With one voice

Cisco might have plans to use its latest standards-based unified communications offerings to generate greater collaboration and cut expenses, but Avaya says it has been there for some time and has now expanded its end-point solutions.

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By  Colin Edwards Published  April 2, 2006

|~|Samer-Alkharrat-200.jpg|~|Alkharrat: Keeping on top of communications.|~|Cisco CEO John Chambers, speaking last month at the VoiceCon show in Orlando, US at which the company launched SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) -based unified communications offerings, committed the networking giant to using Cisco's new unified, voice, video, short message service (SMS), email and fax technology to enhance collaboration across the organisation to obviate unnecessary travel.

He said he would be targeting a 20% reduction in travel expenses next year as well as significant productivity improvements across the board, saying that he is certainly more productive when not spending 22 hours a week on an aeroplane.

At the Middle East launch of Cisco Unified Communications, Samer Alkharrat, general manager for the Gulf region, Cisco Systems, said that while he still expected to be spending most of his time travelling around the region, unified communications would enable him at least to keep on top of his emails and voice messages while on the move via a technology of his choice - notebook PC, PDA, mobile phone or IP phone.

"The Cisco Unified Communications system enables organisations to seamlessly integrate their communications system with their IT infrastructure," he said.

Features in its unified solutions include the ability to make video calls as easily as voice calls, and all via a secure wireless connection on a laptop PC. Users can also communicate and collaborate with colleagues via a single interface, bringing together telephone, email, instant messaging and voice, video or web conferencing on their desktop. "Delivering data and voice communications has never been easier with Cisco.

Reducing operating costs without compromising quality no matter where you are has always been the biggest hurdle to overcome, and with Cisco I can deliver on time, anywhere," says Nick van der Walt, IT manager of CBI Eastern Anstalt, an engineering and construction company for the petrochemical industry, based in Dubai.

However, this flexibility and cost cutting does come with a price tag. Customers will require a seat licence for each end device, whether it is a Cisco IP phone or a SIP IP phone from a third party. Figures of between US$400 and $1,500 per user, depending on the products and applications deployed, have been mentioned. Also, the approved third party SIP phones will support 19 SIP features while Cisco's own SIP phones will support 210 features.

Apart from pricing concerns, there is also increasing competition from other vendors such as Avaya, which used Cebit to extend its SIP-based endpoints for its Converged Communications Server.

||**|||~|Abou-Ltaif,-Nidal200.jpg|~|Abou-Ltaif: Arabic solution ensures user is comfortable with the new interface.|~|In Dubai last month, Avaya delivered on its commitment to deliver enterprise mobility solutions to the regional market, with the launch of an Arabic-enabled version of the Avaya one-X mobile edition for Symbian S60 mobile phones - currently available from Nokia. This allows users to have the same features and functionalities as their office IP phone while on the move including connection via 'one number', conferencing and 'click to dial' functionality from local contacts.

Avaya also announced Enterprise Fixed Mobile Convergence, which brings enterprise mobility to new mobile platforms. The Dubai launch was the first of a 12-city Middle East and Pakistan roadshow announcing its new one-X offerings.

"Our customers now have the same experience everywhere they use our devices. They have access to more than voice. They have access to all the functions behind the phone as if they were at their desk - numbers, conferencing, voice and scheduling," says Nidal Abou-Ltaif, managing director, Avaya Middle East.

"And with the modular messaging facility, which some refer to as unified messaging, you can respond to the calls that you want to as you know who is on the line; with SIP protocol, callers can figure out if you are on your mobile or on your phone, using your email or that you don't want to answer. The look and feel of your desk phone moves with you along with all its features," he adds.

As with his Cisco counterparts, Abou-Ltaif is putting his company's latest offerings to the test and uses his PC-based soft-phone via a VPN when he gets home.
"If you have a VPN phone at home, as I do, you just log into the same phone at home as you do in the office through the VPN. This just moves my phone to my home with all the features I have in the office.

"Enterprise mobility is only useful if it empowers the user to work from anywhere, on any chosen device. To fully appreciate the liberties of this solution, the user must be ultimately comfortable with the interface and use it instinctively - to do this is it has to be in their native tongue, which we felt is an important tool to preserve and stay close to our Arabic culture" he says.

With the new one-X range, which includes the mobile and desktop editions, comes one-X Quick Edition, which offers peer-to-peer communication, new unified messaging, and is also based on the SIP protocol. It is not dependent on a server.

While Cisco and Avaya battle it out on the technology front, they are also at loggerheads over their relative market shares in the region.

Cisco's Alkharrat quoted Q3, 2005 research showing his company has a 56% share of the pure IP telephony market (enterprises with more than 100 phones) in the Middle East and Africa compared to Avaya's 3% share.

Abou-Ltaif, says he has not seen such research, but in 2004 Avaya shipped 60,000 lines to the area and that final figures for 2005 would show significant growth on that.

"We continue to sell a lot of enterprise telephony. It is converged technology more than pure IP. You have to take into consideration that with enterprise telephony there is a lot of hybrid implementations. Our market still carries a lot of hybrid - not just IP. That way the customer utilises his existing network. We encourage them to continue using their investment until they have applications that allow them to deploy IP," he says.

Whatever the pro-and cons of the different technologies and arguments over market shares, the significant point of these latest introductions is that they come under the SIP banner. For too long, Cisco, Avaya and other vendors have been selling voice-over-IP products that did not interoperate with one another. Finally, they are opening up their environments to each other and third parties.
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