IP phone switches seize market share

More mature products and support for existing phones are helping IP private branch exchanges move into the mainstream, according...

More mature products and support for existing phones are helping IP private branch exchanges move into the mainstream, according to market research company Dell'Oro.

Worldwide shipments of IP PBX gear, measured in phone lines, soared 86% in the first quarter of 2004 from the previous year, and jumped 13% from the previous quarter. Meanwhile, line shipments of traditional PBXes fell 9% from the previous quarter.

IP PBXes are servers that treat voice calls as data traffic and use software to provide corporate calling features such as extensions, hold functions and voicemail. They allow enterprises to consolidate their PBX functions in one location, cutting deployment management costs, and help pave a path toward multimodal communications involving voice, text and video, said Dell'Oro analyst Steve Raab.

Alcatel, the biggest supplier of the new PBXes, saw its line shipments rise 4% from the last quarter of 2003, while competitors registered even bigger gains. Number two Avaya's sales rose 29% and, for the first time, shipped more IP PBXes than traditional boxes.

Nortel Networks, the third biggest seller, marked an 8% gain, and Cisco Systems  saw line shipments grow 35% in the quarter.

North American enterprises were first off the mark in widely adopting IP PBXes, but European companies have embraced the technology as well and the Asia-Pacific region is starting to pick it up.

IT executives no longer consider the technology a niche product that they can ignore, Raab said. Helping to move it into the mainstream are traditional suppliers who now let customers reuse old PBX modules and desk phones rather than making a hard shift over to IP.

"More and more customers are believing it's a question of, 'When do I make the migration?'," Raab said.

Using a single central IP PBX, a company can give branch office and home workers the same extension and same calling features they would have if working at headquarters. With traditional PBXes, they have to set up separate boxes at every branch and integrate those.

"Managing 10 small branches and one large switch, and networking and keeping them co-ordinated, is a lot more configuration and management work than simply having one large system," Raab said.

IP systems also offer a range of new options, including unified messaging, Wi-Fi mobile phones, easy setup of conference calls and smooth shifts from text messaging to voice calls. Eventually, video will come on to the same common network as well.

Putting voice on the data network is even likely to change companies' service provider relationships, Raab said. Most IP PBXes are still hooked up to the same T-1 (1.5Mbit-per-second) lines that went in to the old PBXes, although in some cases companies could replace those with high-speed data services that support voice.

Stephen Lawson writes for IDG News Service

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