Computerworld

Siemens launch back office, desktop VOIP wares

New products aimed at VOIP networks

Shoretel and Siemens recently launched new products aimed at those who manage and maintain VOIP networks, and the people who use these systems all day long.

Shortel introduced a management and troubleshooting application -- ShoreWare System Monitor -- for its line of IP/digital hybrid phone systems. The software provides network monitoring and diagnostics for VOIP traffic generated by the vendor's equipment, as well as network gear from other vendors, the company says. The company also updated its call-center package.

Meanwhile, Siemens launched a new line of IP desktop phones, built to attract the iPod set, with a touch-pad interface and PC-like features and applications.

ShoreWare System Monitor uses Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) to monitor and collect data from network devices, as well as Shortel's ShoreGear IP/digital voice switches, IP phones and application servers. The software correlates overall network performance and Shortel equipment performance data, then provides reports and visual displays for administrators. The software allows users to identify VOIP-specific problems in the network, and fix the issues through a Web interface tool.

Along with the management software, the vendor also released an update to its call center application, Contact Center 4.6. This software runs on a Microsoft Windows server alongside ShoreGear equipment -- LAN-based phone switches, which support up to 24 digital phones, wired into the device, or IP phones, which connect to the box over IP.

Call agents on the system can use a hardware phone, or softphone client built into the Web-based desktop interface software. The application also can link to CRM and database software applications and provide "screen pops," where customer data is pushed to an agent when that customer calls into the system.

Contact Center 4.6 provides standard call-center features for Shoretel users -- such as call routing and queuing as well as call center reporting and traffic monitoring. The new software supports a feature called "Universal Queue," which combines voice, e-mail and Web-based chat applications into a single interface for agents. Customer help requests from phone calls, or via the Web, can be routed to any agent attached to the system, because all communication modes are supported, the company says.

Contact Center 4.6 also supports Double-Take server failover software from Sunbelt Software. This allows administrators to set up a primary and backup Shortel Contact Center server, which would keep a call center online in case of a primary server failure, the company says. Contact Center 4.6 packages start at US$5,500 for 10 agents.

On the user side of VOIP, Siemens launched its OpenStage IP phone family. Along with a receiver and dial-pad buttons, the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-based IP phones run an embedded Linux operating system (on some models) with a color LCD display to access directories, Web sites or corporate applications. For navigating features and applications, the phones include a scroll wheel interface device and touch-sensitive feature buttons, which should be familiar to iPod users.

The OpenStage phones include OpenStage 20, 40, 60 and 80 models. These phones can attach to any SIP-based IP PBX -- such as Asterisk or Cisco CallManager 5.0 -- as well as the Siemens HiPath 8000 IP PBX. Attaching the phones to a third-part SIP server only allows 40 or so basic SIP features; several hundred features are accessible when the phones are attached to a Siemens HiPath 8000 server.

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The OpenStage 80 is Siemens' high-end desktop set, and could replace a PC in some cases, the company says. The device includes a nine-inch color LCD; a browser and XML software stack for accessing Web sites and intranet applications; and physical interfaces for USB, Bluetooth, headset and other devices. A small attachable keyboard is available for entering contact data into a directory and information database which resides on the phone. (The phones can also tap into corporate Microsoft Exchange servers to access centralized directory data.) The phone has an optional Wi-Fi extension module, which allows it to connect to a 802.11b wireless LAN.

The OpenStage 60 has a smaller LCD, but most of the same features as the 80 model. The 40 model has a black-and-white LCD, and fewer touch-pad feature buttons. The OpenStage 20 is a basic-model phone with IP connectivity and a two-line LCD screen for caller-ID viewing.

The new phones bring Siemens up to speed with Avaya and Cisco, in terms of phone features and add-on applications, analysts says.

"Improvements in [desktop IP] phones and features are not going to drive IP PBX sales," says Nora Freedman, an analyst with IDC. Instead, the integration of VOIP with messaging applications, as well as business-process platforms -- such as CRM and ERP software -- are the drivers for VOIP adoption, she says.

The ability to access corporate applications or Web portals through the high-end OpenStage devices could play into this notion, Freedman says.

"That could work well in a vertical application, where you may not want to deploy a full PC and phone, but you want to offer an employee access" to network-based services and applications, she says.

Siemens' OpenStage IP phones start at US$295.