Polycom Raises Bar on IP Conferencing Phones

Polycom's New IP Conferencing phones feature high definition voice and IP-based applications as a first.

Polycom on April 8 will seek to spur a migration to new IP-based conferencing systems with new high definition voice phones that fully exploit IP for the first time.

Polycom's new Soundstation IP 6000 and Soundstation IP 7000 both offer breakthrough voice quality thanks to wideband audio quality and other techniques.

"Making conference calls is clearer than ever before," said Tim Yankey, director of product marketing at Polycom in San Jose, Calif. "We're also delivering an easier-to-use experience through the fact that it is an IP conference phone," he added.

Although Voice over IP line growth is skyrocketing, and Polycom's latest IP conferencing phones offer much greater sound quality and flexibility than existing models, Polycom's timing could hold back the transition to new IP conferencing phones, believes industry analyst Nora Freedman at IDC in Framingham, Mass.

"The new conference phones are slick in terms of the overall experience you've come to love with Polycom conference phones. But with the recession, I don't know that people will upgrade as fast as Polycom would like them to. The transition from TDM to IP phones was still hard when the economy was good. As it goes south the transition will be even harder, and a niche within that segment will likely be a victim of that," she said. Freedman estimates that conference phones represent one percent of the market for business phones today.

Freedman pegs the overall market for hard IP phones at $1.4 billion, and she thinks that IP conference phones are less than five percent of that. "It's a niche market," she said.

Still, Polycom sees adoption of wideband technologies accelerating among its service provider partners as a differentiator in their service offerings. "Adoption of these codecs is accelerating not just with Polycom but other vendors as well," Yankey asserted.

The new high definition conferencing phones are bundled with IP applications such as LDAP directory integration, built-in ports that allow users to connect mobile phones and PCs to allow the use of soft phone clients such as Skype as well as built-in Power-over Ethernet. A larger microbrowser display allows conference participants to see more information about each conference call, such as the number of participants.

The new flagship SoundStation IP 7000 uses a sleeker, modern design compared to existing Polycom conference phones. It for the first time allows a second conference phone to be daisy-chained to accommodate larger conference rooms and more participants.

The SoundStation IP 7000 is aimed at executive offices, conference rooms and board rooms, while the SoundStation IP 6000 is intended for small and mid-sized conference rooms.

Both phones communicate with 25 different IP PBXes using industry standard Session Initiation Protocol call control.

The 7000, available now, is priced at $1,299. The 6000, due in May, is priced at $899.