Microsoft unveils unified comms devices

Microsoft's unified communications strategy has advanced with the company revealing devices that show how it plans to link its products and telecoms

Microsoft today announced a host of new unified communications optimized devices designed for use with Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Microsoft Office Communicator 2007.

The 15 new devices, made by nine Microsoft partners -- ASUS, GN, LG-Nortel, NEC, Plantronics, Polycom, Samsung, Tatung and Vitelix -- are centered on unified communications to connect the work phone to email, instant messaging, presence, conferencing, VoIP and mobile communications. They integrate with Office Communications Server, Microsoft's VoIP and unified communications server, and Office Communicator, its unified communications client.

Building on what Jeff Raikes, Microsoft Business Division president, outlined at March's VoiceCon conference, the devices are designed to make the desk or office phone a more useful communication tool and break down the walls that divide various forms of communication.

"Today's office phone is marooned on an island, separate from the rest of communications tools that information workers rely on to do their jobs," Raikes said. "By weaving the business phone together with email, instant messaging, presence, conferencing and the productivity software people use most, we are putting voice communications back into business."

During his bold VoiceCon keynote address, Raikes said that moving VoIP systems from hardware to software could reduce the cost of an enterprise voice system by half in just three years. He added that over the same time period, roughly 100 million people will be able to make phone calls directly from their Microsoft Office applications.

But Paul Duffy, Microsoft's senior product manager for unified communications, said the 15 devices bring Raikes' vision closer to reality. Building peripheral phones and devices to enable voice and unified communications that run on Microsoft's server and client adds features and functions that typical desk phones and IP PBXs lack, while also offering a new level of choice. Essentially, companies can pick and choose among the 15 devices, deciding which to deploy based on end-user and departmental needs, meaning that IT is no longer limited to providing phones based solely on what integrates with the IP PBX.

"Phones used to be integrated with the IP PBX, and you had no choice," Duffy said, adding that 15 different devices working with OCS "gives people a very wide range of choice."

That level of choice, he said, can help IT achieve cost savings by not limiting them to a small set of pricey devices from their IP PBX vendor. Instead, devices range from $20 to a few hundred dollars. Gartner Inc. estimates that handsets take up between 40% and 45% of the cost of an IP telephony installation. Moving from a closed to a somewhat open option can reduce those costs, according to Duffy.

"Using an open approach to published software interfaces, Microsoft is enabling partners to innovate new workplace phones and devices that make business communication more effective and productive," Microsoft said in a statement.

Duffy said the phones and devices, which include USB phones, wired and wireless handsets, conferencing phones, LCD monitors and laptops, will work out-of-the-box with Microsoft software.

Phones and devices offered include:

  • LG-Nortel UCT-100HS Bluetooth headset
  • Asus W7J laptop with built-in camera and speakerphone
  • GN/Jabra GN2000USB OC wired USB headset with on/off hook and volume control
  • LG-Nortel UCT-1000 IP phone
  • Polycom CX100 Communicator wired USB speakerphone
  • Polycom CX200 wired USB headset with speakerphone
  • Vitelix Type A wired USB headset with speakerphone
  • Samsung UC Monitor, a 22-inch monitor with built-in camera and speakerphone
  • LG-Nortel UCT-100DSK wired USB handset with speakerphone
  • Polycom CX700 IP phone
  • Polycom CX400 wireless USB handset without dial-pad
  • Vitelix Type B/C wired USB dial-pad handset with speakerphone
  • GN/Jabra GN9330DECT and GN9350DECT wireless DECT headsets
  • Plantronics 510 Voyager Bluetooth headset

Yankee Group senior vice president Zeus Kerravala said Microsoft is taking the market in a different direction by introducing openness into a space that's been mostly closed since its inception.

"Traditional voice vendors tie everything together -- IP phones, desktop software, etc.," Kerravala said. "Microsoft is trying to be much more open about it."

Openness creates innovation, he said, and both the device makers and end users benefit. He warned, however, that openness brings new challenges for IT.

"It's harder to control quality end-to-end because you don't control everything," he said. "So you have to rely on software interoperability."

Closed systems offer higher quality but less choice, according to Kerravala, while open systems offer more choice but quality challenges. He cautioned IT to "tread carefully."

"The vertical integration that the traditional manufacturers give provides many benefits, including quality and some features," he said. "But, eventually, for this market to have an impact, it's got to open up."

Kerravala said IT and end users can expect to see similar announcements from other major vendors going forward.

"The more mature SIP gets, the more you'll see," he said, adding that Microsoft's approach is contrary to the rest of the industry.

As for how Microsoft's taking the market in a new direction will work, Kerravala noted: "If Microsoft can get their buyer to matter more than the telecom guy, [the new direction will work] well. If not, [the direction will work] poorly."


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