Vendors Plot IP Strategies

Telecommunications carriers and companies needing voice networking differ on use of PBX vs. IP

Many telecommunications vendors contend that IP is hot, but businesses that depend on voice networking remain lukewarm to the idea.

Nortel Networks Corp., of Brampton, Ontario, advocates a cautious approach to replacing traditional PBX systems with IP systems. "We support change, but we do it in an evolutionary way," said Phil Edholm, chief technology officer and vice president of network architecture enterprise solutions.

Speaking at the VoiceCon2001 conference in Washington, Edholm said IP telephony is "pretty much a walkie-talkie" and that it does not yet provide the quality and reliability necessary for most business needs.

Taking a much more aggressive approach, Cisco Systems Inc. is encouraging businesses to begin migrating to IP in the normal course of equipment upgrades and in expanding into branch offices. "IP telephony is absolutely ready for prime time," said Peter Alexander, vice president of enterprise marketing in San Jose, Calif. "What were seeing is a classic market transition debate. We will see legacy players continue to want to sell you PBXs because thats what theyve got."

As manufacturers debate the details of IP implementation, few of the IT professionals attending last weeks conference appeared convinced of the value of upgrading to IP in the near term. "I havent heard a single motivating reason to do this," said a utility company technology specialist, who asked not to be named. "It is a radical change. Im probably going to set something up in a lab, but thats as far as I anticipate going—this year anyway."

From the perspective of vendors, IP networks can increase a companys productivity and provide enhanced e-business applications. Last week, Avaya Inc. rolled out software for its ECLIPS (Enterprise Class IP Solutions) product, which extends incoming call features to the public cellular network, allowing employees to be reached via one business telephone number wherever they are. Avaya also launched an evaluation service, called the Basic Network Readiness Assessment Offer, to make sure a network can support voice-over-IP applications.

Vendors disagree on how enterprises will gain access to IP services. Avaya, in Basking Ridge, N.J., is targeting the user, promoting the customization and control of an in-house network. "Service providers have never really figured out how to create a rich relationship with the enterprise," Michael Dennis, vice president of Avayas worldwide operations and services, said.

Others, including Nortel, are concentrating on service providers as the main channel to businesses. "In the long term, theres a significant probability that service management platforms will migrate out of the enterprise and into the service provider space," Nortels Edholm said.