Microsoft rounds out voice assault

Microsoft rounds out voice assault

Microsoft OCS R2 accelerates move of voice to software

Nearly 16 months after launching its unified communications platform and taking aim at replacing the venerable PBX, Microsoft now has the technology in its Office Communications Server that could change corporate telecom forever.

With last week's official release of OCS 2007 R2, Microsoft filled in some important gaps in its voice platform with a SIP trunking capability and a console for operator assisted call routing. The company also added some conferencing enhancements and API improvements. SIP trunking lets OCS connect VoIP services directly to Internet telephony providers, eliminate the need for separate voice and data trunks, and provide a viable alternative to the PBX.

While some advanced features are still missing from OCS's voice side, such as 911 location services, experts say Microsoft no doubt has laid down a solid foundation for not only corporate users but its own future voice developments and those of partners.

Microsoft, however, isn't poised for a quick strike on competitors and corporate users. Analysts say it could be a five-year evolutionary process that brings the company from its infancy in the telecom market to a top-tier position in enterprise voice along side of, or displacing, such giants as, Alcatel/Lucent, Avaya, Cisco, NEC, Nortel and Siemens.

"I don't see OCS as an immediate threat to telephony vendors, including Cisco, but OCS is certainly causing corporate voice architects to pause," says Mark Cortner, a senior analyst in the network and telecom strategies unit at the Burton Group. "But there is no doubt in my mind that Microsoft has an aggressive goal for the role it will play in telephony."

He says Burton Group's clients are being more cautious and deliberate with their on-going investments around the IP PBX now that Microsoft is focused on voice, which is creating more competitive overlap with telephony providers.

Cortner says despite Microsoft's current short list of OCS deployments that OCS's voice capabilities are still very fresh into the early-adopter stage.

Nonetheless, the awareness of SIP trunking and the possibilities for efficiencies and cost savings are catching notice.

Nemertes Research reported this week that early results of its Advanced Communications Services research show 65 percent of organizations are using or plan to use SIP-trunking services somewhere in their network.

SIP trunking helps users streamline or eliminate costs associated with desktop handsets, PSTN trunks, and voice support for mobile and remote workers.

Microsoft last week announced Global Crossings and Sprint as two qualified service providers for SIP trunking.

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