Net6 Appliance Brings Apps to Phones

Gateway adapts application interfaces for viewing on screens of IP telephones.

For startup Net6 Inc., IP telephony means more than converging voice, data and video on a single network. Its also about bringing all kinds of enterprise applications directly to the telephone.

Net6, of San Jose, Calif., this week is introducing a network appliance that delivers data from applications with HTML and XML interfaces to the screens of IP phones. Called the Telephony Transformation Gateway, the appliance re- purposes the user interfaces of the applications so that they can be viewed on screens that vary in size, color and protocol among vendors.

"Changing and transforming applications to suit a variety of devices shouldnt be done in back-end middleware software and with custom software applications but with a network appliance," Net6 CEO Murli Thirumale said. "What weve done is changed the equation."

The Telephony Transformation Gateway works at Layer 6 of the network, known as the presentation layer, and alleviates the need for rerouting application data through middleware or writing custom programming, officials said.

Net6 officials see two main uses for the gateway. One could be to bring simple access to the IP phones that users already have.

These could provide corporate directories or business dashboards with key company statistics such as stock prices or performance indicators.

Second, the gateway enables IP phones to access more complex applications such as Microsoft Corp.s Exchange for e-mail, contacts or a calendar for users who dont have access to a PC.

Net6s goal is to provide a network appliance that bridges the interoperability gap among vendors IP phones and enterprise applications. But in the initial release, the Telephony Transformation Gateway supports only Polycom Inc.s SoundPoint IP phone.

Net6s ability to add more supported phones is important, since users say compatibility with multiple vendors phones and IP PBX systems is a common problem when deploying VOIP (voice over IP).

"The biggest thing is compatibility," said Chris Martin, WAN engineer at the Northwest Regional Education Service District, in Beaverton, Ore. "It often comes down to the phones you buy. Applications are so proprietary that theres not anything out there that supports everything."

Martin is assisting one of the districts schools in deploying VOIP and said that the ability to access features of collaborative applications such as a directory and e-mail would be useful. But the district runs Novell Inc.s GroupWise, and Martin said he hasnt found third parties offering support for that collaborative application on IP phones.

The technology behind the Telephony Transformation Gateway comes from Net6s initial product, the Content Mobility Engine, released last year.

That network appliance not only provides access from enterprise applications to IP phones but also to mobile devices, officials said.

Net6 also resells the technology to other vendors. The company has a deal with Cisco Systems Inc. to include its technology in Ciscos Content Transformation Engine 1400.

Net6 is working with other telephony equipment makers to add support for their IP phones in the gateway or resell the technology for inclusion in the vendors products, officials said.

Pricing for the Telephony Transformation Gateway, available now, starts at $7,995 with support for up to 10 phones. Each appliance can support as many as 1,000 IP phones with the price increasing accordingly.