Microsoft's Small Business VoIP Fails To Impress

Response Point, a small business VoIP system for companies with up to 50 employees, consists of software from Microsoft and phones from D-Link, Uniden and Quanta. Version 1.0 of Response Point is currently in beta 2 and is running the full feature set.

However, after getting first hand look at Response Point at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Denver last week, one partner said he came away "thoroughly unimpressed."

"From a telephony point of view, it's a disappointment. It doesn't support T1 trunking, which is important, even for small businesses," said the Microsoft partner, who requested anonymity. "All it does support is regular POTS (plain old telephone service), which isn't a long term solution for most businesses because there's no growth path."

Response Point's lack of support for remote extensions, a feature that allows employees to be contacted on their office extension while they're working from home or traveling, is another glaring omission in version 1.0, said the source.

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"There's no reason for a vendor with a semi-functional VoIP product to expect any level of acceptance in the market," the source said

Another Microsoft partner who attended the Response Point breakout sessions at the partner conference said several partners asked Microsoft executives about the dearth of features in version 1.0, and when they might be added in the future.

However, Microsoft executives deflected the partners questions, said the source. "They said they want us to focus on the product that's out there right now, and not the future. I thought that response was [puzzling]," the source said.

Response Point, formerly known as 'Edinburgh,' is designed to be easy to use and manage, said Jeff Smith, senior product manager in Microsoft's Response Point group. "It supports VoIP and traditional phone systems, and the underlying software is all Microsoft," he said.

The small business segment is largely untapped because only a third of small businesses have any phone system, Smith said. "These companies typically don't have the technical expertise to manage phone system, and don't have the capital to buy a PBX or key system," said Smith.

Response Point is a favorite project of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who in March announced the product in a video presentation to attendees of the Small Business Summit in Redmond.

Despite the shortcomings of Response Point version 1.0, channel partners still stand to benefit from the rising interest in VoIP in the small business space.

VARs can earn margin on hardware, installation, and by managing the system remotely, Smith said. "In a typical 20 employee scenario, there's an opportunity for $3,400 in annual income that accrues directly to the partner," Smith said.

Microsoft plans to launch Response Point launch later this year, and has yet to disclose pricing.