Polycom Unveils Next-Generation IP Conference Phones

Polycom is out to show that the conference room shouldn't be forgotten when it comes to IP deployments.

On Tuesday, the Pleasanton, Calif.-based voice vendor unveiled two new models of its SoundStation IP conference phones, adding in features like high definition voice and revamping their look to give the conference room a more sleek and stylish appearance.

Brian Phillips, Polycom's senior marketing manager, said the new SoundStation IP 6000 and IP 7000 conference phones mark the third wave of such phones for the vendor. With the introduction, Phillips said, Polycom is "shattering the IP barrier."

Polycom's latest IP conference endpoints come at a time when IP deployments are moving ahead full force. A recent VoIP study by IDC found that more than 80 percent of telephony lines and ports are expected to deploy IP this year, which is a 27 percent growth over 2007.

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The IP 6000 and 7000 are the first conference phones from Polycom to integrate both open SIP with high definition voice, which is capable of delivering CD quality 22 KHz audio. The latest endpoints feature Polycom's own HD Voice and patented Acoustic Clarity Technology for clarity and voice quality, which can lead to more productive conference calls. Most traditional conference phones offer audio quality of about 7 KHz.

Operating in HD, Phillips said, eliminates certain sounds or syllables dropping out during the course of a conversation. Those drops, he said, often go unnoticed because the "brain fills in the gaps of what our ears aren't hearing." HD voice technology, however, uses wideband codecs and enhanced audio processing to offer a crisp, loss-free sound.

The SoundStation IP 7000 features HD Voice with up to 22 KHz of CD-quality audio. It also features a new, large display with an XHTML micro-browser for IP applications, which can transform the phone into an application platform for the conference room, letting run both Polycom and third-party applications. Corporate directory access, such as LDAP and Active Directory, and three-way visual conferencing applications are included on the phone. The conferencing application lets users see, add and delete participants, along with allowing users to put participants on hold or mute them. The 7000, which lists for $1,299, also offers multi-unit connectivity, which means two units can be daisy-chained together to give the phone a further reach, greater microphone pickup, louder volume, and multiple call control points from within on conference room. The phone also offers 20 feet of microphone pickup range, meaning participants up to 20 feet away can be head on the call. Coverage can also be extended through optional expansion microphones, Phillips said.

The expansion microphones, Phillips said, extend the reach of the speaker and the receiver, eliminating the need for participants further down the conference table or in other parts of the room to lean or hover over the unit or have to slide it across the table and closer to them.

The SoundStation IP 6000 features HD Voice with up to 14 KHz audio from a clarity and intelligibility boost. The 600 has a microphone pickup range of about 12 feet, making it ideal for small and mid-sized conference rooms. Like the 7000, the IP 6000 can have greater range with the addition of optional expansion microphones, Phillips said.

The 6000, which lists for $899, also features a high quality backlit display for call information and multi-language support.

NEXT: More New Features

The SoundStation IP 6000, which is designed for smaller conferencing rooms, can be delivered as an affordable option to SMBs that may not have had the budget to install IP phones in conference rooms in the past, Phillips said.

"In the past, you had to pay a real premium," he said.

Other features of next generation phones include echo cancellation and noise suppression. They also offer shielding to prevent that obnoxious "BlackBerry buzz" that can occur when someone's smartphone or PDA is too close to the unit, Philips said.

And when Polycom launches the HDX line of videoconferencing later this year, Phillips said the IP 7000 will integrate with that.

Both devices feature Power over Ethernet (PoE) meaning they can be connected with one wire, not requiring a separate cable for power and connectivity. Both also feature an option port that allows a conference phone to be plugged into a mobile phone or into a PC so others can join a call at a moment's notice.

According to Phillips, VARs can offer conference room units as a complement to IP handsets when they're engaging a customer.

"Sometimes the conference room gets forgotten about," Phillips said. "For resellers, it gives them an additional revenue stream. They can say to a client, 'Don't forget the conference rooms.'"

Garrett Smith, director of marketing and business development for VoIP Supply, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based voice solution provider, agreed, and said Polycom's attention to detail in this space has given resellers confidence in its gear.

"For the longest time, Polycom's been known as a leader in this space," he said. "With this release they really listened to the end customer and reseller."

Smith said a huge pet peeve of his client base is the amount of cords running in a conference room, which can take away from the professional aesthetic. Adding PoE to the new units, Smith said, solves that problem in one fell swoop. He added that LCD screens also make the units more attractive and easier to use. He said conference phones have been plagued by "little inconveniences," like having to run a wall outlet and figuring out how to get the unit to the center of the table.

The 7000, Smith said, increases voice pickup no matter where the unit is in the room, solving the problem of having to "scoot down or lean over to get closer to the unit."

The increased range, PoE, LCD screens and extension microphones alone are going to make the devices an easy sell, Smith said.

"It's not just the HD voice and the cool starfish design, it's the subtle nuances," Smith said. "Those little things for resellers are important and it shows that [Polycom is] listening to what we have to say."

Smith said it was easy to sell the first IP conference phone model, the Polycom SoundStation IP 4000. The addition of the 6000 and 7000 to the lineup, Smith said, should be just as easy because of the new features.

Smith added that the price points will also make it an easy sale. He said $899 for the IP 6000 and $1,299 for the IP 7000 make them IP options with prices comparable to traditional, non-IP conference phones.

"They brought out a substantial product and it doesn't cost much more than traditional conference phones," he said. "Before, Polycom won a lot of business because they're good and they're taking those products and making them even better. It's a win-win situation for everybody involved."