ShoreTel Shores Up VOIP Offerings with Phones, PBX

Company's system enhancements focus on new user collaboration capabilities, greater system resiliency, expanded integration with legacy voice-mail systems and more granular administration functions.

Small but quickly growing voice-over-IP (VOIP) provider ShoreTel Inc. on Monday continued to build out its portfolio of IP PBXes, IP phones and VOIP gateways when it launched several new phones, a new branch office switch and a new release of its systems software.

ShoreTel, which on Monday changed its name from Shoreline Communications, rolled out ShoreTel5 system enhancements that focus on new user collaboration capabilities, greater system resiliency, expanded integration with legacy voice-mail systems and more granular administration functions.

It also introduced a new branch office IP PBX, designed to simplify migration from traditional voice systems, and three new, ergonomically designed IP phones.

To compete against much larger rivals such as Cisco Systems Inc., Avaya Inc. and Nortel Networks, ShoreTel focuses on a distributed-system approach to IP telephony with complete transparency between sites, greater reliability, and ease of administration and use.

"We leveraged the [Microsoft] Windows interface to deliver unified messaging, real-time call handling, call-handling mode—weve led in this area," said Rich Winslow, senior director of product management at ShoreTel in Sunnyvale, Calif. "We usually win the technical battles with the big guys," he added.

"Theyve had some reputable companies testing their product and scored higher than the competition. But they havent been in every bakeoff," said Elizabeth Herrell, vice president at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. But, she added, "They have a value proposition that allows them to compete against very formidable competitors."

/zimages/3/28571.gifA tug of war is growing in Congress over how VOIP fits into the traditional telecommunications regulation and taxation schemes. Click here to read more.

In the latest round of new and enhanced products, ShoreTel rearchitected its systems software, based on VXworks, to scale to support 10,000 instead of 5,000 users; provided more granular control for role-based administration by different operators; and boosted availability.

The ShoreTel5 software now allows IP phones to automatically reconfigure to work with another ShoreGear switch if the one they are assigned to fails. And if a WAN link fails, extension calls to and from affected phones can be routed to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).

ShoreTel also boosted the collaboration features of its Personal Call Manager application, allowing a user to drag and drop a document from a Microsoft Office program into the application to share with call participants. "It will show up instantly at another ShoreTel users desktop," Winslow said. Personal Call Manager also allows as many as six parties to be added to a conference call, and it adds call reporting.

Winslow said ShoreTel also sought to take its "[user interface] leadership and apply it to the physical phone." To that end, it worked with a leading industrial design firm to create three "visually appealing" phones that provide a large speaker cavity and feature a concave look that keeps keys horizontal and the display vertical.

The handsets have a cushioned grip with multiple holding positions, and the phones feature what Winslow described as "the industrys only wideband codec," which provides high-fidelity voice operating at 256K, instead of 64K.

For a small company to bring out an ergonomically good product is laudable. "No one buys a system with an ugly phone," Herrell quipped.

ShoreTels new ShoreGear-60-12 IP PBX is aimed at simplifying migration to VOIP for branch offices. It supports 60 IP phones or 12 analog ports. ShoreGear switches can communicate with existing voice-mail systems, such those made by Octel or Meridian, by using the Audio Message Interchange Specification.

The new IP phones and ShoreGear switch are due in May. The phones range from $229 to $429, and the IP PBX is $2,995.

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