Comdials Latest PBX Joins the SIP Stack

By Ellen Muraskin  |  Posted 2004-07-02

Comdials Latest PBX Joins the SIP Stack

I saw some high-end, feature-rich, browser-directable SIP phones at Supercomm last week, those exploiting the favored Session Initiation Protocol for VOIP. They all made use of presence awareness, and integrated with IM, conferencing, and other applications. Ill get around to describing them, seen at Siemens Information and Communication Networks Inc.s and Alcatels exhibits.

First, though, Im a little more tickled at the SIP product announcements from little Comdial Corporation, Sarasota, Fla.-based makers of PBXs for small to mid-sized businesses. They sell strictly through channel partners, have been particularly popular with hotels and hospitals, and have now come out with a SIP-based product line that combines PBX with SIP soft phone, hard phones, instant messaging and video calling. Theyve dubbed it the CONVERSip MP5000 Media Platform.

Mindful of its resellers CAPEX-resistant customers, Comdial has devised a component sales strategy that preserves existing Comdial investment wherever possible: in digital phone sets, the line cards they tie into, preexisting H.323 gateways, and even cabinet.

The MP5000 can be implemented in the FX II late-model Comdial PBX with as little an upgrade as a new processor blade. The MP5000 SIP Server Blade replaces the processor blade in the FX II platform and will sell for about $1,500, says Mark Lindsay, marketing VP at Comdial. The MP5000 SIP Server License, required to turn up SIP features, runs another $500.

Lindsay notes that if all a customer wants to do is let remote or traveling workers talk to each other or video PC-to-PC over broadband data links, this blade, plus Comdials EP200 Windows XP client (image at right), will set up the peer-to-peer connection. (Theyll have to VPN into the enterprise network first, he adds, to get behind the firewall.)

Theres also a hardware SIP phone, the EP300. Street price, with software license: $400.

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A customer, however, will more likely want those SIP-packing road warriors to communicate with the folks still using traditional, Comdial digital sets, rather than shell out $250 apiece to replace everyones desktop phone. In that case – and to let the SIPsters dial out to the PSTN world at large – the enterprise will also need a gateway blade. The good news is, those who invested in Comdials previous gateway (presumably based on the H.323 protocol), need only install a SIP software upgrade to the currently installed blade. A 12-Channel Gateway Blade runs $2,000, and a two-channel license -- required for IP-TDM gateway calls -- will go for around $160.

The MP5000 confers all the benefits of IP telephony for the SMB: its a multi-site play, allowing firms and remote workers to route voice communication along data lines, feel connected like any other on-site extension, cut long distance costs and consolidate PSTN charges at one PBX. It offers web-based call-rerouting, click-to-dial, message retrieval, adds, moves, changes, and presence (in other words, is Joe Coworker available, and via phone or IM?).

The MP5000 is also aimed at the informal contact center market, with the addition of a contact center application. And it plugs into your Ethernet LAN, as do its phones. While traditional, digital Comdial phones run $150, says Lindsay, they also require a $75 station card in the switch cabinet. The SIP phones may run higher, but they dont require that card in addition, only a software license.

Of course, it keeps the bells and whistles PBX users have come to know, including voice mail, auto attendant, caller ID, speed dials, redials, call detail recording (for seeing who calls whom, and how much), message waiting lights, music-on-hold, and three-party conferencing.

Comdial customers with the previous generations PBX can also take an evolutionary path, replacing cabinet, getting MP5000 processor blade, and keeping preexisting line cards and digital phones. With gateway, the CONVERSip switches between SIP and TDM endpoints interchangeably.

For those whose Comdial PBXs date too far back for upgrade, theres one last, and still very important, consolation: the old phones still work. The phones are frequently 50% or more of a business phone system cost, notes Lindsay.

The MP5000 supports up to 480 digital endpoints, 480 analog endpoints, and up to 400 SIP endpoints with extra memory modules. On the trunk side, it will gateway out to as many as 240 lines, and it comes with conferencing for seven. A smaller, branch-office version, the MP1000, supports up to 1000 SIP endpoints, and includes eight gateway ports to the PSTN.

The phones and the phone client dont quite have the feature richness of a Siemens or Alcatel high-end phone, but they sell for less. They have a lot of the core IP benefits: an enterprise IM interface that also does voice and video, hooks up to other Comdial endpoints (as well as other SIP endpoints, Lindsay says), and may compete very nicely with the small-office offerings of Cisco, Nortel, and Avaya, as well as other, strictly SMB lines. And they allow existing Comdial customers to join the SIP party in an incremental way; "incremental upgrade" being the mantra of all VOIP hardware purveyors.

Lindsay notes that his reseller network, like the VOIP technology itself, has "converged" two formerly separate channels: the traditional telecom interconnect company with data VARs. Comdial has qualified some 25 percent of its resellers for its "convergence readiness" program, which will require completion of the Convergence Technologies Professional (CTP) certification program administered by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). This will equip Comdial resellers, Lindsay says, with the skills to sell and support CONVERSip products.

Check out eWEEK.coms VOIP & Telephony Center at for the latest news, views and analysis on voice over IP and telephony.a

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