VOICECON - Microsoft, others scramble for spotlight

VOICECON - Microsoft, others scramble for spotlight

Vendors tout new IP advancements at the annual show

Microsoft has licensed its RT Audio Codec for IP (Internet Protocol) voice calls to major hardware vendors including Intel, Texas Instruments and Polycom, the company announced Tuesday at the VoiceCon conference. It joins several vendors using the event as a showcase for IP telephony advancements.

Also during the show in San Francisco, Microsoft announced an Oct. 16 launch event for Office Communications Server 2007, its next enterprise telephony and collaboration platform. OCS 2007 has already been released to manufacturers. The official launch event will take place in San Francisco, a Microsoft director of product management, Clint Patterson, said.

Microsoft is moving in on the IP telephony market from the software side while Cisco Systems approaches from the data network end. The CEOs of both companies said Monday morning that the market is quickly shifting to so-called unified communications and they will make sure their products work together even as they continue competing in some areas.

Research backs up that sense of rapid change. Not including phones, 39 per cent of revenue in the worldwide enterprise telephony market went to IP instead of traditional circuit-switched infrastructure in the second quarter, according to Dell'Oro Group analyst, Alan Weckel. That's up from 31 per cent in last year's second quarter.

Small and medium-sized businesses, latecomers to IP telephony, are now joining in, he added. Looking for big-company features such as the ability to have employees make calls from anywhere in the world using a software phone on a PC, these smaller players installed one IP line for every three traditional connections in the second quarter, Weckel said. A year earlier, only 19 per cent of the lines they installed were IP.

IP telephony makes voice calls, video and conferences into a series of data packets so only one network is needed and those functions can be integrated with other applications.

Microsoft developed RT Audio Codec and uses it in Office Communications Server, the PC-to-PC calling feature in Windows Live Messenger, and the voice-calling features in the XBox Live online gaming platform, Patterson said. The software compresses digital speech samples into packets and then decompresses them. Now third parties are licensing the codec and building it into products such as chips and phones. Other licensees include AudioCodes, Dialogic and LG-Nortel, a communications joint venture of LG Electronics and Nortel Networks.

RT Audio Codec has security built into it that is missing in other codecs, and it can adapt to poor network connections so users can communicate in more places, Microsoft's Patterson said.

Also at VoiceCon, Microsoft unveiled the Office Communications Server 2007 Quality of Experience Monitoring Server, software that watches voice and video quality. It can be used with other Microsoft performance monitoring software such as Microsoft System Centre, so administrators can set up alerts for particular problems, Patterson said.

On Monday at VoiceCon, other vendors were busy:

- Polycom introduced Polycom Unified Collaboration for Lotus Sametime and Lotus Notes, a system that lets enterprise employees launch point-to-point and multipoint voice and video conferences from within those IBM software packages. The system can be configured several different ways, and prices vary based on what equipment is required, Polycom said. It is optimised for Polycom videoconferencing platforms but will work with any standards-based system, according to the company. The product is available now.

- Avaya and Extreme Networks announced they have developed a system that lets network administrators tightly control the power consumption of IP phones. The arrangement combines the Universal Port feature in Extreme's POE (Power over Ethernet) switches with Avaya Gigabit Ethernet phones. It lets enterprises cut power use by, for example, turning off the power to a phone during hours when it isn't needed, such as on the weekend. People who call while the phone is off can still leave voicemail.

- NetQoS unveiled NetQoS VoIP Monitor, which adds two key capabilities to the NetQoS Performance Centre. The appliance-based software can watch the call setup experience, including how long it takes to get a dial tone and how long it takes a dialled call to connect, and track call audio quality. It can also isolate the cause of VoIP problems within the network. NetQoS VoIP Monitor works with Cisco IP Telephony systems running Cisco Unified CallManager 4.2 or later. It will be available in September in either a standalone unit or a distributed configuration, with prices starting at $US29,500.

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