IP PBXs Off to Fast Start with Small Firms

FRAMINGHAM (08/04/2000) - Small companies have proven to be hungrier than big firms for IP telephony gear, although that is expected to change in the next few years, according to a new report.

The most popular IP PBX product by far last year was 3Com Corp.'s NBX 100, which is designed for small to midsize businesses. NBX shipments accounted for slightly more than half of all IP PBX lines shipped in 1999, according to Phillips Group, a telecommunications research firm in Parsippany, N.J.

IP PBXs are servers or appliances that provide traditional circuit-switched PBX functions, such as call routing and voicemail, but carry traffic over IP-based LANs and WANs instead a RJ-11-based phone networks.

Phillips predicts that the number of IP PBX ports will more than triple during the next three years.

Frank Stinson, an analyst with Phillips, says more and more of those ports will be shipped by traditional PBX vendors such as Lucent Technologies Inc., Nortel Networks Corp. and Siemens. A bigger share of those ports will be snapped up by larger customers.

"A lot of customers who would potentially find an IP PBX attractive have a traditional PBX they bought a year or two ago," Stinson says. Large companies are installing IP PBXs in small offices and departments already, but he expects more companywide deals to occur in the next few years as big companies roll out more ambitious voice and data convergence projects. He says it is more likely these big companies will go to big vendors than small ones.

Many small businesses aren't buying IP PBXs for the sake of convergence, but for the applications and simple management they offer. The InstantOffice products from Vertical Networks fit this bill, according to Paul Hollen, vice president of Southcoast Community Bank in Mt. Pleasant, S.C.

"Managing the phone systems is a piece of cake. I can program every telephone switch in the company from my desktop," Hollen says.

The bank also employs an IP telephony application that lets voicemails be downloaded onto an e-mail client as WAV files - a favorite feature among the 50 phone/data users in the company, Hollen adds.

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