ShoreTel Adds Mobility Features To IP Telephony Platform

Solution providers said the upgrade, ShoreTel 6, should have vast appeal to many companies now supporting remote and home-based workers. “The most important thing I see [ShoreTel] doing now is really concentrating on mobile users, remote sales [workers], satellite offices. That helps us,” said Jim Lewis, president of PlanIT Solutions, a ShoreTel partner in Petaluma, Calif. “We cover a small geography in Northern California where there are not a lot of large enterprise customers but a lot of distributed offices,” Lewis said.

With ShoreTel 6, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based vendor is introducing Office Anywhere, a new feature that enables users to assign their office extension to an external phone, such as a home, hotel or cell phone.

Through Office Anywhere, remote workers can access the full feature set of the ShoreTel VoIP platform while on the road. At the same time, the feature routes the voice portion of a call over the PSTN to tap the reliability of the traditional phone system, while sending call control, unified messaging and other applications over the Internet, said Richard Winslow, senior director of product management at ShoreTel.

“Teleworkers are at the mercy of the Internet if they&re using IP phones or softphones,” he said. “Now you can log in from home but have great phone quality.”

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While calls routed over the PSTN are subject to toll charges, it can be a less-expensive solution than establishing a remote connection enabled with quality-of-service features, he said.

The capabilities supported by Office Anywhere should have mass appeal, solution providers said. While the technology is a good fit for remote call-center workers, mobility features also are increasingly important to high-level executives and owners as well as workers such as sales reps and field services workers, solution providers said.

“It&s not really a call-center issue; it&s a mobility issue,” said Mark Bilton-Smith, president of Tele-Smart Networks, a Vancouver, Wash.-based solution provider that has been beta testing ShoreTel 6. “We have one customer with 300 technicians on the West Coast. For them to be able to log in from any phone would be a big benefit to them,” he said.

In another boon for mobile workers, ShoreTel also has added native support for Session Initiation Protocol, which enables the vendor&s VoIP platform to support third-party devices based on the SIP standard.

“Customers want an open architecture. They don&t want a closed architecture that [blocks them] from deciding to use their own devices,” Bilton-Smith said.

Among the first devices to be tested and certified is a Wi-Fi phone from Hitachi.

While it&s still early for many customers to be rolling out voice over WLAN solutions, it&s something clients are preparing for, solution providers said.

“It&s something everyone wants to be able to do but not something they want to do yet,” Lewis said.

In addition, ShoreTel is expanding its own lineup of VoIP handsets, rolling out a new entry-level handset and a button box aimed at executive assistants and receptionists.

The new low-end ShorePhone IP110 includes one line appearance, a 16-character LCD display, an Ethernet switch with support for Power over Ethernet and can be used as a one-way intercom. It carries a list price of $149, a $100 drop from ShoreTel&s current price point, Winslow said.

ShoreTel&s new ShorePhone BB24 button box works with the vendor&s IP530 and IP560 handsets to extend the number of lines operators or assistants can monitor. It includes 24 programmable buttons and carries a list price of $349.

ShoreTel 6 and the new handsets are scheduled for availability on Sept. 15. ShoreTel 6 systems typically range from $650 to $850 per user.