Lucent Testing Windows NT Telephony Product

Lucent Technologies (Murray Hill, N.J., www.lucent.com) is alpha testing its first telephony and communications system run on the Windows NT platform rather than in a proprietary black box.

Although many smaller Windows NT telephony vendors already provide published APIs that third-parties can use to develop applications, Lucent’s move is significant because it dominates the U.S. PBX market in overall share, says Rick Kent, vice president and COO with Phillips InfoTech (Parsippany, N.J.), a professional services and consulting arm of Phillips Publishing International Inc. "They’re basically legitimizing that product set in a way that, to date, has not happened," Kent says.

Analyst Joe Skorupa, with the market research firm RHK (South San Francisco, Calif.), agrees, calling the move very aggressive. "Many folks would have expected the old PBX guys to say, ‘We’ll move to the open system when we’re forced to.’ I think it’s an acknowledgement on their part that the real value moving forward is in the software services and applications they can support in their systems, not in the proprietary hardware."

Lucent intends to make its IP ExchangeComm system available in the first quarter of 1999. Plans call for the initial system to support 96 phones and fax machines at a site, increasing to 1,000 phones and fax machines in the second half of 1999.

The system includes call manager software that runs on Windows NT and provides call routing and PBX-like telephony features; the Lucent IP Exchange Adapter, which converts telephones and fax machines into IP clients; and an optional IP Telephony Gateway, which connects the system to the Public Switched Telephone Network.

Joe McCormick, business development director with Lucent Internet Business Systems, says Lucent’s technology differs from most of the so-called un-PBX products on the market. Instead of connecting the telephone network and the data network at the server, Lucent plugs the telephones directly into the LAN, McCormick says.

According to McCormick the arrangement allows more robust application development than un-PBX vendors offer. "Now you could create an application quite easily to do text to speech or speech to text because the speech is just sitting in an IP packet," McCormick says. "We can also create some sophisticated call routing software that makes it easy for an end user to have an electronic personal assistant redirecting calls to different destinations at different times of day."

Whether or not the technology really offers a more flexible application environment than that offered by the small companies offering Windows NT telephony products, Lucent does carry weight to attract ISVs that smaller players lack.

RHK’s Skorupa says the product will sell with or without third-party applications because of Lucent’s strong channels and the expected strength of the Lucent software that will ship with the product. The "magnitude of the success," however, will depend on how well Lucent nurtures ISV relationships, he says.

Lucent is working on marshalling ISV support. "We’re going to third-party vendors," McCormick says. "The goal would be by the time we ship to have a half dozen to a dozen applications ready to go."

Lucent, with its healthy business in traditional PBX products, is taking the long view on two major obstacles to the market: the stability of the Windows NT platform and the quality of Voice over IP. McCormick says improvements in Voice over IP is "happening at an extremely rapid rate." Of Windows NT, he says, "We look to hardware support to help increase the reliability, and we look to operating system support to increase the reliability."