Nortel's voice/data plan piques interest

Several large users last week expressed interest in Nortel Network's plans to support voice and data traffic over a single network, but said they would move towards a converged network slowly.

That's because they don't yet see strong business benefits or a compelling reason to move away from their separate voice and data networks, except at small sites.

At the Supercomm '99 telecommunications show here, private branch exchange (PBX) giant Nortel detailed 11 new products and enhanced wares designed for central sites, branch offices, home offices and call centers, many of which use Internet technologies. The products will ship during the next year.

Nortel's portfolio will include PBX upgrades that the company said preserve 75 per cent to 80 per cent of a system's investment. It will also include IP PBXs, low-end Windows NT-based systems, IP telephones and applications to manage the devices.

"Most network managers break out in a cold sweat at the mention of replacing their tried-and-true PBXs with new IP systems, but Nortel has given them options for moving to IP at their own pace," said John Morency, an analyst at Renaissance Worldwide, a Newton, Massachusetts, consultancy. Nortel's plans position the company ahead of its main competitor, Lucent Technologies, he said.

Steve Garner, information technology manager at the Bank of Montreal, said: "I don't know if there's a business driver here, but these products do represent the next phase of IP technology with the promise of reducing costs." The company, with 13 Nortel PBXs, may start a lab trial of products next spring.

Countrywide Home Loans is initially considering convergence at remote offices. The company is contemplating replacing its key telephone systems at up to 600 branch offices with Nortel's new PC-based IP telephone system, because the new boxes offer data routing support, said Michael Spalter, a senior vice president at the Simi Valley, California, company. "Once the reliability and quality of the NT platform come up, there's all sorts of opportunities to add value while reducing maintenance and complexity of connectivity," Spalter said.

At Frontier Communications in Southfield, Michigan, the IT group put the brakes on running voice over the data network. "They want to know how much voice we're talking about and don't want us bombarding their network with [new] traffic and sucking up too much bandwidth," said Tim Conley, a telecommunications staffer at Frontier. Conley and Garner were split on whether the PBX upgrade, which hasn't been priced yet but is supposed to preserve most of the system investment, is attractive.

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