Inter-Tel Prepares Next-Gen SIP Softswitch

Telephony pioneer Inter-Tel targets the midmarket with a VOIP platform based on Intel hardware and Linux that works with standard SIP gateways.

Telephony pioneer Inter-Tel will release a next-generation voice over IP switch in August aimed at 21st century applications.

The 27-year-old company, which focuses on the telecom needs of SMBs (small and midsize businesses), developed a new Session Initiation Protocol softswitch aimed at midsize enterprises as well as the lower end of large enterprises.

The new Inter-Tel 7000 VOIP platform was designed as an open alternative to the proprietary platforms sold by large players such as Avaya and Cisco Systems.

The platform is based on Intel hardware and Linux, and it works with standard SIP gateways and can support up to 2,500 users per site, according to Jeff Ford, chief technology officer of the company in Tempe, Ariz.

"This is an open, standards-based platform. Users can choose best-of-breed applications [to run on the platform]," he said.

While competitors use a proprietary architecture in the core and use the standard SIP protocol at the edges of the network, the Inter-Tel 7000 software is built on SIP. It also includes "well-defined" application programming interfaces and provides connectors to third-party applications.

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The platform also includes its own embedded applications and system software as well as optional add-ons.

Rather than market the platform as a commodity softswitch, Inter-Tel intends to emphasize how unified communications, presence and mobility applications can be used to help customers lower costs of increased sales, Ford said.

"We can show them how to use integrated CRM to improve their business," he asserted. "With rich speech recognition, collaboration, presence and others, we deliver the multimedia applications that others promised."

The platform includes the Inter-Tel Communicator, a Linux-based media server that performs media processing, conference bridging, a personal assistant, multiunit bridging and other features.

The Inter-Tel Personal Communicator unified communications feature embedded in the media server provides presence and call routing functions as a standard part of the product.

That is a major selling feature, said Allan Sulkin, president of TEQConsult Group in Hackensack, N.J.

"With the client, you know whos available and how theyre available. You can do personal call routing [based] on whos calling—its like a mini-contact center and its standard with the system," said Sulkin.

Competitors that offer similar unified communications systems sell those separately.

"It was smart of them to give it away. This may start to be a trend — including this as standard," added Sulkin.

The presence function in Personal Communicator can also be linked into Microsoft Outlook calendar, so that calls can be automatically routed in the most appropriate way.

"Its less work for the user because it makes presence automatic. You can also have the system notify you when someone becomes available that you want to speak with," Ford said.

Sulkin was also impressed with the level of redundancy in the media server.

"You can actually split some of the control functions across multiple servers," he said.

"You can have call processing, storage and media services all on one server or you can have an active/passive design or split the functions to dedicated servers. Thats critical for reliability."

The 7000 works with existing Inter-Tel IP phones, and it has been tested to work with IP phones from Polycom, Cisco Systems and Astra.

Other applications standard with the 7000 include the Inter-Tel Attendant Communicator that provides drag-and-drop call control, the Inter-Tel System Manager for Web-based system administration, support for remote offices that allows SIP traffic to traverse legacy firewalls, and support for third-party SIP gateways.

An optional Inter-Tel Messaging Central suite provides SIP-based centralized messaging and auto attendant functions.

Due in August, the Inter-Tel 7000 will range in price from $640 to $750 per user, or $700 to $800 per user with redundancy.

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