ComNet to showcase VOIP

WorldCom Inc. this week will hustle to prove it is the first major telecom provider to pay serious attention to the enterprise's stepped-up interest in migrating to VOIP (voice over IP), a technology now moving swiftly beyond just lower long-distance bills.

At the ComNet 2001 trade show in Washington, WorldCom officials will detail an "aggressive trend toward voice-enabled networks," said one source at the Clinton, Mississippi-based carrier.

A smattering of other vendors, including hardware makers and network management companies, are also expected to unfurl VOIP-related wares at ComNet.

Many of those vendors are rushing to provide solutions to service providers that eagerly want to sell combined voice and data offerings in an effort to lure business customers away from larger carriers.

For instance, Vina Technologies Inc. will debut its bolstered MX-400 VOIP platform, a broadband hardware device equipped with software that allows service providers to move toward the delivery of VOIP services without having to endure invasive changes or forklift upgrades.

In fact, WorldCom's VOIP move may come just as they and the other major carriers begin to lose VOIP ground to upstart service providers, noted enterprise user Louis Campbell, who is IT director at Durango, Colorado-based Sports Express, which ships sports equipment to vacationers.

"I think that what is happening is that the telecoms are not prepared," said Campbell, who put in 3Com Corp.'s NBX 100 LAN telephony system to suit his company' s voice and data needs.

WorldCom officials said they realize that many enterprise customers have had to build in their own CPE (customer premise equipment) solutions to incorporate IP functionality. "As a network provider, we will be looking to provide ways to deliver solutions through the network to enterprise customers," said an executive who asked not to be named.

"But in almost every case, enterprises will still not be making the decision to migrate to IP lock, stock, and barrel. They will do it on a location basis," the executive said.

A director of marketing at Cisco System Inc.'s enterprise voice business unit, Bill Erdman, agreed, although he noted that VOIP-related sales are up across the board at the San Jose, California-based company. "We find that [VOIP] starts when a company opens a branch or new office or when they are revamping the wiring in a building or doing a major overhaul of a LAN."

As more enterprises eye VOIP, they are doing so for different reasons. Early adopters honed in on telephony to bypass long-distance tolls or to ease maintenance by whittling multiple networks down to one.

But most companies now are turning to VOIP technology for advanced applications offered by converged networks, said Jim Burton, CEO of Commfusion, a St. Helena, Calif.-based research company specializing in data and voice convergence.

Sports Express' Campbell wanted to use telephony products so as to ramp up scattered call centers to handle electronic contact with its customers.

Meanwhile, at SunRay Gaming, a casino in Farmington, New Mexico, where Campbell also serves as IT director, the intent was to use VOIP to cut down the cost of rolling out phone systems between buildings on the casino site. "Now we don't have to pay the enormous cost associated with things like moving a phone extension," Campbell added.

Vendors lining up at ComNet to take advantage of the current zeal for VOIP include Omegon, a company debuting VOIP testing functions for its NetAlly diagnostic tool. Also, Polycom will show its first desktop IP phone, SoundPoint IP 500, now in a beta release but shipping in the second quarter of 2001.

Meanwhile, CommWorks Corp., a subsidiary of 3Com, will be showcasing its CommWorks 4000 SoftSwitch, a software-based subscriber management and services platform, and its Total Control 2000 multiservice access platform.

A top issue at this week's ComNet Expo and Conference in Washington will be the need to improve user interaction with network infrastructure, according to Bill Gassman, senior research analyst at Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner.

Gassman said much attention will be given to discovering how switches and routers move data between servers and users and how that information is correlated. "[ComNet] is where users have to look for vendors that can depict that typology," Gassman said. "That's a major problem for users, and it's something they're willing to spend money on."

One company hoping to address the dilemma is Avaya Inc. The Basking Ridge, New Jersey-based company will use ComNet to launch the Cajun P882 MultiService Backbone Switch and CajunRules 2.0 policy manager.

Gassman noted that OSS (operational support systems) are being targeted by MSPs (management service providers) and will be prevalent at ComNet.

Concord Communications, in Marlboro, Massachusetts, will introduce its OSS integration and support for DSL and IP VPN services product, Ehealth SPV 4.8, according to Concord officials.

The areas of Web analytics and QoS (quality of service) management will also be hot topics at the show, Gassman added.

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