelius, a senior product- planning specialist

for Avaya.

Among the new Avaya products are:

* The IP600 Internet Protocol Com-munications Server, a 19-inch rack-

mounted, Microsoft Corp. Windows NT-based server that handles basic call-

processing chores and provides features such as voice mail and fax messaging.

* The R300 Remote Office Communicator, which extends the IP600's capabilities

to remote offices over a wide-area network (WAN) with central administration.

* Directory Gateway, Windows NT-based software that saves administrators

time by allowing them to automatically update directories, including the

voice-over-IP system, that support the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol

(LDAP).

Also being repositioned under the new ECLIPS family name is the company's

Definity line of traditional private branch exchange (PBX) equipment, which

will now offer more IP-based capabilities. PBXs have been used for years

by many companies and government agencies to set up private telephone networks

within their enterprises.

Pioneering vendors in the voice-over-IP market have thus far fought

an uphill battle to create IP-based, software-only PBXs that could replace

the proprietary hardware PBXs sold by traditional telecom vendors such as

Avaya, Nortel Networks and others.

"There's no doubt that traditional PBXs are outrageously expensive,

but they attract a premium because of their reliability," said Andrew Cray,

a senior analyst with Aberdeen Group Inc., a market research firm in Boston.

Avaya's new pure IP-based voice products give the company a play in

both markets, but Cray thinks the company will be reluctant to risk its

Definity PBX sales. "I bet they're not pushing [the pure voice-over-IP solutions]

too strongly," he said. "This is a way for Avaya to provide a smooth migration

to those customers who want an IP PBX."

Indeed, one of Avaya's government customers, the Treasury Department's

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, is in the midst of upgrading its

telecommunications infrastructure with some voice-over-IP functionality,

but is using Avaya's Definity PBXs to do it, according to Andy Weisburger,

acting chief of the networks management branch for ATF in Washington, D.C.

ATF is installing Avaya's Definity PBXs in several of its 23 field division

offices. The Definity PBX has an IP trunk capability, which means the agency

can selectively route long-distance calls between offices via the WAN instead

of the public phone network. The reason for routing calls this way is not

to save on long-distance charges, but to take advantage of the WAN's built-in

security.

"You can't beat the cost of long- distance calls on FTS 2001," Weisburger

said. "But by routing some calls over the WAN, we'll be able to make secure

calls using the network's encryption capabilities."

Another benefit will be the ability to manage the Definity PBXs remotely

using the IP-based WAN, reducing the cost to support and maintain the devices.

For now, ATF only plans to route voice calls over the IP network from

one PBX to another. It doesn't plan to extend the voice-over-IP capability

from the PBX down to the telephones — that connection will remain analog-based — because "the technology is still too immature to have a reliable call

down to the desktop," Weisburger said.

ATF is also evaluating Avaya's new R300 as an option to connect smaller

regional offices into the WAN-based voice services, according to Weisburger.

In doing so, the small offices could get the benefits of the WAN's encrypted

calls and remote management without the much greater expense of installing

a full-blown PBX. The R300 can work as a client to either an IP600 or a

Definity PBX that would be located back in a larger office.

Data Side of Convergence

With Cisco's new voice-over-IP products, the data networking company

continues to build out the basic telephony features in its voice-over-IP

line called AVVID, or the Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data.

Among the new or upgraded Cisco voice-over-IP products are:

* Cisco uOne 5.0E voice messaging software, which extends voice-mail

services to up to 10,000 users, well beyond the previous limitation of 100

users.

* IP-based Interactive Voice Response system, an IP-based Auto Attendant,

for operator-free call routing, and new support for LDAP, for such features

as spell by name, personalized directories and user-specified calling groups.

* IP Contact Center, which would enable agencies to leverage their

IP-based WANs to build distributed call centers so that incoming customer

calls could be routed over the WAN to remote offices and even at-home workers.

Like their Cisco counterparts and many others in the industry, Avaya

officials believe the government will be drawn to voice over IP for two

main reasons: to consolidate previously separate support operations for

data and telecommunications infrastructures and to provide better government

services with a virtual call-center staff connected by voice over IP.

"I see federal government working from the policy, management and technology

perspectives to embrace a vir-tual workforce to support expanded services

for citizens," said Debbie Granberry, vice president of civilian agency

sales at Avaya. "This will allow them to do that more efficiently."

Also due soon on the market is Version 2.2 of Shoreline Communications'

IP Voice Communications System, which supports up to 5,000 users — more

than four times the number of users as Version 2.0. The 5,000-user figure

is actually significantly lower than what at least one other voice-over-IP

vendor claims its system can handle, but there is a reason for the conservatism.

"On a theoretical basis, there is no limit to an IP-based phone system,"

said John Fazio, president and chief executive officer of Shoreline Communications.

"On the other hand, there is a real issue about the testing and performance

of these systems. Until we can test... larger port configurations, we just

don't announce them."

Other key features in Version 2.2 of the Shoreline system include:

* The ability to distribute the servers that run the voice services

applications, such as voice mail and automated attendant, which reduces

WAN bandwidth usage by enabling users to retrieve voice-mail messages locally.

* Support for the G.729 voice compression protocol, which reduces the

size of voice packets traveling across the WAN.

* A new open terminal concept that gives customers more options about

what devices to use with the voice-over-IP system, including traditional

analog phones (the only option with Version 2.0) and pure IP phones. It

also supports softphone software, which turns a PC into an IP phone.

Featured

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.