Nortel taps SMB installed base with VoIP

Nortel Networks Ltd. last week unveiled several new products and upgrades aimed at letting smaller companies more easily add and support voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) and convergence applications.

Nortel announced a gateway for IP-enabling its widely used Norstar phone system that could help small them take advantage of VoIP without requiring them to swap out their private branch exchanges (PBXs). It also released a new version of its Business Communications Manager (BCM), a combined IP PBX, router and firewall, which could help small and midsize firms roll out secure converged networks.

The Norstar VoIP gateway could let voice travel over private data connections by adding up to three H.323 VoIP trunks to a Norstar PBX. The gateway also adds quality of service (QoS) by prioritizing packetized voice before sending it over the wide area network. QoS settings, and other configuration tasks, can be made on the gateway via a Web browser.

Testing it out

IP-enabling a network of Norstar systems could be a large cost-saver for home entertainment retailer Tweeter Home Entertainment Group. The Canton, Massachusetts, company runs Norstar and other phone systems in its 170 stores and currently is trying out the Norstar VoIP gateway, according to Bill Morrison, the firm's chief information officer.

"We do a ton of store-to-store calling," Morrison says, which usually involves employees checking availability and pricing of items among the company's 170 stores.

"The cost of making phone calls is going down, but it's still not free," he says. "If we could put those [inter-store] calls over our data network, it could save us some money."

Morrison says his firm is in the early stages of evaluating the product, and that he and his staff have not calculated the cost savings VoIP could add.

Nortel introduced the Norstar phone system for small and midsize companies in 1994 and has more than 13 million handsets installed worldwide, according to The Yankee Group Inc. Leveraging this installed base could help Nortel catch up to Cisco Systems Inc. in the enterprise IP telephony market. Cisco, the market leader with more than 2 million IP phones installed, last week also tried to entice small companies by introducing a new version of in its IOS router operating system with call-control features that can turn Cisco routers into IP PBXs for branch offices.

3Com Corp. also competes in small-business IP telephony with its NBX platform. The company last year introduced a gateway that lets its NBX IP PBX work with Nortel's Norstar handsets in an effort to win over Nortel's installed base.

New features in Nortel's BCM 3.5 include tighter integration with Nortel's Succession IP PBXs for large companies. This will let BCM devices be integrated into Succession IP PBX dial plans and let BCMs share user directory and moves/adds/changes databases with a Succession IP PBX.

The addition of Secure Shell and Secure Sockets Layer support is also new to the BCM. These features could be used to encrypt passwords and other management traffic involved with administering and configuring a BCM. A browser-based interface for managing BCMs also was introduced, which can let an administrator access the BCM from any PC with a browser.

On the VoIP applications front, Nortel announced a new version of its unified messaging software, CallPilot 100/150. The software provides a voice mail and fax management platform that can integrate with Microsoft Corp. Outlook and IBM Lotus Corp e-mail servers to deliver one in-box for end users. The scaled-down version of CallPilot supports up to 300 voice/e-mail/fax mailboxes.

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