As part of its aim to create a global voice-over IP (VoIP) network, Cisco announced three software products aimed at increasing personal productivity. The company also announced new call centre software, call processing software and a new hardware switch that can serve up to 24 IP-based phones.
The products expand on a VoIP portfolio that Cisco has been building for the past four and a half years, said Elizabeth Ussher, vice president of global network strategies at IT research firm Meta Group. "We're now starting to see the smoothing out of places that needed it," she added.
VoIP will get a big push when a significant number of early adopters start to report back on their experiences with it, she said. "People will start to look more closely at VoIP as the news flashes come in," Ussher said. "The credibility comes when the deployments are in and the return on investment is solid."
One deployment underway is Dow Chemicals, which is installing 40,000 IP-based phones. Cisco, meanwhile, expects to become "fully IP-enabled" over the next three to four months, increasing the number of IP phones it uses to almost 40,000 from 25,000 today, said Bill Erdman, director of marketing for Cisco's Enterprise Voice and Video division.
Cisco is working on a business case to present to companies who are thinking about switching to IP-based telephony which focuses on the technology's cost-saving benefits, he said.
The Cisco Personal Assistant, an IP-based telephony application, interoperates with Cisco CallManager and Microsoft's Exchange to allow users to sort through voice mail verbally and dial by name. The software has a browser-based interface and allows users to set up rules of call forwarding and screening calls, as well as setting up conference calls without dialling. Cisco Personal Assistant retails for US$4,995 (£3,500) and includes the Cisco IP Phone Productivity Services Suite, Cisco said in a statement.
The company also launched Cisco Unity 2.46 unified messaging. The software includes worldwide time zone and language support, as well as localisation capabilities. The unified messaging application works with both legacy-circuit and packet-based switches. It can manage e-mail, voice mail and faxes through a single inbox from any device, including IP phones, cellular phones and PCs. Unity is interoperable with Cisco Personal Assistant and Cisco CallManager 3.1. Pricing starts at $145 per seat, the company said.
The final personal productivity application announced Monday is the Cisco IP Phone Productivity Services (PPS) suite. The suite of applications based on XML can effectively turn the Cisco 7960 and 7940 IP phones into Internet thin-client devices that can provide access to corporate and Internet Web servers. The phones can then also be used for functions like e-mail, voice mail, calendar, and stock quotes. A development suite called the E-Service Application Engine lets developers create applications aimed at specific business needs. The application suite will be available in the third quarter of this year.
For customer service in small call centres within an enterprise, Cisco launched the IP Integrated Contact Distribution (IP-ICD). The application includes automated call distribution and custom contact interaction management for up to 48 agents. IP-ICD works with Cisco IP Interactive Voice Response and IP Automated Attendant applications. The IP-ICD is available immediately for $4,995.
Cisco also launched an updated version of CallManager, its software-based call processing system. CallManager 3.1 adds 15 new features, including hold music and extension mobility, which allows an employee's phone extension to be transferred to any of Cisco's 7960 or 7940 IP phones. CallManager 3.1 is available immediately for $5,995.
The software for making phone extensions portable is the most compelling application launched today, Erdman said. This will make it easier to transfer extensions and allow users to make use of any cubicle that happens to be free, she said. The service works anywhere so long as the user has access to an IP connection, making it ideal for branch offices, Erdman said.
Cisco also introduced its Survivable Remote Site (SRS) Telephony application on Monday. SRS ensures against wide area network (WAN) failure by auto-configuring Cisco multiservice routers to provide call-processing backup for IP phones in branch offices. When the WAN comes back online, the system automatically shifts call-processing functions back to the centrally located CallManager. SRS Telephony is available now on the Cisco 2600 and 3600 series routers and the Catalyst 4224 Voice Gateway Switch.
On the hardware side, Cisco launched the Catalyst 4224 Voice Gateway Switch platform, an integrated Ethernet switching, IP routing and voice gateway device targeted at small branch offices with up to 24 users, Cisco said in a statement. The Catalyst 4224 can be used with Cisco SRS Telephony to provide backup services in the event of a WAN failure. The Catalyst 4224 retails for $12,995.
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