Nortel Giving Voice to the Enterprise

The Canadian network equipment maker on Wednesday announced two new product offerings to link enterprise contact centers to their customers via voice or telephone 24 hours a day.

Nortel Networks Corp. on Wednesday announced two new product offerings to link enterprise contact centers to their customers via voice or telephone 24 hours a day.

The new products are Interactive Voice Response (IVR) platforms featuring scalable hardware and software, employing Nortels PeriWorks graphical user interface tools.

Nortel already offers a similar mid-market product with the Periphonics VPS/is, but the two new products are aimed, respectively, at smaller enterprise customers and very large enterprise and service provider customers, and both products add features designed to keep up with the evolution of telephony, Nortel officials noted.

That includes new voice-over IP capabilities, compliant with the H323 speech protocol. Nortel will make the higher-end product compatible with the new SIP protocol as well, which is important to telecom carriers.

The new products can be combined with an existing VPS/is system and managed through the same tools.

The smaller product is the Media Processing Server 100, aimed at small- to medium-sized enterprises. Its applications facilitate computer telephony integration (CTI) using a browser-based interface on a Windows platform. MPS 100 also allows remote management, greatly reducing the need for on-site support, Nortel officials said. The system supports between 12 and 96 ports, and fits on a standard 19-inch rack.

Pricing will fall somewhere between $1500-2000 per port when the product becomes generally available April 1, said Debora Glennon, Nortels director of enterprise marketing.

The new system is currently being tested out by Chrysalis Software, Inc., a provider of software and services to enterprises that use Nortels products, to develop customized applications for Chrysalis customers, and to monitor various IVR platforms it operates around the United States.

The larger product offering is the Media Processing Server 1000, for large enterprises and telecommunications service providers.

This product is for "mission-critical" installations that must continuously be available. MPS 1000 supports from 96 ports to "tens of thousands" in a single system cluster, said Lynne McCready, Nortels manager of voice portal solutions.

The system runs on Unix, the favored platform of Nortels larger customers right now, but Nortel is also working on a Windows-based platform, said McCready.

One of the advantages of the product, said McCready, is its compact architecture, requiring only one-eighth the floor space of the VPS/is and similar competing systems, reducing real estate, power and maintenance costs. It is not designed to replace the VPS/is, she noted, but is being aimed at a high-end customer, such as a large service provider, with dramatic needs.

The MPS 1000 combines the IVR capability with the ability to switch calls. It also supports both Voice-over-IP and T1 in the same cabinet. "Customers that want to do a gradual migration to IP, theyre not tied to having to purchase one box or the other, we can combine both together," said McCready

The MPS 1000 also reduces hardware and monthly trunking costs. "In the architectural design of the switch, any port in the IVR can hook up to any other port within the entire system," said McCready. "Its not like a port-to-port within a cabinet – and [one can] connect to any of the shared resources."

The MPS 1000 will cost between $1200 to $2000 per port, said Glennon, and will also become generally available April 1.

Currently, Scandanavias Telia Telecom is giving the MPS 1000 a trial run. It is handling service calls to process PIN numbers, and providing pricing information and an interactive menu to the customer. The MPS 1000 can forward customer service calls to either an e-mail server or a partner content provider for further service. Nortel said the installation for this system took two days.

Sheila McGee-Smith, president of McGee-Smith Analytics in Pittstown, New Jersey, said the new Nortel products compare well to current market offerings.

"The MPS 100 goes lower in size, down to 12 ports, competitively priced, better than market leader Intervoice, which really starts at 48 ports," said McGee-Smith. "So, for a smaller application, the MPS 100, competitively priced, youre not buying more than you need, its a nice solution for a lot of small- to medium-sized enterprises."

As to the MPS 1000, "there are few competitors that really go high-end, carrier-grade well," said McGee-Smith. Nortels Periphonics product line has led in that market, said McGee-Smith, and they are reinvesting in it. "They are taking it to the next-generation, using more current technology to take footprint down, and physical size of the system, and so its a good way to maintain a leadership position in the carrier space."

On the enterprise level, huge television-driven IVR businesses like the Home Shopping Network, airline reservation systems, or utilities would come to mind for the MPS 1000, said McGee-Smith, but the real key is the future that Nortel is trying to prepare for with this product.

"I think part of the opportunity comes in the future of the MPS 1000 platform, that its not just IVR, though in the short-term thats the positioning, but longer-term its more of a self-service routing engine," for moving e-mail, Web-based and other kinds of self service, she said.

"They are built from the get-go to transition to an IP environment," including having application-development and reporting tools already in place, unlike competitors such as Cicso, she said.