AT&T is offering businesses VOIP trunking—and presumably offnet gatewaying to the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) —through its MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) IP backbone. Where this involves acquisition of new customer premise equipment, it is selling Avaya Communications Manger IP PBX, media servers, SIP servers, messaging and call center applications, and phones.
In another full-circle development, Avaya—spun out of Lucent in the late 90s to take over the enterprise part of its voice switching line—is entering the service-provider realm.
Specifically, Avaya is beginning to offer service providers hosting platforms for IP call switching and contact centers. Initial hosting customers are in France and Italy, where Avaya has little of its traditional CPE (Customer Premise Equipment) market to lose. Announcements with U.S. service provider customers are due within a week, according to Avaya marketing officials.
Hosted switching for multimedia contact centers takes the capital investment out of switching and routing calls to agents. In an IP multimedia contact center, it forwards calls to phones or softphones at the enterprise, and often off-site, at other broadband-equipped locations.
Customer Interaction Suite, Avayas contact-center software, combines voice call routing with instant messaging and e-mail, as agents in tech support or customer service are increasingly dealing with all of these media.
A contact center using this hosted model may stick with its Avaya digital phones, Avaya IP phones, softphones, or even Wi-Fi phones, according to Kevin Crawford, who was manning Avayas booth. Come next month, this hosted service also will work with the Motorola dual-mode CN620 phone, which switches from Wi-Fi to cell phone as it leaves the range of voice-enabled access points.
These access points, made by Proxim, are also part of Avayas CPE solution. The service provider, for its part, would host the Avaya Communications Manager software-based switch, which holds and bridges the two modes of the call, so that the user can move seamlessly from one to the other.
Even without the CN620, however, an Avaya phone user can move from extension to cell without dropping a call, as Crawford demonstrated. "Say youre on your phone at your desk and its five oclock, and you have to get out before traffic gets really bad," he said.
Pressing an "extend call" button on that phone (or clicking on the softphone equivalent, presented onscreen) creates that call simultaneously on your cell, because youve configured it to do that. You can hang up the extension and pick up the call on the cell, without missing a word. The other end need not know theyre now accompanying you to the parking lot.
This bridging technique, as well as many other IP telephony features, is available to users whether the Avaya Communications Manager and its Converged Communications Server (its SIP server) reside with a host or on premise.
But one of the great appeals of the hosted model for contact centers is the just-in-time availability of agent endpoints. Crawford drew the scenario of a contact center that needs extra agent seats just in time for the Christmas rush; on a hosted model, it can pay for those extra ports of calling only when needed.
The partnership between AT&T and Avaya is not exclusive on either end. Avaya will certainly cell CPE to enterprises using other service providers, and AT&T will certainly cell its IP services to those with other customer premise equipment. In a marketplace full of new names in CPE and hosted IP telephony platforms, many will be watching to see how large a share of the market these trusted, old telecom names can keep—and at what price points.