VoiceCon: Industry Heavyweights Roll Out New VoIP Wares

VoiceCon Spring 2007 is bringing out all of the VoIP industry's heavy-hitters, many of whom will be flooding the market with new IP communications wares and the networking infrastructure that sit underneath them.

Big-name executives from companies like Avaya, Cisco Systems, Microsoft and Nortel Networks are scheduled to give keynote addresses that will shine the spotlight on new products and share their vision for the future of the voice market. The Orlando, Fla. conference, which is expected to draw 6,500 attendees, is run by CMP Technology, the parent company of CRN.

What all of these vendors and many of their peers have in common is the recognition that the need for mobility is front-and-center for customers as they consider their telecommunications options.

Solution providers see it, too, particularly as solutions built to deliver unified communications, single-number access and convergence between wireless and cellular networks become a reality.

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"There are a lot of road warriors out there that want to have the freedom to move around. They're on the road most of the time and just come into the office to do paperwork," said Stephen Lurie, vice president of voice at Troubadour, a Houston-based solution provider. "The ability to give clients one number to reach them wherever they are is very attractive for them," Lurie said.

The biggest mobility problem solution providers can help customers solve is bringing together all of the disparate communications systems they need to deal with, said Mont Phelps, president and CEO of NWN, a solution provider in Waltham, Mass. "They've got multiple phone numbers, voicemails, e-mails and contact points, and its just become burdensome," he said.

Next: New products from Cisco

Perhaps the most extensive lineup of announcements will come from Cisco, which is launching new products and upgrades across its entire IP communications platform. Cisco Unified Communications System 6.0, the latest version of its product suite, includes new offerings that bolster its mobile communications capabilities, target SMB customers and add collaboration features.

On the mobility front, the vendor is rolling out the Cisco Unified Mobile Communicator, which enables users to access corporate communications applications and calling features from their mobile phones.

"We're introducing server and client capabilities that literally change how cell phones integrate into the environment," said Richard McLeod, director of unified communications solutions for worldwide channels at Cisco, San Jose, Calif.

One key element of Mobile Communicator is that it provides access to corporate directories, which lets mobile users see and share presence status across the organization. The offering is based on technology Cisco picked up when it acquired Orative last year and will be compatible with a variety of mobile platforms, including BlackBerry, Microsoft Windows Mobile, Symbian OS and BREW.

Cisco is also targeting SMB customers with a new single-server IP-PBX line dubbed Unified Communications Manager Business Edition that is aimed at customers with 100 to 500 employees. The IP communications platform combines Cisco's CallManager call control software, Unity Connection unified messaging application and MobilityManager Single Number Reach solution into one box.

A typical 100 to 150 user deployment will cost up to 25 percent less than a comparable rollout of Cisco's existing offerings "because we've compressed three servers into one," McLeod said.

Troubadour's Lurie said Business Edition will enable smaller customers to start small and then grow into larger solutions. "It's going to be pretty significant for us in our market now that we can offer an enterprise-class solution as a bundle," he said.

To boost its collaboration capabilities, Cisco is also launching Unified MeetingPlace 6.0, the latest version of its Web conferencing line. The update adds support for Flash-based content.

Next: Nortel, Avaya join the fray

Cisco's not alone in plans to upgrade its VoIP platform. Nortel Networks at the conference plans to unveil Communication Server (CS) 1000 5.0, the latest version of its IP-PBX platform. With the upgrade, scheduled for availability in the second quarter, Nortel is opening the platform to run on industry-standard hardware, a move that will give channel partners more deployment flexibility. It is also boosting call security features and enhancing the platform's E911 capabilities.

Toronto-based Nortel has already said it plans to roll out SIP integration between CS 1000 and Microsoft's Exchange Server 2007 Unified Messaging platform in the second quarter, the first scheduled deliverable from the Innovative Communications Alliance pact struck between the two vendors last summer.

Nortel is also adding integration to the IBM Lotus Notes messaging platform with its Multimedia Communication Server 5100 and rolling out Unified Messaging 2000, a high-end platform that enables voicemail, fax and e-mail access via common e-mail applications.

For its part, Avaya plans to launch at VoiceCon a new focus area dubbed Communications Enabled Business Processes. The idea is to tie communications into business processes and foster collaboration between the right people when problems arise.

"For example, if there's an issue in the production process [at a manufacturing plant], you have to reach the right people, send out the right information and bring them all together," said Lawrence Byrd, director of Communications Enabled Business Processes at Avaya, Basking Ridge, N.J.

Avaya's new Communications Process Manager is the software that sits in the middle and makes the whole thing work. It resides on a Linux server and ties Avaya's communications applications through Web services into a company's business processes. An optional Event Processor can monitor real-time data streams to automatically detect events, send out alerts and begin the communications process.

Throughout the year, Avaya plans to rollout training and information on the new solutions area to its channel partners, Byrd said. "They're going to have to think through which skills to bring on board and where they want to work with Avaya or [other] systems integrators," Byrd said.

For more on these and other products launching at the show, see CRN.com's VoiceCon slideshow.