3Com Preps Enterprise VoIP Partner Plan

Under the program, 3Com for the first time will make its carrier-class IP telephony softswitch, the VCX V7000 IP Telephony Solution, available for sale through channel partners.

The vendor has been selling the VCX line primarily through its direct-sales force since the product's North American launch in April.

3Com initially intended to craft a separate program around VCX, with plans to maintain its current program for the approximately 560 authorized voice partners selling the company's NBX IP telephony lineup for small and midsize customers.

3Com's New Voice Channel

>> Scheduled to launch in January
>> Opens sales of high-end VCX softswitch to channel partners
>> Incorporates value and volume discounts>> 'Finder's fee' for VCX deals brought to 3Com

The strategy shift came after some NBX partners expressed concern that segregated programs would decrease their importance as 3Com focuses on building sales of the VCX line.

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Under the unified program, all of 3Com's authorized voice partners will be able to offer the VCX line, even if they don't have the full complement of service capabilities to support complex implementations, said Dave Hattey, vice president and general manager of enterprise voice solutions at 3Com, Marlborough, Mass.

"They still can market the VCX, and we'll come in and work with them," he said.

3Com expects that about 5 percent to 10 percent of its voice partner base will be able to sell and support the VCX line,aimed at large enterprises with as many as 50,000 users,on their own. The rest will require augmentation from 3Com's professional services group or other solution providers.

For example, some partners might be capable of providing installation and support but will fall back on 3Com's professional services for application engineering or project management while retaining their relationship with the customer, he said.

3Com is still working out details of the new program, but it will incorporate a discount structure that takes both volume and value into account, Hattey said. The company also is developing a "finder's fee" program to give partners a commission on VCX deals they pass along to 3Com, he said.

Solution providers said they are willing to work with 3Com's professional services group in the short term but are eager to build up their own services competencies. "I accept this strategy for now as a means to an end to get the product off the ground in large quantities, but I expect that it will become easier and we won't need 3Com in the future," said Mike LeBlanc, president of LeBlanc Communications, Trumbull, Conn.

As solution providers take on the VCX line, one challenge they face is that the softswitch is based on Sun Microsystems' Solaris operating system, a competency most 3Com partners don't currently possess. The NBX products, in contrast, run on the Wind River VxWorks realtime OS. 3Com plans to integrate the two lines on a common Unix or Linux platform in the first half of 2004, Hattey said.

Another concern is that 3Com's professional services are offered on the same fee structure nationwide. "You can't charge the same in the Southeast as you charge in the Northeast," said Don Gulling, president of Verteks Consulting, a solution provider in Ocala, Fla.

Despite some misgivings about the new channel program, partners said they are eager to get their hands on the VCX. "We've got customers that don't want the NBX because they want an enterprise feature set. This will open up a whole new market for us," Gulling said.