NEC Joins Growing Band of UC Vendors

NEC's wide-ranging UC launch emphasizes a move to hardware and open standards.

NEC Unified Solutions jumped on the unified communications bandwagon on March 12 with the introduction of a wide-ranging product update focused on the roles users have within their businesses.

The new products, which NEC introduced in advance of VoiceCon March 17 to 20 in Orlando, Fla., are built around NEC's Univerge360 strategy, which integrates users' organization roles with automated business processes. Univerge360 was launched in February.

"We look at how their communications needs dictate the type of technology they use," said Paul Lopez, general manager for marketing at NEC Unified Solutions. "With Univerge360 we integrated communications throughout your business and leveraged an open-standards approach to let you maximize your options."

The new products represent a bit of a departure for NEC and a shoring up of its competitive stance in the market against big players such as Cisco Systems and Avaya, said Brian Riggs, research director at Current Analysis.

"NEC is completely rethinking its product line and what it needs to deliver to enterprise customers today. This is really making a very clear move toward offering a set of communications products that are very software applications-oriented and very server-based. NEC is now trying to deliver a set of software much more in line with what competitors offer," Riggs said.

To read more about NEC's unified communications products, click here.

NEC, which is moving its code base to Linux, introduced a new version of its Univerge SV7000 IP PBX and previewed a higher-end IP PBX, dubbed the SV8500, due in summer 2008. At the same time, NEC introduced a UC enterprise applications suite that includes new desktop and mobile UC clients, an update to its voice messaging system, new modular IP and digital phones, and a new media gateway that provides integration with Microsoft's Office Communications Server, Lotus Sametime and other third-party applications.

NEC's Univerge SV7000 IP PBX Release 24 adds a new softphone with advanced communications functions, support for SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) devices, support for LDAP databases, integration with 802.11 a/b/g wireless LANs and new POE (power over Ethernet) support. It is based on Java and XML.

The Univerge SV8500 uses a Linux-based architecture that incorporates a new CPU and interfaces. "We've redone the entire design of the system," Lopez said. "We're moving toward more and more Linux to lower total cost of ownership."

The updated SV7000 also supports NEC's new UC for Enterprise advanced applications suite, which includes the Univerge UC700 Desktop Client, which provides such functions as click-to-dial and clipboard dialer, presence-based call routing, communication history information, voice, video- and Web conferencing, whiteboarding, screen sharing, screen capture, and screen pops for incoming messages. It provides a look and feel similar to Microsoft's Windows Vista, Lopez said.

Also in the UC for Enterprise suite is the Univerge MC530 Mobile Client, which can run on Windows Mobile 5, RIM and Symbian operating systems. It integrates UC functions with mobility, allowing messages from the business IP communication system to be automatically sent to mobile devices. It provides a unified user experience across Wi-Fi and cellular networks and allows a single phone number to work across desk phones and mobile devices.

The Univerge UM8500 Unified Messaging System works with the new clients and integrates with Microsoft's Exchange Server to allow the system to read aloud a schedule of tasks for any given day. It is unique in its combined support of VideoMail, Find Me/Follow Me and ViewCall desktop call control.

On the hardware side, NEC added new Univerge DT700 and DT300 IP and digital phones that support SIP, have open XML interfaces and intuitive GUIs, and can be customized.

The new Univerge OW5000 media gateway integrates NEC offerings with Microsoft's OCS 2007, IBM Lotus Sametime and applications offered by NEC partners. A Web-based management program provides a portal to allow users to configure their communications options, as well as providing call accounting, asset management, and billing and invoice management functions.

NEC's challenge now with its UC offerings will be to get its large, dedicated base of resellers to move beyond selling point products such as IP PBXes and digital wireless products to sell more advanced application sets, Riggs said.

"NEC has the potential for being a sleeping giant in this market. They have a very dedicated set of resellers and now applications that improve product cycle after product cycle," he said.

The Univerge SV7000 R24 is available now, while the rest of the enhanced portfolio is due at the end of April.