Cisco device aids shift from web to wireless

Cisco Systems Inc. announced last week a new network hardware device called CTE 1400, saying it transforms Web-based information normally accessed through a browser into data that can be displayed on a wide variety of wireless devices. Those devices include personal digital assistants (PDA) based on the Palm OS and ones that use Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE, Cisco officials said.

One user who has been testing the CTE 1400, Mitch Davis, CIO at Stanford University Law School in Stanford, Calif., said his institution has used it to convert information, such as that from Stanford Law databases and legal case studies, into formats for display on Palm VII PDAs from Santa Clara, Calif.-based Palm Inc.

"We also have projects to convert information for access by WAP [Wireless Application Protocol] phones," Davis said.

Seth Redmore, product marketing manager at Cisco, said the new unit leverages content identification capabilities now available in Cisco's Catalyst 6000 series of network switches. The switches can determine if a request for information is coming from a standard computer Web browser, PDA or WAP-enabled phone, Redmore said.

When packet headers indicate that the request is from a wireless device, that request is routed by network switch to the CTE 1400. The CTE then works as a reverse proxy server, he said. It pulls the content desired by the user from the appropriate network server and automatically customizes it for the application and device requesting it.

Davis said he likes the built-in design function of the CTE. It's accessible through a browser, and IT personnel can configure page styles from Web-based applications for use on a wide variety of devices, from mobile phones to PDAs, without any knowledge of XML or HTML, he said.

But Scott Ellison, director of mobile and wireless communications at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said that although the capability to convert information to screen formats that are appropriate for wireless devices will become increasingly important, some types of content are simply not useful on small screens, citing spreadsheets as an example. "The delimiters for wireless devices are screen size and keyboard functionality," Ellison added.

Redmore said the CTE 1400 will ship sometime his month for US$69,995.

Cisco Enhances IP Call Center

Last week, Cisco announced that it has enhanced its Internet Protocol Contact Center (IPCC) to permit a near turnkey installation for small and midsize businesses that have 10 to 100 call center agents. A base package sells for $50,000, according to the network equipment provider.

Cisco said it has also modified the Intelligent Contact Management application used in the IPCC system to support clusters of call center servers, enabling users to more easily expand the system as more agents are added.

"The clustering was a must for us," said Kevin Wood, network planning analyst at Volvo Information Technology North America in Greensboro, N.C., whose call center provides, among other things, emergency roadside assistance for Volvo truck drivers. "[The cluster capability] pretty much solidified the deal for IP scalability," he said. "We can have up to 10,000 phones in a cluster."

The IPCC now also works with switched automated call directors, which Cisco said enables companies to move from existing legacy systems to its IP-based call center without disruption.

According to Jeff Wasierski, director of telecommunications at call center outsourcer vCustomer Corp. in Renton, Wash., which uses Cisco's IPCC system, managing an IP-based call center is more like a network than a telecommunications system. Voice calls are sent as IP data packets.

"You're no longer tied to a location where your telephone systems are terminated [when you use the IPCC]," Wasierski said.

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