Alcatel Embraces VOIP

IP telephony application to gain support for IMAP4.

Unified messaging has yet to be embraced by most IT shops because of its complexity and cost. But Alcatel S.A., a relative newcomer to IP telephony in North America, will try to change that with new IMAP4 support in its Linux-based OmniPCX Enterprise software.

Alcatels eBusiness Networking Division next week will introduce an upgrade to its IP telephony software that allows end users to access voice mail from a standard browser or a Microsoft Corp. Outlook/Exchange in-box without the need for client software.

The telephony software, which runs on existing Alcatel hardware or third-party hardware such as IBMs eServer xSeries, reduces the deployment time required for such integrated messaging—especially for mobile workers, said company officials.

Few IP telephony providers have implemented IMAP4, although market leader Avaya Inc. offers it on its Avaya Modular Messaging. And while Alcatels integration is not true unified messaging, the Paris-based company is working to deliver that capability next year.

"They are behind in that sense, although customers arent clamoring for it," said Brian Riggs, an analyst at Current Analysis Inc., in Sterling, Va. "Holding [widespread adoption] back is the fact that the technology is very complicated."

Unified messaging will drive further adoption of IP telephony and is gaining traction with branch offices and at-home workers, said Lawrence Byrd, convergence strategist at Avaya, in Milpitas, Calif.

Users at the Kennewick School District, in Kennewick, Wash., which is deploying 1,500 IP phones throughout the district, find IMAP4 support a big help in communicating with parents, according to Ron Cone, executive director of IT. "Well put the link off our Web site so teachers can retrieve voice mail. Were trying to be proactive and get back to parents in a timely way. With this in the new release, well deploy it for everybody."

Alcatels OmniPCX Enterprise Release 5.1 also brings together cell phones with the IP PBX, allowing a cell phone number to be associated with the system so that it can operate as an extension of the IP telephony offering.

The end user still has to have a cell phone contract and incurs air-time charges, but OmniPCX Enterprise 5.1 is a simple way to create that coupling and allow cell phone access to more services, officials said.

The new OmniPCX release, which also adds automatic virtual LAN assignment for IP phones, is available now.