Microsoft Plans Small Biz Phone System

Microsoft on Monday took its latest jab at Cisco Systems with plans to ship a small-business VoIP phone system later this year.

The phone system, code-named "Response Point," is now in beta testing and will be available later this year via OEM partnerships with three hardware vendors: D-Link Systems, Quanta Computer and Uniden America.

The Response Point system supports VoIP as well as traditional phone lines and includes a voice-activated user interface, according to Microsoft.

The system "is going to bridge the gap between the telephone and your computer," said Kevin Turner, COO of Microsoft, according to a transcript of his keynote remarks Monday during the Microsoft Small Business Summit 2007 at the company's Redmond, Wash., headquarters.

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The disclosure of the forthcoming product launch is the latest in a series of barbs traded between Microsoft and sometimes-friend, sometimes-foe Cisco as both companies work to establish dominance in the unified communications market.

Last week Microsoft unveiled plans to buy voice services player TellMe Networks in a deal valued by outside estimates at $800 million, only to be trumped the next day by Cisco's $3.2 billion agreement to purchase collaboration services vendor WebEx Communications.

Microsoft and San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco both partner and compete with other in the unified communications market. Cisco is one of several IP telephony players to offer interoperability with Microsoft's messaging and communications applications. But it was Nortel Networks that got the nod to team with Microsoft last summer to form the Innovative Communications Alliance, a deep partnership that involves joint development, marketing, sales and services activities.

Cisco offers SMB-focused VoIP wares via its Unified Communications Manager Express product line and also through its Linksys subsidiary.

NEXT: D-Link's channel plans

D-Link, one of the OEM partners that will be selling products based on the Response Point software, plans to offer the forthcoming wares through its existing VAR and distribution channels, said Brian Nickell, product manager at D-Link, Fountain Valley, Calif. There are no current plans to sell through retail channels, he said.

For channel partners, the new product line -- which will carry an as-yet-undetermined D-Link product family name -- represents a solution that is easy to sell and implement, Nickell said.

"It's literally plug-and-play," Nickell said. "You plug in the base unit, the phones and the ATA gateway, and the base unit discovers everything on its own."

The system also includes voicemail, auto-attendant and speech-recognition features that allow users to place calls, tap into voice mail and initiate call transfers without dialing in codes or memorizing key sequences, Nickel said.

"[Microsoft has] taken all of the headaches out of the phone system and made it easy to use," Nickell said.

D-Link plans to offer bundles that will include the D-Link DVX 2000-MF base unit, a gateway and five to ten IP desktop phones, targeting customers with up to 20 to 25 users. The company is looking to offer a system for larger users sometime in the future, he said.

Pricing for the forthcoming system, which will enter beta testing with D-Link partners and customers in April, has not yet been set. The company expects to begin shipping systems in the July/August timeframe, he said.