3Com Makes the Call

Company primes partners for IP telephony, solves scalability issues.

3Com is priming partners with an IP telephony product that the company contends hits the sweet spot of the telephone system market.

The company this month began customer shipments of its SuperStack 3 NBX networked telephony product, which is available only through authorized resellers.

The SuperStack 3 NBX, which supports up to 600 telephone users, provides a scalability boost to a product line that had topped out at 200 users. The company will continue to sell its NBX 100 (200-user system) and NBX 25 (25-user system), which also sell exclusively through partners.

Greg Zweig, 3Coms NBX product manager, says the NBXs newly expanded range places the product in a large market. "If you look at the number of new telephone systems sold, the vast majority are under 400 [-user] stations," he says, noting that the number of annual decisions made on 1,000-plus phone systems is small.

"Most of the opportunities are at the smaller end, and for most resellers thats probably true, as well," Zweig contends.

Customer decisions to purchase NBX gear have risen, giving 3Com something to cheer about at a time of economic hardship. NBX sales increased 138 percent from 1999 to 2000.

NetTeks, a Boston-area consulting firm, has experienced growth in its 3Com telephony business. The company has done 50 NBX installations over the past 18 months. Overall, IP telephony represents 25 percent to 30 percent of NetTeks business. Ethan Simmons, a partner at NetTeks, says the SuperStack 3 NBX is a good move for 3Com due to the scalability issue.

Simmons, whose company shifted into telephony from data services, says he may encounter more requests for ongoing support on the voice side. He says the company typically talks through issues—customers wanting to change extensions, etc.—on the phone or provides remote administration via the Internet.

Jeff Pulver, president and CEO of Pulver.com, an IP communications analysis firm, suggests companies in the IP telephony space need to focus on what problems the technology can solve, rather than how many lines represent the target market.

"Those companies which sell based on technology and not based on features/functionality lose in the end," says Pulver. "Enterprise iPBXs eventually will be huge in environments which have large amounts of [moves/adds/changes] on a monthly basis, like the financial services industry."

3Com, meanwhile, is making training available to current and prospective telephony resellers. A number of online courses are available through 3Com University. Distributors Alltel Communications Products and Graybar also offer training for 3Coms telephony gear.

In tough times, a telephony training bet may be as safe as any. After all, customers have to have phones.