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Microsoft Pumps Up Small Business VoIP

Microsoft is preparing to roll out the first service pack for its Response Point small business VoIP offering, a development that's being eagerly awaited by the vendor's growing legions of Voice VARs.

Chief among the new features is what Microsoft calls digital voice services, which is known as SIP trunking in the VoIP channel. While earlier versions of Response Point allowed only analog lines to be connected to the PSTN, small businesses will be able to connect to the PSTN over the Internet, and that'll bring the benefits of cheaper calls and easier management, according to solution providers.

Ben Brauer, Microsoft's senior product manager for Response Point, says what sets Response Point apart is the fact that it's been designed with the specific needs of small businesses in mind. "Small business VoIP used to be enterprise phone systems that were cut down for small businesses, but these systems were often too complex and difficult to use," he said.

Response Point has added features that were missing in previous versions, such as click-to-call and the ability to see which users in an office are on the phone, says Trevor Dierdorff, president of AMNet, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based solution provider. "It certainly is a phone system has some features that used to be found in medium and enterprise level VoIP environments," he said.

One of the main selling points of VoIP for small businesses is that it enables them to appear larger than they really are, and the addition of digital voice services is a big part of this equation, said Brauer. Digital voice services enables small companies to use local phone numbers for their remote offices, and also lends itself to marketing campaigns by simplifying the process of setting up telephone hotlines, he added.

But while it's a important feature, the addition of SIP trunking brings with it potential problems for Microsoft, says Andrew Swingler, president of Crewe Technologies, an Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based VoIP VAR.

"The challenge with the new connectivity option is that some people are going to experience poor call quality if they don't set up the network correctly, and Microsoft has no way of managing or helping in that process," Swingler said. "That's why it's important that VARs really stay plugged into the Response Point product. "

But Response Point's ease of management will help companies avoid many of the pitfalls associated with VoIP, said Brauer. And the fact that Response Point is based on Internet technologies and what Brauer called a 'secret sauce' enabled Microsoft to add features like auto-discovery and provisioning.

"You can take a phone off the subnet and plug it into another LAN extension, and that phone will be auto-discovered and provisioned for a particular person or profile," Brauer said.

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