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Cisco Unified IP phone

 IP telephony is only part of the gains expected from unified IP communication

The business case to move to a unified solution of voice, data and video is strong. The complexity of managing administration of three separate technologies and infrastructures in sync with the growth of business versus a unified solution makes TCO calculations straight forward. However the adoption curve and key facilitators for unified communication, in which IP telephony is one part is a bit more complicated.

Legacy EPABX systems in a business have copper wire connections running end to end. Costs of such systems have typically been amortised and recovered by now on balance sheets and any new investments have to make a strong case linked to the stability and anticipated growth of business. With both factors either unsure or absent, justifying an IP solution at such a stage may seem to be an unnecessary priority.

Supporting Avaya’s tier-two partners, Farhat Khan, Senior Technical Consultant and Product Manager for Avaya solutions, Optimus Telecom

“It appears that many organizations still believe cost reduction is not big enough to justify the initial cost of implementation of an IP telephony solution,” according to IDC’s Giacomo Laurini, Senior Research Analyst, European Vertical Markets.

While IP telephony projects may not be getting universal green signals to replace antiquated voice systems, awareness levels are high as per IDC. Level of awareness is 80% in healthcare, transport and manufacturing; 60% in media, government, retail, wholesale, utilities and oil and gas. Amongst aware users 36% have adopted an IP PBX solution.

As per European market tracking agency MZA, IP based PBX units grew at 16% in the first quarter of 2011, versus a 7% growth for the overall industry. Cisco and Avaya are the leading global players in IP PBX solutions.

“TDM (digital) telephony is declining and customers are realizing that TDM is not a good investment because there is already a new and better generation of communication that can take them from day one or in phases from dial tone to video, presence, mobility, conferencing using any platform or operating system. TDM is about voice dial tone and IP is about any media of communications,” says Cisco’s Wael Abdulal, Collaboration Manager UAE.

An active concern raised by end users is the costs involved along the migration path from legacy telephony investments to adoption of new IP based solutions. For Cisco, key regional market segments with demand for IP based unified communication solutions include healthcare, education and connectivity service providers.

High touch support for tier-one partners, Mohammed Areff, Managing Director, Gulf and Pakistan, Avaya

To improve the capability of partners across the whole unified solutions portfolio, the vendor has developed a quick start Express Unified Communication Partner programme. After completing the first programme partners move to Advanced Unified Communication and finally to the Video Technology Partner programme. Cisco’s distribution partners include Aptec, Comstor and Logicom.

For Avaya, another key player in the IP telephony space, early adopters in the region include government, telecom, finance, hospitality and healthcare market segments. For medium and large businesses, cost savings from IP telephony become attractive when connectivity between geographically dispersed offices is considered. Avaya’s One-X Communicator Softphone loaded onto a PC or an Android smartphone along with a VPN can remotely dial into the head office IP PBX saving voice communication costs.

“More bandwidth at a cheaper price can remove some of the inhibitors in deploying more unified communications,” says Avaya’s Mohammed Areff, Managing Director, Gulf and Pakistan. A partial list of Avaya’s key installations in the region includes RTA, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Emirates Bank, Vodafone and Citibank.

For Avaya’s regional distributor Optimus, enabling new authorised reseller partners at a tier-two level to penetrate medium to large accounts is a key part of its go-to-market responsibility. Optimus provides presales and support services for Avaya’s enterprise solutions. Its value added services for tier-two partners include project planning, TCO estimations, BOQ and solution sizing. For tier-one partners who operate with Avaya in the named space account, the vendor provides a direct high-touch support in business development.

Encouraging partners to enrol in Unified Communication programme, Wael Abdulal, Collaboration Manager UAE, Cisco

According to Optimus’ Managing Director, Meera Kaul, business needs drive communications costs more than availability of technology. “Given the business strategy of any enterprise, a well-planned IP telephony strategy creates an ROI scenario that places elimination of redundancy and services costs at the forefront. So if a corporation has a lot of employees on the move or at remote locations and across borders, a well planned execution of unified communications will lead to greater ROI versus a single location business.”

Taking a macro implementation perspective, there are two key transitions in the IP telephony space. The first movement is from traditional analog or proprietary TDM voice based solutions to IP based telephony solutions. However, there is also a second movement and that is from vendor proprietary IP telephony to open IP telephony solutions. Some of the early products from Avaya were built on H323 protocol and these devices can only operate with Avaya’s communication operating system, Aura Communication Manager. Newer models now in the market have been built on SIP technology, which is vendor neutral.

“SIP technology allows multi vendor solutions on the same PBX as well as third party phones”, says Farhat Khan, Senior Technical Consultant and Product Manager for Avaya solutions at Optimus Telecom.

According to Khan there is another key factor that tends to get neglected in the sizing of IP telephony projects. This is related to the selection and nature of end points or IP telephony terminals. The nature of the IP telephony device best suited for an end point depends on the nature of the particular end-user at the end point. A device for a senior manager or an administrator or front office assistant will each be different both in terms of functionality as well as in cost.

Since the cost of end points can account for upto 30% of the total hardware cost of the project, it needs to be factored in at the initial design and BOQ stage. “End points from vendors tend to be expensive”, says Farhat, especially those that come with inbuilt video connectivity, touch screen and collaboration options.

On the flip side SIP protocol IP phones from third party vendors, are less expensive than equivalent vendor phones and are also compatible to the operating environment. A balanced mix between vendor and third party IP end points in a project can therefore help to meet an end-customer’s budgetary requirements.

Other than IP end points, a typical IP telephony project involves the following components. The software operating solution is resident on a hardware server. Both need to be scalable in terms of managing increase in the number of two-way trunk lines, number of end points and number of channels to manage communication flow. There is also a one-time charge for the software licensing based on an estimated number of end points likely to be operational in the near future. Interconnectivity to the telecom service provider is through the gateway.

“IP telephony is a best effort network without fundamental quality of service guarantees”. In other words the technology by itself does not provide any guarantee of service. It is between the end-customer and the vendor to work towards a redundant technology solution depending on the critical nature of communication uptime.

Another vendor operating at the fringe of IP telephony space is Siemens spin off – Gigaset, which is traditionally a leading player in the handheld telephony market. In anticipation of the opening up of regulation in regional markets it also supplies hand held phones with in-built dual DECT and IP telephony options. The vendor’s forte is making and selling products for at-home telephony requirements and cordless voice phones make up 100% of its portfolio.

For such a hybrid model, customers do not change their usage behaviour and will switch to the appropriate protocol based on their requirement. If they are on the move, the remote DECT option can be activated and when they are next to the IP port they can switch to the IP option.

For sales, Gigaset is completely focussed on the retail consumer segment. It uses a single distributor for each country that it operates in, with the exception of India where it uses three. In the UAE, Gigaset uses Better Life as is its distributor, who also manages the independent Siemens brand for consumer appliances.

Better Life distributes the Gigaset hand-held product range to super retail outlets including Carrefour, Sharaf DG, EMax, Plug-Ins, Lulu, E City, Jacky’s, KMT Trading and other telecom retail shops. Stock replenishments are done over 15-21 days in super retail outlets and 25-30 days in telecom retail outlets. The distributor negotiates shelf space with super retailers on an annual basis, according to Abdulla Al Gurg, Group General Manager, Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group.

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Top of the range

IP phones and solutions

Cisco

Unified SIP phones 3900 series: Entry level IP end points, suitable for low to moderate voice communication usage, replacement phones for traditional analog and digital phones which support only single line.

Unified IP phones 6900 series: Supports two lines, voice and video communication, expands into Cisco Unified Communications.

Unified IP phones 7900 series: Delivers high definition voice, colour display, gigabit Ethernet, multiple call sessions, wired and wireless endpoints, mobile widgets, personal video communication.

Unified IP phones 8900 series: Advanced multimedia rich end points, VGA quality in built video cameras, colour display screen, high definition voice, blue tooth headsets, keyboard and mice.

Unified IP phones 9900 series: This is a full-feature video phone with advanced multi-media communication capability, Cisco unified video camera, full screen two and multi-party H264 standard video, 30 frames per second.

Cisco IP Communicator: Simulates a Unified IP phone through a PC, soft phone application.

Cisco Unified Personal Communicator: Collaboration tools for messaging, web conferencing, video conferencing on PC or Mac.

Cisco Unified Video Advantage: Video support software for Unified IP phones 6900 and 7900 series and 2 megapixel video telephony USB camera.

Avaya

1400 series digital deskphone: Mix of IP/digital input, requires Avaya Aura, IP Office, 16 button, phone for everyday user. This is an Avaya proprietary phone.

1600 series IP deskphones: Built in SIP, integration with Avaya Aura Session Manager, Avaya Aura Communication Manager, Avaya Midsize Business Template, 2 way speaker phone, suitable for everyday user, supports headsets through a jack, adjustable viewing screen angle, Ethernet interface.

2400 series digital deskphone: 10 fixed feature keys, 24 programmable keys, call log, speed dialling, ring patterns, headset jack, two way speaker phone. This is an Avaya proprietary phone.

3600 series Wifi IP telephone: Works with Avaya Aura Communication Manager, some models require Avaya Voice Priority Processor, suitable for healthcare, retail and manufacturing verticals, shock protected, Lithium battery pack 4-80 hour discharge time, connects to the PBX through IP access point. This is an Avaya proprietary phone.

3700 series DECT R4: Suitable for Communication Manager, IP Office, In building Wireless Server, supports text messaging SMS, GUI, Bluetooth headset. This is an Avaya proprietary phone.

9600 series IP deskphone: Meant for everyday, navigation and essential user, SIP phone, access to multiple incoming lines, two Ethernet interfaces, two way speaker phone, backlit screen, 100 entry call log, 250 contact entries, some models gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth, colour touch screen. Supports both SIP and H323 protocols and VPN software. Works with One-X Communicator Softphone Software and VPN to give remote PBX dial-in capability.

Avaya Aura Communication Manager: A business application that supports IP telephony solutions, multi vendor integration, extensions to voice and video telephony features, SIP session management, can support upto 18,000 IP end points, One million users per network. Available as Standard and Enterprise editions.

Avaya Server: Runs Avaya Enterprise Survivable Server, Linux based OS, scalable support for 450-18,000 IP, digital or analog end points, 450-12,000 trunks, 50-250 gateways. Primary models include S8300D for medium size business and DL360G7 for enterprise business.

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