Atlanta-based BellSouth, one of the United States four remaining regional Bell operating companies, has added more weight to its VOIP portfolio this week with announced trials of a business-class IP Centrex offering.
The trials will begin in Columbia, S.C., and Miami, with more Southeast rollouts later this year, the company said.
BellSouth Corp. a month ago launched IP-enabled Centrex, which some call Centrex IP.
An offering to the carriers existing Centrex customer base—and one that the company has extended this week to its non-Centrex customers—it gave analog phone users access to IP telephony features such as Web-based click-to-dial, call forwarding, call logs, multisite calling plans, conferencing, remote dial access and unified messaging.
It was made possible, in BellSouths case, by the network deployment of the iMerge platform by Murray Hill, N.J.-based Lucent Technologies, which works alongside a traditional Central Office Class 5 switch.
The Class 5, to which all local PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) customers are tethered, switches local calls, tandems out to other switching offices and supplies calling features for both single-line and Centrex customers.
The Lucent iMerge platform gateways the TDM (time-division multiplexing) traffic out from the Class 5 to the IP network, merging it into the same dial plan with customers new IP-based sites, if desired, and “merging” the new IP sites into a hybrid IP-PSTN enterprise. Everyone gets uniform Centrex features and IP, Web-based control.
BellSouth this week extended that offer to its non-Centrex customers. Deployment in this case will vary widely with the customer, ranging from one- and two-line gateways for analog phones to the replacement of digital phone systems with IP phones, to installing on-prem gateways between existing PBX and the carrier.
For this service–true IP Centrex–soft switching and IP-to-PSTN gatewaying will be performed by a newly installed Siemens SURPASS hiQ softswitch and SURPASS hiG media gateway, from Siemens Network Convergence LLC, based in Chelmsford, Mass.
Like AT&T, BellSouth has integrated MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) into its network core and edge for prioritizing voice traffic across its IP backbone and supporting service-level agreements regarding quality of service and incremental speed options.
Todd Smith, a BellSouth spokesman, said he expects pricing for IP Centrex to be competitive with traditional calling services. “Most of the cost involved, like with any IP migration, is upfront,” he said.
“We found, talking to our customers, it costs an average of $600 to $1,000 per user to upgrade to VOIP in the enterprise [if you switch to an IP PBX], just because you often have to upgrade your WAN and enable voice prioritization,” Smith said.
“A large reason for this announcement is so business customers, as they look at migrating to IP—whether its immediate or a few years down the road—know that we have a full portfolio of options. A lot are exploring and looking for counsel on how to move forward.”