Microsoft, partners rally around VoIP tools

Microsoft on Monday lined up Cisco and a number of telecoms equipment vendors behind its VoIP platform to provide support for emerging voice protocols with the promise of integrating desktop phone systems and the PC.

At the annual VoiceCon show in Orlando, Microsoft said Alcatel, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, NEC, Nortel and Siemens will integrate call-control capabilities with Microsoft's Live Communications Server (LCS), Office Communicator 2005 desktop client and Office Communicator Mobile.

The effort is focused on interoperability supported by the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and the SIP for Instant Message and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE), which have been hyped for years at conferences such as VoiceCon but have lacked full commitment from top vendors. SIP is lauded for its openness and flexibility, but vendors such as 3Com, Avaya, Cisco and Nortel balked at building pure-SIP versions of their gear, citing feature limitations. Those objections are eroding.

Microsoft's integration with Alcatel, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, and NEC will let users launch and answer PBX-based and IP-PBX phone calls and view phone presence information from the Office Communicator client. The same client will let users switch between instant messaging and voice sessions. Microsoft also reiterated current integration projects it has available with Nortel and Siemens.

Microsoft's plan is to give corporate users a full-range of voice communication features through software that support integration between any PC-based device or service, and traditional cell or wireline phones.

The company plans to release the next version of its Office Communicator client later this year with Office 2007. The client features include enhanced voice and video, but also focus on telephony integration supported by Monday's VoiceCon announcements. Microsoft also plans to extend voice features to Office Groove, its peer-to-peer networking client, which will be integrated with Communicator.

Analysts says Microsoft's goal is to own the real-time communication client interface on the desktop, mobile client and soft-phone regardless of how calls are routed or completed on the back-end. Those analysts say Microsoft's biggest challenge will be execution. Telco providers have said that systems and not software will be the controlling factor in which vendors rise to the top of the market.

Microsoft's integration with Cisco is centered on the newly renamed Unified CallManager, formerly called CallManager 5.0, which lets companies choose between a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 platform and a new, purpose-built Linux operating system for running the CallManager software.

CallManager will be integrated with LCS and Communicator. Cisco also plans to integrate with two Microsoft products: Unified Presence Server and Unified Personal Communicator, which lets users see the availability status of colleagues, and to combine voice, video, chat, e-mail and messaging into a single interface.

Users will be able to click-to-call and transfer calls from Communicator, launch or answer calls from within Communicator, choose to conduct calls from either a traditional phone or the PC, and view Cisco Unified IP phone presence information from Communicator.

The integration work is expected to be completed in August 2006, according to Microsoft.

With Alcatel, Microsoft plans to integrate LCS and Communicator with Alcatel OmniPCX using SIP, Alcatel OmniTouch and MyTeamwork for voice conferencing and Alcatel Genesys Enterprise Telephony Software (GETS) for developing and deploying converged applications. The goal is to let users access availability and presence information, and manage phone calls and conferencing among computers and desktop phones.

Mitel and Microsoft will integrate LCS and Communicator with the Mitel Live Business Gateway, which combines voice and user/device presence information. Microsoft applications will be able to access Mitel's IP-based call control devices and applications. Office Communicator also will be able to connect external users to the enterprise through the public network, use telephony and presence features from the Mitel platform and support eight-party ad hoc conference-calling among Communicator users.

NEC will use SIP to integrate NEC Presence features with LCS and Communicator. Users will be able to access availability and presence information, and manage calls among computers and desktop phones.

Microsoft is integrating its server and client with Nortel Converged Office products. Communicator integrated with Nortel Communication Server (CS) 1000 will give users presence information and access from PC-based or desk phones. The software to integrate the pieces is already available, the two companies said.

Siemens and Microsoft said they are now delivering a set of presence-based call, video, Web conferencing, and collaboration products and services based on LCS, Communicator and Siemens HiPath OpenScape product family.

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