Four years into its IP telecom offering, Equant, an IP VPN data networking subsidiary of France Telecom, is lowering its off-net international calling rates and expanding the range of IP PBXs with which it can integrate.
Customer sites with traditional, circuit-switched PBXs can join Paris-based Equants IP network and pipe voice through supplied Cisco voice-enabled routers, installed on-site.
While Cisco Systems Inc.s Call Manager was the only IP PBX supported in this offering at first—mandating gateways for others—Equant has now expanded this to include interoperability with Nortel Networks Ltd.s BCM IP PBXs.
Avaya Inc.s IP platforms are now going through tests and are due for support in the third quarter of 2004.
With IP PBX integration, Equant can work signaling down to the desktop level, integrate with remote extensions off that IP PBX, share LDAP directories and the like. Without IP end-to-end, calls can still be set up and transferred, and information such as caller ID is still passed through QSIG signaling.
Equant reports that demand for its VOIP VPN service has grown 85 percent in the past 12 months, going from 700 to 1,300 customer sites across more than 130 multinational corporations.
More than 10 percent of its data networking customers ship voice across their lines as well, using the networks MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) routing technology for QOS (quality of service).
Equants market niche is particularly strong among multinational corporations, which can use Equants service to link up a multivendor collection of TDM (traditional) PBXs, IP PBXs and IP-enabled PBXs in one network, with one global dial plan. Equants centralized gatekeeper/softswitch also permits such global functions as blacklisting and whitelisting.
Customers realize international toll savings by removing all per-minute costs between network endpoints and by using Equants VOIP gateways to hop off onto the local PSTN in more than 93 countries, including China, India and Russia. Off-net traffic can reach any dialable phone in 220 countries, however, and ships, planes and trains via INMARSAT satellite.
With this announcement, international off-net calling rates have been lowered an average of 30 percent. Calls to the top 20 countries—which represent 90 percent of the worlds traffic according to TeleGeography Research Group, a division of Primetrica Inc.—were reduced by as much as 50 percent.
Equants pricing for off-net calls is directly tied to the LEC (local exchange carrier) termination fees that they must pay. Any call that terminates in the United States, for example, lists at 2.8 cents per minute after the announced price drop. Calls to Canada go for 3.9 cents; to New Zealand, 5.3 cents; and to Korea, 7.2 cents. Country-specific discount packages are available.
"When companies create virtual PBXs [by linking up their switches] using various trunks, they wind up with several issues," said Wayne Kilburn, senior specialist of convergence at Equant.
"They must change dialing plans in each switch, and they run into transmission issues because often, theyre tandeming through several PBXs to get to the desired one," Kilburn said.
"By using our gatekeeper in the center of the IP cloud and being able to communicate with all of these dissimilar PBXs–IP or TDM–and maintaining the dial plan in our gatekeeper, we eliminate these issues."
Kilburn said more than 10 percent of Equants customers are also using their VPNs to make point-to-point video calls. A multipoint bridging service is also offered by the service provider.