IP telephony to take center stage

As network equipment buyers and vendors gather this week at the Networld+Interop (N+I) conference, both camps will have a special type of convergence on their minds: sending voice and data as IP packets over a single network.

Networking juggernauts Cisco Systems and Brampton, Ontario-based Nortel Networks are targeting corporate users with the products they will put on display at the Las Vegas event. Meanwhile, competitor 3Com Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif., has already successfully bagged many small and midsize operations with offerings it will tout at the show.

IP telephone technology will also be in the minds of showgoers representing organizations that have already rolled out such systems, including such prominent companies as Merrill Lynch & Co., Datek Online Brokerage Services LLC, and The Dow Chemical Co., as well as educational institutions such as the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Jumping the Gun

Cisco couldn't wait for N+I to release new product information and last week announced a system that would put a subset of its Call Manager software on its routers or switches at branch offices, eliminating the need for a Call Manager server at each site.

Capt. Chris DiNofrio, a U.S. Marine Corps data systems officer in New Orleans, said the Cisco feature could save some serious money. He's rolling out a Cisco IP phone system that will connect 180 Marine Corps Reserve centers across the country. "I don't want to put a [Cisco Call Manager] server that costs US$15,000 at each site," DiNofrio said.

Nortel officials were mum about the IP telephony announcements they plan to make at N+I. But in response to Cisco's announcement, a Nortel spokesman countered that the voice-over-IP features Cisco is introducing, such as unified messaging, are already built into Nortel's existing IP telephone system.

Larry Hettick, vice president of consulting at Telechoice Inc. in Tulsa, Okla., said, "Nortel has IP-enabled their existing PBX [private branch exchange] system." He noted that corporate users that already have a Nortel PBX may find this a good way to implement an IP phone system.

Lakehead University is installing a Nortel IP phone system. The university's president, Fred Gilbert, said, "Using the existing Category 5 Ethernet cable to send voice as data is a very cost-efficient way [to deploy a phone system] for this campus."

Rolando Garcia, chief network architect at Datek Online, said his company installed 350 Cisco IP phones a little more than two months ago and plans to install another 1,000 IP phones by the end of June.

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