Windows NT Calls the Shots for IP Telephony
IP telephony has been considered a hot topic for several years, with the benefits including low-cost long-distance service. While the consumer rage has diminished for Web conferencing, some enterprise users have focused on finding real IP telephony solutions.
When Microsoft Corp. announced it was shipping version 2.0 of its real-time videoconferencing and Internet telephony program, NetMeeting 2.0, in April, PBX companies and corporate IP telephony developers began producing their own solutions to work with Microsoft's product.
Most recently, NetPhone Inc. (Marlborough, Mass., www.netphone.com) announced the NetPhone Connect IP telephony gateway and NetPhone Connect IPBX, two products designed for corporate users to place long-distance calls between offices over their company’s network. To operate NetPhone, users can use Microsoft's NetMeeting, for which NetPhone designed its to product to be completely interoperable.
The NetPhone Connect Windows NT-based product is designed to be interoperable with legacy PBXs, allowing customers to continue using their digital or analog telephones. NetPhone Connect integrates with PBXs using T1 or E1 digital trunks or analog four-wire E&M interface.
The PBX routes calls from within the office to the NetPhone Connect gateway, which converts voice signals into a stream of packets to be sent over the network. Users do not need to dial additional digits to reach the IP network; they simply dial the extension of any employee in the company, regardless of location. The gateway automatically sends all interoffice calls to the network.
Remote offices that do not already have a PBX in place can use the NetPhone Connect IPBX, which includes full PBX and NetPhone Connect functionality. The NetPhone Connect IPBX provides a voice and data connection to the corporate data center of an NT server, where the NetPhone Connect gateway handles traffic from branch offices and routes calls to other offices as necessary. Callers can use the software provided by NetPhone, or they can use NetMeeting.
There are two main reasons that users might choose this technology. The first one, as NetPhone vice president of marketing and business development Mike Katz says, is cost. "You are able to remove that cost [long distance] from the equation and put that call onto your data network," says Katz. "Having a solution that comes to market that allows you to have this sort of connection actually pays for itself."
The other reason is reliability. PBXs aren’t likely to fail or crash while NT Server, however, can have a lower level of availability. But by having the two together, the phone services stay up, even when the server goes down.
Lucent Technologies (Murray Hill, N.J., www.lucent.com), a company that installs and manages PBXs, also has products on the market that operate much like NetPhone. The Internet Telephony Server – E is one such product, and like NetPhone, it’s a Windows NT-based solution that allows IT managers to connect a dedicated NT server to the existing PBX to use it for IP telephony and will also interoperate with Microsoft NetMeeting. Lucent also has a client/server product on the market called Virtual Telephone. It allows users to get voicemail, read e-mail and talk on the phone using networking over one connection.
These are a far cry from those funny looking cameras people could attach to their monitors. "Two years ago, you had those little toys," says Steve Loudermilk, a spokesman for Lucent. "Now we have second generation IP telephony gateways that are even more reliable."
Bern Elliot, an independent telephony consultant in Philadelphia, says the segment of customers most likely to use this technology is companies who have to stay in constant contact with their branch offices.
Elliot also stated that what makes this solution most appealing to IT managers is that they don’t have to go looking for a way to pay for a new connection. "[Managers] already did that with getting dedicated data connections. This isn’t a new connection; it’s just adding a functionality," says Elliot.
Since many corporations have already purchased the bandwidth to handle voice calls over the intranet, what has taken so long for these solutions to be addressed? Elliot says the difference is NT. He comments: "I think NT integration is a key part. There’s an interest in moving the software portion (of IP telephony) into a more standard operating environment. The users will find it easier to use and the administrators will find it easier to administer."