Cisco Systems wants to use Internet Protocol technology to become the biggest supplier in business communications, a $14bn market which includes traditional and IP voice equipment, unified messaging, collaboration and conferencing.
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IP telephony is breaking the traditional centralised, supplier-controlled architecture of telephone networks and opening the door to distributed communications systems that combine voice with text and video, said Don Proctor, vice-president and general manager of Cisco's Voice Technology Group at the company's Innovation Through Convergence (ITC) Expo 2003 in California.
The technology can, ultimately, transform a company's phone system into something such as the electrical grid - highly available, exponentially scalable and universally accessible, Proctor said. Just as electricity is available through sockets everywhere, he envisions a communications system that provides the same features anywhere.
Cisco partners unveiled applications for converged voice, video and data networks as well as channel partners and customers, at its ITC Expo. About 1,000 customers registered for the conference, up from about 200 last year, said David Tucker, director of marketing for the Voice Technology Group.
Cisco is building the infrastructure for converged communications applications, but it is what the technology can be used for that will sell enterprises on it, Proctor told attendees.
The company also highlighted enhancements to its telephony software such as the 7970G, the company's first phone with a colour touch screen.
Cisco has integrated a JVM (Java virtual machine) into IP phones, which can enrich the user experience on an IP phone just as Java applets have enhanced web browsing, according to Troy Trenchard, director of product marketing for Cisco's IP Communications group.
One critical distinction is that by default, nothing can be downloaded to the JVM unless it has been approved by the network administrator.
Cisco also will add a native SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) interface to its CallManager software, which handles call processing on the Cisco Media Convergence Server. Trenchard expected SIP, an IP telephony signalling protocol under development by the Internet Engineering Task Force, to gain more features and become the standard for IP communications.
There are SIP clients on Cisco IP phones now, but they communicate with CallManager through interfaces such as Telephony Application Programming Interface, he said.
Other suppliers showed off applications that take advantage of the latest colour phones and of converged voice and data networks.
AAC demonstrated its PhoneTop XML software for an IP phone system in a school. It allows teachers to take and report the register of a class using the school's student directory, issue virtual hall passes, and carry out other functions via a Cisco IP phone.
The software can work on the colour phone as well as on the less expensive IP Phone 7905 and 7912 with different user interfaces.
On the IP Phone 7970G, a PhoneTop application can use the large coloor display to check for pictures of authorised visitors to the school, and "amber alerts" with pictures can be sent automatically with an alarm when children are missing.
Net6 also unveiled applications for IP phones using its ScreenTop IP telephony framework. ScreenTop Alert software can send notifications that identify people to look out for. The alerts can include colour images of the person, along with other identifying information.
Palm demonstrated its Tungsten C handheld, which includes Wi-Fi wireless Lan capability. The company plans to use client software from VL to bring Wi-Fi VoIP capability to the Tungsten C.
Palmed expects the client software to be completed within two to three months.
Stephen Lawson writes for IDG News Service