BellSouth has begun selling Nortel Networks Multimedia Communication Server 5100, an SIP (Session Initiation Protocol)-based platform that ties dispersed enterprise workers together over broadband IP. The server distributes presence-aware telephony, video, instant messaging, file sharing, whiteboarding and application collaboration across the enterprise WAN.
The MCS 5100 will be aimed primarily at BellSouths existing and potential Nortel-equipped customers in its nine-state southeastern region of the United States, said Dean Walker, senior product manager at BellSouth. The RBOC (regional Bell operating company) has a 15- to 20-year history as a major channel partner for the PBX vendor, he said.
The new server will work most seamlessly when directly SIP-connected with Nortels 4.0 release of its Communication Server IP PBX (aka Succession, and still called Meridian by many), announced in September. Release 4.0 of the CS will allow the MCS to show the on- or off-hook status of buddies, even if that buddys desktop phone is a legacy digital one.
The MCS also will work with TDM (time-division multiplexing) versions of the Meridian PBX, and even with the phone switches of Nortels competitors. In Succession PBXes of Release 3.0 and earlier, the server will operate through a virtual PRI (primary rate interface) trunk connection.
The MCS 5100 offers the suite of call answering, screening and call-forwarding options that have become familiar to VOIP (voice over IP) users, whether on the Web-based GUIs of services such as Packet8 or Vonage or on the personal GUIs of Cisco and other IP PBXes. Like many other packages, it also offers an IM client that can be used for intra-enterprise chat, or escalated to voice or point-to-point video, using commonly available webcams.
Exploiting other common protocols, the MCS also offers Web-site-pushing, co-browsing, and whiteboarding, file and application sharing. The Web collaboration option and file sharing will require the download of a client, while “Personal Agent” settings such as call forwarding will be accessible on any PC via the Web.
The MCS solution is also particularly well-suited to traveling employees, said Matt Sperling, Nortels account vice president for the BellSouth channel. “In a lot of cases, our customers customers also support remote, mobile extensions by letting employees access the network, perhaps using a Nortel Contivity product for VPN,” he said.
“Your laptop, with the Communications Servers 2050 IP softphone, now is an extension off your PBX, with all of your conferencing and collaboration features supported by the MCS,” Sperling said.
Although Nortel and BellSouth are not positioning the MCS to stand alone, BellSouths Walker said the server will enable PC-to-PC voice, video, chat, and app sharing by itself; MCS thin client will suffice on the user end.
“It does provide some limited PBX-like features, so in theory, you could put this in a greenfield situation where a customer does not have a PBX, and it could server as their telephony server and their application server,” Walker said. The full complement of PBX features, however, requires the Communication Server. The MCS client also will work with the softphone.
Nortels Sperling said BellSouth can offer the MCS as customer-premise equipment even to its Centrex customers. Indeed, Sperling said BellSouth saw the multisite collaboration offering as a Centrex retention strategy in a market hot to lure Centrex customers away with PBXes.
BellSouths announcement named an MCS customer in Central Piedmont Community College, located in Charlotte, N.C. Another is Erlanger Health Center in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Although BellSouth, like its RBOC sibling Verizon, has begun selling VOIP services with gateways to the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network), it is not offering off-LAN VOIP service with the MCS platform. “We sell it right now to sit on the customer network–whatever he has deployed and manages himself,” Sperling said.
“In a lot of cases, weve sold him the PBX, were selling him the MCS, and the customer has a frame relay network, over which he is controlling VOIP,” he said. “Its our PRI trunks coming into the PBX for PSTN, our frame relay trunks coming in for the customer to use for his data network and for VOIP calls, but were not right now positioning this with any type of quality of service over our network itself.”
Cost for the 5100 varies widely with configuration, but Walker estimated a starting price of $200 per user.
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