At American Freightways Inc. there is no room for error in voice communications, so when the company began replacing traditional PBX systems with VOIP platforms at some of its older customer centers, it chose an IP product line from a vendor steeped in telephony, Siemens AG.
"The customer centers are pretty much where the rubber meets the road," said Deb Fesenmyer, manager of advanced system engineering at American Freightways, in Harrison, Ark. "Nobody will tolerate the fact that their phone is not working. Siemens understands that. Theyve done voice for 150 years."
This week, Siemens Enterprise Networks LLC expanded its HiPath IP convergence product line with the launch of 12 products ranging from a mixed-configuration IP PBX-like platform for small businesses to a new softswitch for large enterprises prepared to migrate to packet-switched networking. A midrange product family, the HiPath 4000 line includes automatic quality-of-service detection and rerouting.
In November, American Freightways, which is owned by FedEx Corp., began deploying the HiPath 3500 in 30 customer centers—terminals where trucks are housed and where shipping orders are taken—throughout the United States. After testing systems from both Siemens and a more data-centric vendor, the trucking company chose Siemens hybrid system, which largely resembles the PBX system that end users were accustomed to.
"Its a system that allows you to step into the VOIP [voice-over-IP] world slowly," Fesenmyer said. "Were slowly getting into VOIP. Were doing it very cautiously."
The ability to administer the HiPath system remotely saves American Freightways time and money. Previously, changes at a customer center required a technician visit, which typically cost the company a two-day wait and fees to the vendor, according to Fesenmyer. "Now we wont have to dispatch a technician if a customer center calls and simply wants button tables changed," she said. "Its done within seconds or within minutes."
One of the main benefits to American Freightways is that the HiPath system eliminates unnecessary traffic, freeing up the network so employees can provide better service. While many in the IP telephony industry continue to champion VOIP as a means of reducing capital and operational expenses despite the cost of new gear, Siemens touts HiPath as a means of gaining business productivity.
"In operational expenses, there are some savings to be gained, but its the business productivity that we think will drive this," said Mark Straton, vice president of global marketing at the Siemens subsidiary, in Reston, Va. "When theres a fundamental change in technology, theres an opportunity. These opportunities come once every 25 years."
American Freightways is very satisfied with the HiPath gear so far, but Fesenmyer said she would find it even more useful if it resembled the legacy system a little more, from the user perspective.
"Although the functionality is very similar to the traditional TDM [Time Division Multiplexing] system, if the world were perfect, I would like the functionality to be a little bit closer," she said.