Cisco Bringing Convergence to Small Offices

Cisco this week is expected to unveil a multiservice router designed to let small and midsize businesses integrate voice and data traffic at a much lower cost than they could with Cisco's previous low-end offering.

The new 1750 multiprotocol router starts at about US$1,800, whereas Cisco's previous low-end offering, the 2600, was overkill in terms of price and features for many small businesses. The 2600 costs between US$2,700 and US$7,500, depending on configuration.

Cisco declined to comment on the 1750. But sources familiar with the product say it is a modular router sporting three slots for voice modules, such as PBX connections, and WAN modules, such as ISDN and T-1 links. The device also has a 10/100M bit/sec autosensing Ethernet port and an internal expansion slot for hardware-assisted data encryption.

The router will let small businesses and offices start out with a basic data-only router for Internet access and virtual private networking, and add voice and video capabilities as needed, says Chris Nicoll, an analyst at Current Analysis in Sterling, Va.

Indeed, convergence is ex-pected to take hold first in small and midsize enterprises and in the branch offices of larger enterprises. So it was incumbent upon Cisco to unveil a low-cost voice- and fax-over-IP product such as the 1750, observers say.

The 1750 is also strategic to Cisco from a service provider perspective. Service providers going after small businesses will be able to resell the 1750 as the customer premises equipment piece of a product/service bundle and position it as a delivery vehicle for advanced IP telephony services.

According to The Yankee Group, the voice- and fax-over-IP services market is expected to grow from US$160 million in 1998 to US$700 million this year and US$3.6 billion in 2002.

The 1750 is powered by a Motorola MPC860T PowerQUICC Reduced Instruction Set Computing microprocessor running at 48 MHz.

Voice/fax interface cards for the 1750 sport two FXS, FXO or E&M ports for connecting to phones, fax machines, key systems, PBXs and off-premise sites, such as telco central offices. The WAN interface cards are the same as those for Cisco's 1600, 1720, 2600 and 3600 series routers. The cards include one- and two-port serial, two-port sync/async, ISDN Basic Rate Interface, 56/64K bit/sec four-wire DSU/CSU and T-1/fractional T-1 DSU/CSU.

The device runs Cisco IOS software that supports quality of service, and VPN encryption, firewalling and tunneling.

Cisco plans to add broadband access capabilities to the 1750 "relatively soon," sources say. They expect Cisco to modularize its model 633 symmetric digital subscriber line router and offer it as an option for the 1750.

Beta testers say the 1750 is not as versatile as other Cisco voice-over-IP offerings but that small businesses should nonetheless be pleased.

"It's going to be a godsend for small sites," says Bill Woodcock, principal of ISP Zocalo Internet Services in Oakland, Calif. "It gives you a lot higher density at a lot lower price. Being able to do six lines of voice in one box without paying for it is a nice thing."

The 1750 will compete against Motorola's Vanguard voice-enabled routers, which support up to four or six analog voice ports, depending on the model.

While the basic 1750 costs roughly US$1,800, a two-port data/voice version costs an extra US$500 and a four-port edition costs about US$2,700. The 1750 will be available Aug. 30.

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