Transition to IP Telephony Eased

3Com announces support for Citel handset gateway; Cisco adds voice mail bridge.

3Com Corp., Citel Technologies Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. are attempting to remove one of the biggest stumbling blocks that enterprises face when moving toward IP telephony: the lack of interoperability between old proprietary systems and IP-based ones.

3Com, of Santa Clara, Calif., last week became the first IP PBX vendor to support Citels recently announced Citellink IP Handset Gateway, which bridges the gap between legacy phones and newer IP PBX systems.

Citel offers a 16-port card to add the Citellink gateway to the chassis of 3Coms SuperStack 3 NBX and NBX 100 IP PBXes. Due this month, the card costs $2,000.

Separately, Cisco, of San Jose, Calif., earlier this month added the Cisco Unity Bridge 2.0 option to its Cisco Unity 3.1 unified messaging software. This adds support for traditional voice mail systems from within Unity 3.1. Unity Bridge 2.0 starts at $7,000 for the software or $18,490 for software and enabling hardware.

Seattle-based Citel estimates that enterprises have installed more than 300 million legacy telephone handsets.

Interstate Lumber and Mill Corp., in Greenwich, Conn., moved to IP telephony using 3Coms NBX system about three years ago. While it switched most of its legacy phones from multiple PBX vendors to 3Com IP-based ones, Interstate decided that not every person needed the features of more expensive IP phones, said Gary Schneidman, the companys controller, who oversees MIS. Schneidman welcomed additional capabilities to use non-IP phones, having already put minimally featured analog phones in places such as Interstates warehouse floor.

"It allows you to mix and match your handsets and cuts the expense when you dont need IP phones," Schneidman said. "Do you want to put a $300 phone in the warehouse? Our answer was, No, those people didnt need those types of phones."

The inability of many companies to use legacy handsets has slowed their moves to voice over IP because of the cost of replacing the phones and the difficulty of persuading end users to switch phones, said John Graven, president and chief operating officer of Computer Telephony Concepts Inc., which sells and implements IP telephony products.

"This [handset gateway feature] is like getting an aspirin for a lot of guys and lessens the pain of progress toward IP telephony," said Graven, in Mentor, Ohio.

The Citel and Cisco options are limited in their applicability. Citellink supports only 3Coms NBX IP PBXes and Nortel Network Corp.s Norstar phones. But the company is working on interoperability with the five leading legacy phone vendors. It expects to interoperate with multiple IP PBX vendors in the coming months, officials said.

Ciscos Unity Bridge 2.0 supports only Avaya Inc.s Octel system.

In related news, 3Com will make available at months end a system software upgrade for its NBX IP PBXes to double their capacity. With Release 4.1 of the software, 3Com is expanding its SuperStack 3 NBX to support as many as 1,500 devices, which are a combination of telephone handsets and central office telephony connections.

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