VOICECON - Unified communications to dominate

VOICECON - Unified communications to dominate

Unified communications will be the rage at the VoiceCon Orlando conference this week with big-name vendors such as IBM, Microsoft and Nortel announcing products and alliances while others charge in with UC products they announced last week in order to generate pre-show buzz.(See a slideshow of products to be on display at VoiceCon.)

The goal of UC is to blend all forms of real-time business communication - phone, audio and videoconferencing, instant messaging - with presence to improve productivity.

To that end the big names in video gear will throw in with Microsoft to better support the visual components of Office Communications Server (OCS), Microsoft's UC platform.

The frenzied interest in UC by these vendors is no surprise, with IDC predicting sales of UC gear to top $17 billion in four years. (Compare unified communications products.)

Nortel, Tandberg and Polycom already had alliances with Microsoft and plan to announce upgraded interoperability with OCS, which coordinates voice, video, instant messaging, Web conferencing and presence to support more efficient business interactions.

Nortel is bringing four new products to the show, the fruits of its Innovative Communications Alliance with Microsoft. These include integration of Nortel IP PBXs, branch-office routers and audioconferencing software with Microsoft's OCS, as well as a UC package for service providers.

For their part, Tandberg and Polycom say the results of their Microsoft alliances will be better pictures and sound when conferences are set up between their equipment and OCS. To accomplish this, both say they will license Microsoft's real-time video and audio codecs that are used in OCS 2007 and integrate them with their products.

In Polycom's case, this integration will develop in three phases, the first of which creates SIP interoperability between the two platforms to optimize firewall traversal. Ultimately the integration will lead to conferences that work across multiple networks and support Microsoft versions of real-time audio and video.

Tandberg is also announcing a partnership with Nortel, which plans to resell Tandberg videoconferencing and telepresence equipment. Nortel will offer it as part of an installation and maintenance service, Tandberg says.

Optional services include a concierge to set up calls and meetings and to diagnose problems with sessions and the system hardware and software. The Tandberg gear will be integrated with Nortel's architecture for the converged enterprise (ACE).

Meanwhile IBM arrives with plans to announce Sametime Unified Telephony, a blend of VoIP, videoconferencing and instant messaging. This comes a week after the company announced a three-year, $1 billion commitment to research and development dedicated to further beefing up its IBM Lotus Sametime suite of messaging and conferencing software.Â

Also at the show Avaya is announcing Avaya Unified Communications and Intelligent Branch Solutions, targeted at small businesses, teleworkers, mobile workers and call agents working from home. These are bundles of Avaya products and services tailored for specific business uses, including band branches and retail stores.

Cisco says it isn't planning any big product news announcements at the event but will grab attention by facilitating a virtual discussion about climate change and technology innovation between CEO John Chambers, Cisco Chief Marketing Officer Sue Bostrom and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. Neither Chambers nor Gore will physically be at VoiceCon, but Cisco says its TelePresence technology will deliver the next-best thing.

In other UC news at the show Mitel and Sun are announcing a jointly developed authentication card that fits into Mitel IP phones and Sun's Sun Ray gear. Called Sun Ray Unified IP Client from Mitel, the card acts to securely authenticate phones and thin-client desktops and their users to the network.

The companies say this Java-based card could help ensure all users get access to their voice features and range of corporate applications. Each user would plug in their own card to access their unique voice and data capabilities that are stored on servers within the network. The card could also tighten up security in environments where employees share desk space, phones and desktop devices.

Even value-added resellers are getting into the UC act. Optimus Solutions is announcing a new UC practice based on its relationships with Cisco, IBM and Microsoft. The focus of the business is call centers and call agents for large businesses and integrating call centers with communications applications for small businesses.

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