Cisco Gears Up Simple VOIP Wares for SMBs

Cisco Systems Inc. is developing a voice-over-IP package designed for small and medium-size businesses.

Cisco Systems Inc. is developing a voice-over-IP package designed for small and medium-size businesses looking for a simple, all-in-one option for IP telephony.

The offering, dubbed Cisco CallManager Express and due next month, comprises an upgrade to Ciscos Internetwork Operating System software and a module for the entire portfolio of Cisco access routers, including the 2600- and 3600-series routers, according to sources familiar with the plans.

Cisco CallManager Express, which has been available in Europe for several months from resellers, should help shore up Ciscos competitive weakness in simple, low-cost VOIP offerings for the SMB space, analysts said.

"Competitors are eating Ciscos lunch when it comes to selling IP telephony into the [SMB] market," said analyst Brian Riggs, of Current Analysis Inc., in Sterling, Va. "Competitors generally had more integrated, easier-to-use [and lower-cost] solutions."

While competitors such as Avaya Inc., Nortel Networks Ltd. and Alcatel S.A. offer integrated IP telephony, voice mail, call control functions and data switching in a single device, Cisco has offered those capabilities only in separate devices that require more specialized training to support, Riggs added.

Today, Cisco offers the high-capacity, carrier-class Cisco MGX 8000 Series carrier voice gateway and the Integrated Communications System 7700 for midsize businesses, both of which require the Cisco CallManager software running on Ciscos MCS (Media Convergence Server). Features such as voice messaging or conferencing are offered as separately priced software modules for MCS.

Cisco CallManager Express will be packaged to support configurations of 24 or 48 Cisco IP phones, said one source familiar with Ciscos plans.

The integrated telephony offering, which is in extensive field testing in the United States, complements the centralized Cisco CallManager call control server and supports the same Cisco IP phones.

Not all Cisco IP telephony users will jump at the new offering, however. "Weve looked at it, but we have our system in and stable," said Stan Adams, group vice president of network services at SouthTrust Corp., a bank holding company in Birmingham, Ala.

SouthTrust, which recently bought the 2-millionth Cisco IP phone, installed its IP telephony system last fall. "The benefits of putting everything into one chassis and getting increased functionality would be for a new installation," said Adams.

A Cisco spokesman declined to elaborate on the plans, adding, "We do not comment on rumors."

Although a subset of Cisco CallManager functions resides on the router today, control of those functions resides in the full implementation of CallManager, which is typically installed at a central location, noted Dave Passmore, an analyst with Burton Group, in Herndon, Va.