Alcatel-Lucent launches unified communications support

Alcatel-Lucent announced support today for smartphones and high-definition videoconferencing in its new OmniTouch 8400 Instant Communications Suite of products.

The set of products sells for $140 per user, a spokesman said, with an added cost for servers. The server pricing was not disclosed.

The support for smartphones and videoconferencing comes in addition to previous support from Alcatel-Lucent for unifying voice, messaging, fax services and Web services, Alcatel said in a statement. The OmniTouch 8400 suite is based on Linux, which Alcatel said will help businesses trying to integrate it with existing business applications.

Tom Burns, president of Alcatel-Lucent enterprise activities, said that the suite will allow high-quality collaboration over many modes, including phone, desktop PC, laptop or smartphone.

Support for smartphones means that users can get enterprise-based telephone functions, instant messaging, directory searches and even dual-mode cellular-to-WiFi connections via their smartphones by using the 8400 server. For example, a call to a desktop phone can be automatically forwarded to a smartphone, and system directories for colleagues' phone numbers and personal information can be called up on a smartphone.

The 8400 also provides high-definition Web video support using the H.264 specification, which will bring videoconferencing to a PC or laptop. An instant messaging discussion can easily be transformed into a high-definition video call, or even a multiparty videoconference, with the addition of a Web camera and other tools.

The system will scale to 100,000 users at multiple sites and works with any existing network, Alcatel-Lucent said.

Blair Pleasant, an analyst at Commfusion LLC in Santa Rosa, Calif., said that the suite appears to combine in an integrated fashion more functions such as messaging, voice and video than other vendors provide in a single suite. Other unified communications vendors include Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks, IBM and Avaya, she said.

Pleasant said the market for unified communications products is still emerging and remains in the millions of dollars of annual sales. The biggest deterrent to sales is that integrating unified communications tools with an existing infrastructure is seen as complex and involved — especially when the integration involves customized enterprise applications.

But unified communications (UC) still offer great promise for more-efficient business operations that can help lower costs. Pleasant said she recently revised her forecasts for the market, increasing anticipated sales for products that provide conferencing and collaboration, including videoconferencing, as companies cut back on travel. “Some travel budgets are down to zero, and collaboration fits there,” she said in an interview.

But other components such as IP voice switching and instant messaging are expected to be flat or lower in the coming year, she said. “UC is still going to grow more and more important,” she said.

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