For Voice over IP to gain wide acceptance in the enterprise, system makers including Avaya, Cisco and Nortel should get into the hardware business.
True, these companies make the PBXs, switches and handsets needed to implement VoIP today. What they dont make is an integrated keyboard/telephone that can be attached to a desktop computer.
Fujitsu Siemens makes the KBPC M2. Its a multimedia monstrosity, but a decent example of what Im talking about: This device is a desktop computer keyboard with an integrated telephone handset. It comes loaded with a bunch of other components that are unnecessary for the purposes of VoIP, including built-in speakers.
Its interesting that the big IP telephony vendors dont make these devices. Afterall, even Microsoft—a software-only company if ever there was one—is an avid participant in the lowly keyboard and mouse market. Why? Likely because input devices that tie into specialized desktop OS features make good business sense.
Im surprised myself that I hadnt thought of this problem before. It took e-mail to make me think of it. I work in several offices throughout the day; I have a desk and desktop computer in a cube and a laptop that I use at my lab bench. Using the Web to access my e-mail, I stay connected wherever I have a keyboard. Id love to do the same thing with my telephone.
The applications that IP telephony vendors hype including unified messaging, "follow-me" extensions and advanced teleconferencing could all be readily accessed if there was a handset at every computer. Today there is a handset at most computers. Unfortunately for users, its still on a completely separate network.
Communication managers are naturally reluctant to chuck a perfectly good handset. However, things might change if inexpensive keyboards with integrated telephones started showing up with new computers.
As weve discussed previously online and in the print version of eWEEK, a crucial standard is coming up for approval that should lay a stable base for the deployment of VoIP services. The IEEE 802.3af PoE (Power over Ethernet) specification means the data network will now be able to rival the telephone network for reliable operation.
Hardware can solve the problems of making a single cable connection to the places that now require two, one for data, one for the telephone. Softphone clients are available now that would likely be much more useful if employees could pick up an integrated handset instead of having their conversation blared over a set of PC speakers.
The question of VoIP adoption may turn out to be answered by the telephony vendors reluctance to give up their proprietary handsets, a significant part of any phone system contract. Services and applications usually account for a greater percentage of revenue over time, but handsets are always a significant part of any telephone system contract.
Furthermore, handsets, and the applications they support, ensure that customers have little leverage over operational costs once a system is in place. Its usually too disruptive and too expensive to rip out and replace a proprietary phone system.
So far Ive left the politics of telecom vs. data out of the equation. Advances such as PoE and the insistence of traditional telephone system makers on a shift to VoIP mean that pressure will only build to consider a converged voice and data system.
Politics aside, it would be interesting to see if the introduction of something as simple as an inexpensive, integrated keyboard and telephone could spur the adoption of VoIP systems.
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