At the VoiceCon Spring 2006 conference this week, rivals such as Cisco Systems and Avaya are poised to announce support for each other's IP communications technologies under the banner of the Session Initiation Protocol and other open standards.
For example, Cisco Monday will announce native support for SIP as part of its new Unified Communications system. That capability will enable newer Cisco IP phones to work with third-party applications such as IBM's Lotus Sametime and Microsoft's Live Communications Server 2005.
Separately, Citrix Systems will announce plans to use SIP to integrate its network and application access tools with Cisco's communications software.
And Avaya will introduce a version of its Converged Communications Server that supports a broader range of SIP endpoints, including IP phones from Cisco. Avaya also plans to announce that it's working with about 50 companies, including Citrix, to develop communications applications based on SIP and other standards.
After years of selling voice-over-IP products that didn't interoperate with one another, vendors are starting to cooperate more closely to bring voice, video and presence-awareness technologies to corporate desktops and handheld devices, analysts said.
"We're starting to hit that wave where interoperability and partnerships will define the long-term winners and losers," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research in Boston.
Cisco's new technology integrates voice, data and video in one system, said Barry O'Sullivan, vice president and general manager of the company's voice technology group.
The Unified Communications system will be sold under a per-user model, or its various components can be purchased separately, O'Sullivan said. New components include software that can aggregate user presence information on a network and from third-party devices, and an application that lets end users place voice and video calls by clicking on system icons or names that are contained in instant messages.
Randy Cook, director of global voice networks at Oracle, said he plans to upgrade major portions of his VoIP network in the next six months to Cisco's Unified CallManager 5.0 release and other components of the Unified Communications offering.
About 30,000 Oracle workers already use Cisco IP phones, and Cook said the company plans to expand the VoIP system to its entire 60,000-person workforce over the next 18 months.
Cook said he looks forward to having SIP functionality throughout the network and down to each phone. Cisco is "moving in the direction we've asked for and want," he said.
Telesphere, a provider of IP telephony managed services in Scottsdale, has been using Unified Communications internally for the past four months and began deploying the technology to its customers last month, said CEO Dave Thomas. The SIP-based presence capabilities can help users quickly locate co-workers in other offices worldwide, Thomas said.
Although Cisco and Avaya will make news at VoiceCon, which starts today in Orlando, analysts said that Siemens and Nortel Networks have had unified communications strategies for a while, but with some capability gaps.
"The really unique thing Cisco has done is to create a unified communications platform that it can deliver on its own," said Brent Kelly, an analyst at Wainhouse Research.